Successful Summers Push Students Outside The Comfort Zone

High-school students today are as driven as ever – many boast resumes peppered with AP classes and leadership commitments that would put their parents’ high-school selves to shame – and yet, these hyper-prepared teens are struggling at an unprecedented rate once they arrive on campus. And while some of their challenges may be academic – including challenges with time management, and an increased emphasis on writing – many students are simply struggling with the general transition to college life. More specifically, the transition to college life will inevitably push teens outside their comfort zones, and many teens are struggling to cope with being uncomfortable. In fact, students’ reluctance to embrace discomfort recently prompted Duke to announce that all incoming freshmen would be randomly assigned roommates – a move made in response to the fact that too many students were self-selecting roommates with similar backgrounds and perspectives, and were not taking advantage of the opportunity college offers to truly push one’s boundaries.

Pushing The Boundaries
Of course, learning to willingly step outside of one’s comfort zone isn’t easy – if it were, it would not be uncomfortable. However, the ability to embrace discomfort and the growth that comes along with it is a skill that can be developed – and pre-college summers are the perfect time to practice. This will mean different things for different teens, and a situation that is challenging for one student might put another perfectly at ease. An adventurous introvert might have no problem with backcountry camping but may prefer working alone and struggle with group projects, while a collaborator who prefers cushier surroundings might feel exactly the opposite. Some students might find academic programs exhilarating, while others struggle with advanced coursework – some might thrive in social environments, while others are socially intimidated by their peers. In any case, embracing these challenges can have some of the most rewarding outcomes for students, and over time can teach them to approach difficult situations with the open-mindedness and resolve needed to succeed in college and in life.

This isn’t to say that every (or any) student should be forced into whatever situation or program scares them most, with nothing but a reassurance that they will feel grateful for the experience in hindsight. Summer is precious time for a student, and it is vitally important for them to buy into an experience and summer plan as a whole. However, this isn’t to say that a student can’t take steps towards addressing challenges within the scope of an exciting summer – a teen may be reluctant to travel away from home, but might be more willing to take that step if it means they get to experience an immersive program in a subject that genuinely interests them. Our adventurous introvert can choose a travel program that places an emphasis on students working together to make decisions like what to cook, or what activities to pursue – or they can schedule a week of academic programming that emphasizes group projects after a rugged camping & travel experience, in both cases complementing a challenge with a passion.

Everything In Stages
It’s also important to tackle challenges in degrees – an experience during freshman summer might help a student take incremental steps in subsequent years, leading them down a road that ultimately leads to a successful transition to college. A student who has only experienced first-class accommodations might not be ready for two months of backcountry camping, but a couple weeks of “comfortable camping”, or even living in accommodations like a rustic group-house, might help them begin to adjust to group-living without the amenities they’re used to. Perhaps they can do a longer or more rustic experience in future summers, and ultimately gain experiences that will make the transition to dorm-life more bearable. Some teens have anxiety about separation and being away from home – however nearby, short-term residential programs might help them begin to address these concerns in a manageable way, and they can progress in future summers to longer experiences further from home, allowing them to ultimately thrive at an out-of-state university.

One of the magical things about summer is that it enables different students to pursue different interests – some may travel or take classes, others will focus on improving or acquiring a second or third language, while others might spend a summer working a traditional job. Ultimately, the mark of a successful summer is not the program attended or accomplishment notched, but the development the student undergoes along the way, and the ways that they are able to build on this in future years and summers. By using summer experiences as opportunities to push themselves in new and exciting ways, students can accelerate this development, and position themselves to succeed in college and beyond – and while the road to success might be bumpy, an uncomfortable journey will ultimately be worthwhile.