When Everything Summer works with client families, there are myriad people who may be involved in the process. Sometimes we speak with educators, college guidance counselors, and/or therapists. Parents oftentimes want to sit in on our intake sessions, though in some cases they prefer for us to speak directly with the student without their involvement.
However, when planning teen summers, there is one person who absolutely, unequivocally, must be involved in the process from start to finish: the teen.
We have said it time and time again, and it consistently bears repeating: there is no one summer program, no specific experience, that will cement a student’s college application as a success. There are competitive academic programs, physically rigorous adventure programs, eye-opening experiential programs, and challenging credit-bearing programs which all may impact an application and help a student tell their story – but the surefire route to programming a successful summer simply does not exist. Much of summer’s value to an application centers around a student’s approach to this time off – summer is an opportunity for a student to author a unique chapter in their story as an individual and applicant. But if this story is going to be compelling enough to matter to a college admissions team, then will it need to matter to the student first and foremost.
The key factor here is, if an experience matters to a student, they are that much more willing to take ownership, make the most of it in real time, and build on it in the coming months and years. The student who is forced into a journalism course will likely see that experience end the day they return home, while the student who chooses that very same course will join the school paper or produce their own blog. These are the types of summer experiences that will ultimately be more likely to matter to a college admissions team – they are the key points that provide definition to a student’s journey. Summer programs, especially for younger high-school students, do not need to represent the pinnacle of a student’s achievement – they can be incredibly valuable as stepping stones and growth experiences that the student builds upon them. The key, of course, is that the student must build upon them – and this will only happen if they feel truly invested in their experience.
So how can you, a parent, foster this kind of investment from your high-schooler? How can you place them in the driver’s seat of summer planning, without the possibility that they’ll simply park themselves on the couch? The first step is to set boundaries – they’re going to do something this summer. The next is to present options – broadly, “you’re going to do something and either you can choose it or we will.” Most teenagers, when presented with this dichotomy, will choose the former – but you can help them make the decision-making process more manageable, by identifying possibilities they can choose from.
Discuss their interests, find out what they want to try more of, and give them options. When working with Everything Summer clients, we always research and recommend a variety of options – we may present twenty-five programs (from a few different categories) for a student to choose two – because it’s important for a student to understand what types of experiences exist, and what their outcomes can be, before they can determine what type most resonates with them. Even if you think you know the perfect program for your teen, present it to them in the context of other options – they will bring an entirely different mentality if they choose the experience, rather than being signed up blindly by mom or dad.
This approach to summer-planning, this focus on teen involvement, will have an impact that will outlast any specific summer season. It empowers teens and teaches them to advocate for their own interests – this is the kind of experience that will prepare them to select college courses and majors. Beyond that, it demonstrates a level of trust – you, the parent who has been so active and involved throughout their lives, trust your teen to make a big and important decision, because you believe they are capable of handling the responsibility. When your teen ultimately graduates high-school, when they are in charge of their day-to-day and moment-to-moment decision making, this confidence will carry through, and allow them to be better positioned for college success.