Building on Summer to Prepare For College Success

Summer is finally coming to a close, and no matter how your teen spent vacation – whether they took classes on a college campus, traveled domestically or internationally, worked or volunteered locally, or pursued an independent project – they are now gearing up for the school year to come. Amidst the excitement and anxiety that surrounds a new year of school, it can be easy for students to lose sight of the value of the summer experiences that have defined their last several months. However, as students move forward into another academic year, it’s important that summer doesn’t just become a blip in the rear-view mirror.

Here’s how successful students can build on the experiences they had – and how parents can foster this growth without getting in the way.

Reflect on The Summer

Before a teen can build on their summer experiences, it’s important that they understand them. Before they’re wrapped up by schoolwork, encourage your teen to spend some time reflecting on their summer – what did they like about their experience, and what didn’t they like? Did they find certain aspects of the experience challenging? A written reflection can provide a particularly valuable resource (and catharsis) – it allows students to process the summer that has passed, and may even provide fodder for college application essays down the road.

Identify Growth Opportunities

Once your teen has reflected, it’s time to decide how they can build on the experiences they had. If they pursued a specific interest over the summer and found themselves drawn to this, they should look into joining a formal school club that will allow them to continue exploring it; or look for opportunities to formally pursue the interest outside of school. If they’re already involved with a club or organization inside or outside of school, maybe they can seek out leadership opportunities or spearhead new initiatives. And of course, if there is no existing club that reflects the student’s interest(s), teens should gauge the interest of their peers and look into forming a brand new organization. These kinds of progressions tell a clear story to an admissions team: they provide tangible evidence of a student’s genuine interest, and demonstrate a willingness to work to further pursue that interest throughout the school year.

Foster Their Teen Independence

One of the major benefits of summer is that it gives teens the opportunity to develop the independent living skills that will define their college experience.  No matter how your teen spent their summer, it was likely a notable break from the hyper-structure of the school year and this break from structure oftentimes catalyzes a period of personal growth. The continued development of independence will ultimately be paramount to their success after high-school. Securing college admissions may demand the bulk of attention in high-school, but it’s vital to remember that this is not the end goal and students need to prepare to be successful once they get to school.

Students who spent part of their summer on college campuses, working, or participating on wilderness or adventure teen programs likely took great strides developing the kinds of skills that foster independence and lead to college success. They may have learned to do their own laundry or prepared meals for themselves (and others); or perhaps they began managing their own schedule, and took on responsibility for getting themselves to or from their classes or other arranged activities on time.

While the stresses of the school year can be overwhelming to students, it’s vital to encourage them to continue building on the foundational independence they’ve developed thus far. For example, task them with setting their own alarm and making sure they get to school on time – instead of having breakfast waiting on the table, let your teen know they’re perfectly capable of pouring a bowl of cereal or spreading peanut-butter on toast. If your child has an issue with a teacher or coach, encourage them to advocate for themselves to figure out a solution, and resist the urge to storm in and save the day. Of course, there may be some hiccups along the way – but a detention for tardy arrivals teaches a valuable lesson, without the consequences that come along with regularly missing your 8 AM lecture Freshman year of college. As your teen grows older, they need to learn to take care of themselves; so it’s vital for parents to provide them with the space to grow in this regard.  

Good luck to all teens as they embark on the next year of their academic careers – and remember, the summer may be past, but it is still a crucial building block for the journey ahead!