Oh What a Difference a Summer Makes!

Summer is a great opportunity to rest and refresh your mind and body. Lounging on the beach, surfing and visiting the ice cream parlour or the movies in the evening sounds like the perfect summer. In the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s it was …but for today’s students with curious minds, summer is a vital opportunity to advance your studies, pursue a passion or differentiate yourself from the masses in terms of college admissions.

The number of academically qualified students seeking to capture one of a limited number of coveted places in highly competitive colleges increases every year. Many colleges receive upwards of 30,000 applications per year, and last year UCLA received 68,000 applications for 5,300 first year seats. I Finding a way to stand out and get noticed by admissions officers has become imperative. Long gone are the days when good grades alone were enough to get you into a great college.

Demonstrating a love of learning or showing drive and initiative by passionately pursuing an interest is no longer just an added boost to your college profile, it is virtually a requirement! Moreover pursuing an interest rigorously enough to be able to talk about it and to show evidence of a real passion is important for top applications in both the US and UK. Being a well–rounded student with outside interests is imperative. Whether it is involvement in a local community program, setting up a small business, working or pursuing additional academic interests, summer is the time when you have a great opportunity to explore and “boost” your appeal to colleges. Families don’t despair…this does NOT mean that your student must spend the whole summer meaningfully engaged, but it does mean that students would be wise to spend at least part of their summer pursuing an activity that involves more than laying on a beach.

So what can your child do to prepare, and just how early does he or she need to start doing something about differentiation?

Let us begin by saying that there is no single answer and no one best thing to do. The MOST important consideration in whatever students choose to do is that the activity is meaningful to them. By implication, the activity will be relatively unique to your student. Blindly sending your children off to the exact same summer camp or Habitat for Humanity adventure with friends largely defeats the purpose of differentiation, especially if the Kids end up applying to the same list of colleges, as friends often do.

Students would do well to spend some time thinking about what they enjoy and about what they have an interest in. In this way they are more likely to come up with something truly personal and enriching.

Here are some ideas for the myriad of interesting activities that can be pursued over a summer:

Strengthen a Weakness: Perhaps your student struggles a bit in math, chemistry or English literature. He or she might consider a program that will build their skills in this area and feed back into higher grades during the next academic year.

Explore something New: Programs in which students can explore avenues not usually available to them during the regular school abound in the English-speaking world, especially in the US. Boarding and day camp programs for teens as young as I2 years old allow Kids to stretch themselves academically, challenge their imaginations and try a wide variety of subjects such as chemistry, criminology, oceanography, drama, design, math or creative writing.

Also, there are excellent programs that teach sports, build physical stamina, public speaking or leadership skills.

Some camps even combine academics with sports and weekend leisure activities for a truly well rounded experience.

Community Service/Volunteering: Whether your child wants to build homes in Venezuela or start a community reading program, community service is an excellent activity for summer. This Kind of activity can often stretch the creativity and coping skills of a student while they are doing a lot of good, and can even give the student an opportunity to use a studied foreign language.

Internships and Jobs: There is no better way for students to explore how the world works than through work experience. Whether or not the work is in a field they are interested in, it fosters responsibility, self–confidence and provides an opportunity to learn new and valuable skills.

College Tours

From the time a student enters Year 10, a great use of summer time is to visit a variety of colleges. Distinguishing one ‘amazing’ university from another by reading on–line information is really tough. Taking the opportunity to actually walk on campus, sit through classes, see how students interact, meet professors and “feel“ the atmosphere is the best way to determine which types of universities fit a student best. After all, the atmosphere at a large West Coast public institution such as UC Berkeley is worlds away from that of a small private college like Amherst on the US East Coast. Similarly the feeling in Southwest England’s Bath or Bristol Universities are completely different to those universities in the Midlands such as Leeds, or Scotland, such as Edinburgh and Strathclyde.

Taking the time to try on different sizes and types of colleges is a great way to choose which environment fits your child. Similar degrees are offered by several colleges, so choosing the type of school that best suits the student can make all the difference to his or her success once on campus.

While on campus it is an excellent idea for junior and senior year students, years II and I2, to do their college interviews. These should be arranged ahead of time and the student should put serious thought into the answers to Key questions that are likely to be asked. Such interviews give students the opportunity to learn about the colleges first hand and with a little preparation can have a positive impact on admissions results.

When choosing a tour or putting one together yourself, be careful not to just sightsee. Stop in the main office for an admissions talk and take a student led tour. Go to the local town and see what the social life is like! Taking notes on what you hear, see and do is also very useful.

Some organizations such as
Team Education Discovery Tours can help students do all of this and more. College tours are often fun, allow you meet like minded students and understand what college is really all about.

The beauty of summer is that there is no wrong choice as long as you DO something!


Tess Robinson and Amanda Thomson
are co-founders of Shanghai based TEAM Education Consulting which offers one-on-one boarding school, college and graduate school admissions consulting services
to students and their families. Team Education Discovery Tours specialise in small group and tailor made college tours. Tess Robinson is a graduate of Harvard Business School (MBA) and Stanford University (AB, International Relations). Tess also received a certifIcate in College Admissions Counseling from UCLA and
is a member of NACAC and OACAC, the leading professional associations for college counseling. She has been successfully guiding students through this process for I2 years. www.teameduconsult.com.

I. UCLA college admissions statistics,


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Tess Robinson