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Insider Advice: How Summers Serve the Pre-College Process

For those families stumbling through the increasingly stressful pre-college process for the very first time (or perhaps the second, third, or fourth), a little insider information could go a very long way. However, while we can’t all be born into the admissions office, the New York Times recently published a wonderful article consisting of the advice that College Admissions Officers give to their own children.

At Everything Summer, our goal is to take kids from camp to college to career – and we truly believe that summer is a vital time that, utilized well, can rejuvenate students, and set them up for the self-discovery that is crucial during the college admissions process. While reading the New York Times article, it was refreshing to see common themes, echoed by various admissions officers, that we have been using to inform families when choosing summer programs with an eye to the future.

For example, one point of emphasis that was espoused by all the admissions officers interviewed by the Times is that it is important to find a college that is a right fit, and not the other way around. However, how can a student with limited exposure to academia beyond high school know what kind of school will be a good fit? Summer programs, particularly those at college campuses, can give a high-school student perspective. Perhaps the student will discover that they prefer a smaller class size, an expansive campus, or that they might not want to enroll in an undergraduate engineering program after all. This information is hugely helpful to the largely uninformed swarms of young students who might otherwise be making decisions about their futures without any real understanding of what these decisions entail.

Similarly, another salient point in the article came in the form of this quote by Stuart Schmill, the Dean of Admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “M.I.T., and other highly selective colleges, want students who prioritize quality over quantity.” This is a truth we have heard echoed time and time again by college advisors and admissions officers throughout the country. But in a school with a limited curriculum, or in a town with limited extracurricular options, where can a student generate the depth and quality of immersion that these competitive colleges seek?
A variety of summer programs offer students the opportunity to step beyond the high-school curriculum, to explore and immerse themselves in their interests in a way that simply isn’t possible during the jam-packed school year. Whether a student is mesmerized by meteorites, captivated by creative writing, or contented by community service, there likely exists a program that will enable him or her to truly be immersed. This immersion allows for a unique type of experience, which is invaluable both when evaluating colleges that might be a good fit, and when demonstrating interests and passions to these selective schools.

On a personal level, my own journey through the college process was certainly influenced by how I spent the summers leading up to the application process. For two years I was convinced that I wanted to play college lacrosse. However, as deep as I thought this desire might run, after spending the summer after my freshman year travelling the country attending lacrosse camps, I realized that, rather than invigorated, I was merely burnt out and bruised. I played one more season, and ultimately hung up my cleats in favor of theatre – a pursuit which ultimately became my college major and led to my first working experience.

And where did I discover this newfound thespianism? On a pre-college program, of course.

The Empowerment of a Child In-Charge: Establishing Yourself in the Crosswalk

I will never forget the exhilaration I felt when, at age twenty, I stepped into a chaotic Roman intersection, extended one arm in my best imitation of a Heisman pose, and – shouting over my shoulder at my thoroughly dismayed family – explained, “You have to establish yourself in the crosswalk”.

Of course, I knew that traffic would stop, and my exhilaration was not the adrenaline rush of a high-stakes game of pedestrian Russian roulette. Instead, this moment – which occurred while my family was visiting me towards the end of my semester abroad in Italy – was exciting precisely because I knew what would happen. The Fiats would stop, my family would cross. And my certainty was significant.

For the very first time in my life-long relationship with my parents, I had acted as the resident expert.

Ralph Gardner Jr. recently wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal in which he discusses, in relation to his own daughter’s study abroad experience, how rewarding it can be as a parent to let your children call the shots. As a happily childless twenty-something, I cannot speak to that. However, I have been on the other side, most notably in that Italian crosswalk, and I can absolutely attest to the fact that there is something uniquely fulfilling, empowering even, about being able to teach something to those people who taught you everything.

During that ten day Tour d’Italia, I had the opportunity to truly demonstrate to my parents that their child was able to function in the world. I made our meal reservations, navigated our train travel, and guided us through the convoluted streets of Italian cities. Of course, I had not earned total trust – when the van we rented broke down, my father and I walked into a gas station where he blurted “¿habla usted español?” before I had a chance to explain our issue in my near-fluent Italian. However, all in all, this trip enabled me to take huge strides as a person and as a son, and the agency I was given positively impacted my relationship with my family in a way that I continue to build upon today.

And, as a seasoned camp counselor, I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact of empowering children. The essence of independence that camp provides – in the form of elective activities that allow children to pursue their own interests, or the sense of ownership over social interactions that defines a summer away from home – is instrumental to the development of confidence and competence that occurs in so many children at so many camps across the country. Even in an incredibly structured environment, the idea of empowerment and personal agency has an incredible, tangible effect on personal development.

Similarly, my experience traveling to Europe with a teen program enabled me to take crucial steps towards independence, and during that trip I built upon the foundation I had laid during my own summers at camp. Suddenly I was taking buses, haggling in markets, and making decisions regarding how to spend my free time in a totally foreign environment – small steps to be sure, (and well-supervised steps at that), but nonetheless crucial advancements in my personal journey towards self-sufficient adulthood.

And so, to the parents of the world, I would encourage you to let your children take charge now and again. Give them small steps to take, to accomplish things independently. If your child is forced to confront obstacles without your complete assistance at each step, they will be empowered to do even more on their own. You may be surprised to find that the confidence and resourcefulness you hoped to instill in your children has transformed them into confident and resourceful teens and adults. And for the sons and daughters, those individuals passively watching as your family struggles to cross the street in a foreign l

An Eye to the Future: Raising a Healthy Generation

For those who have children, or those who were children not-so-long ago, it comes as no surprise that a culture of competitiveness and pre-professionalization has become a pervasive part of growing up. As early as elementary school future success is linked to the ability to perform in an increasingly demanding scholastic environment, and extracurricular activities become vital resume boosters that will improve college prospects.

However, as this New York Times article details, this adolescent arms race can be significantly detrimental to the mental and physical wellbeing of children, teenagers, and college students. Anxiety and depression levels among high-school students are unprecedented – at a California high school 54 percent of students exhibited moderate to severe symptoms of depression and 80 percent displayed moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety – and children as young as 5, 6, and 7 years old are developing the migraines and ulcers that used to be reserved for the stress of adult life.

At Everything Summer, we recognize there is a necessary balance between preparing your child for the future and fostering an emotionally healthy atmosphere in which they can thrive and develop as people. Summer vacation, that two month sanctuary from school, can provide an invaluable opportunity for your child to step away from the very real stress of their everyday life and simply enjoy what it is to grow up. Whether a child spends summers at a sleepaway camp making forays into lifelong friendships, or uses the season to pursue genuine academic or artistic interests beyond what’s available during the school year, we believe that a summer well spent is crucial to the development of a well-rounded, healthy generation.

And so, as you schedule your child’s summer months – perhaps with an eye towards the future – we urge you to pause, take a deep breath, and remember that building in pure vacation time truly is productive.

The College Admissions Process: We Will All Be Fine

It’s that time of year. No, not Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza. It’s the time of year when many high school seniors put their fate in the college admissions officers. It’s that time when you think your future is determined (although as you’ll learn later in life, that’s not true!).

Kids will remember this time in their life as a pivotal one. I remember it from eleven years ago. Back then most of the letters came in an actual envelope, and not through my inbox. If the letter was small and thin, it was a rejection, deferral or maybe a wait-list. If it was big and thick, I was one of the lucky ones that could cruise through the rest of my senior year having been accepted somewhere either early decision or early action.

Back then, yes, it was a huge deal. My friends would leave school early to see if something had arrived in their mailbox at home. Some people (not me) celebrated, and others cried because they thought they were seen as failures. Although I didn’t cry, I was disappointed in myself. How could I have gotten deferred from this school? What did the other applicants have that I didn’t? If they could just meet me, maybe I could charm my way in.

Jamie Spelling from My Digital Daughter wrote a post called The Day I Got Deferred. She talks about how many of us feel when we do get that deference or rejection letter. We begin to question our self-worth and ask ourselves, “why me?!”

Jamie assures us that “it is okay when your initial confident reaction begins to falter.” But she also goes on to tell us, which I 100% agree with, that this one single decision does not define us. Getting into one single college will not make or break us. There is a school out there for everyone. So what if it’s not that #1 reach school from your list? You will be okay. It may take time. For me, when I received the acceptance letter to my second choice school a few months later, I stopped doubting myself.

While the process can be harsh, and this may be the first time students experience any real form of rejection, everything in life is a lesson that builds resilience. Remember your summer family whom you can turn to no matter what, for consoling and confidence. Like Jamie, “I know who I am. I know what I have accomplished. Most importantly, I know what I deserve. I know I am fine. I know we will all be fine.”

Quality not Quantity

During this time of year I tend to do what a lot of people do, and that is to give thanks and think about how lucky I am. With so much other stuff going on around the world, I am thankful for the things I have and the people in my life.

One of the things I truly cherish are the friends I have. Whether it be my friends from growing up, high school, camp, college, or my work – I am lucky to have such great people in my life. Please note that I didn’t say “so many people,” but rather “great” ones. Like many things, I believe that friendships should be about quality and not quantity.

I recently moved back from living abroad for three years. While living in London, I kept in touch with my good friends from the US. Now that I’m back in New York, I am working hard to keep in touch with my friends across the pond. It’s not easy. People have busy lives, and I don’t expect my friendship with those I see on most weekends, to be the same as those who I’ve worked with, or who now live in another country. The point is that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve made a conscious effort to stay in touch with those who matter most.

Of course, someone that you may have been best friends with in elementary or high school, you might not have as much in common with anymore. That doesn’t mean that either of you did anything wrong, you just grew apart, and that’s okay. What I’ve realized though, is that with everyone’s busy lives, it does take time, effort and energy to stay in touch with good friends.

I attended the sleep away camp that I currently work at over the summers, and through the years I have met some pretty amazing people. I’m lucky to say that I have friends from all over the world. This, however, does not make it easy to maintain a friendship. We have to all try – whether it be emailing, Facebook, Facetime or Skype – it takes work – just like most relationships.

I recently read an article called Dear Girls, Life is too Short For Crappy Friends.
The author, Anna Lind Thomas argues that being popular and liked is overrated. I completely agree. I don’t expect young children and even teens to fully understand this, but I hope that as you grow older, you begin to realize that it’s more important to develop friendships that allow you to be true to yourself.

A lot of people who have experienced camp or a summer program in their lives will often say, “My camp friends are my best friends.” Why is this? Well, there’s something about living with other girls (or guys) for a summer that makes you instantly bond. The relationships I have with my camp friends are different than others. My camp friends have seen me first thing in the morning, they’ve seen me at my worst, and at my best. This is because we are literally together 24/7. Of course we fight, and there’s petty drama, but my camp friends know me better than anyone.

So I know that as a teen, it is hard to believe that sometimes less is more, especially when it comes to having friends. But I hope that if you take anything away from this, it’s that we need to cherish the truly great friendships we have, and not take them for granted. And like Anna Lind Thomas said, “life is too short for crappy friends.”

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