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College Counseling: Using Summer Break Wisely

Summer is ahead! Do you wonder how to help your daughter spend her time wisely? Thinking about how to best spend long summer days so that the time is both restful, restorative, and productive can be a challenge.

We are often asked which summer enrichment programs are valuable and whether they can support students in their college search or even add interest to a college application. The answer to those questions is multi-faceted, so it seemed sensible to share our thoughts, and, as college counselors, mention a few programs that have recently caught our attention. Finally, we offer a link to a list we are regularly updating with additional opportunities. It is not an exhaustive list but it is certainly a place to start as you and your daughter consider possible options.

Gaining Experience

Colleges value all kinds of experiences, including family responsibilities, paid employment or meaningful service. Even a regular babysitting gig with a neighbor or a volunteering at a day camp where your student is proactive about planning activities can illustrate initiative, leadership, responsibility and time management. The fact that they are building these skills and growing their knowledge is much more significant than ‘how college readers might perceive it.’

Questions to ask when evaluating programs for students:

  • Will the experience be interesting or valuable to them?
  • Does it grow their knowledge and experience in practical ways?
  • Is there an academic skill they need to work on that a summer program might address?
  • Is there a subject that intrigues them that they simply can’t get enough of in their classes?
  • Is there something they want to know more about?

It is true that expression and exploration of a student’s own interests can be very helpful in zeroing in on potential college majors.

College Programs

Programs on college campuses give students a taste of living in a dormitory and the chance to meet peers from across the country. That being said, consider carefully whether the program is actually supported by the college and its courses generally taught by college faculty. Appealing college-sponsored programs can offer need-based financial aid.  

Many of the more expensive programs (well over $1,500 per week) are run by for-profit-companies who rent space from the hosting institution. Often, there is no formal relationship between the program and its location other than buildings and facilities. Personal recommendations from other St. Mary’s students or neighbors are often a good way to find great programs, but there are so many it can be hard to find such a recommendation for every opportunity. If you need help evaluating something you or your student has found, don’t hesitate to reach out to their college counselor.

Engineering Camp

Texas Tech University is famous for more than just basketball. It has a highly regarded engineering program, especially in petroleum and chemical engineering. Living in Lubbock, Texas might sound hot and very far away for four years, but if spending a week in air-conditioned classrooms and labs trying to figure out if engineering is really something your student wants to do, this opportunity might be intriguing and appeal to a sense of adventure. Because they have a grant to support these specific programs, the $300 price tag feels affordable. Deadlines for applications are Apr. 26 for the coeducational camp and May 15 for their camp designed for young women.

Young Writer’s Conference

The Sewanee Young Writer’s Conference at the University of the South is one result of its legacy from Tennessee Williams. High school writers work with notable authors and faculty from across the country on the Cumberland Plateau. While the fees are more typical, at $2,400 for two weeks, scholarships and financial aid are available. They are still accepting applications, but the available aid goes fast. (Full disclosure: Sewanee is Kimberly’s alma mater!)

Local Job Opportunities

Here are some local job opportunities where St. Mary’s students have worked and some unexpected or unfamiliar college programs that seem affordable and have caught our attention recently. Please check out our expanding google document of additional options.

Sometimes the most obvious things are the best! Portland Parks and Recreation hires many high school students to staff their busy pools and day camps for younger children. Click here to find out what is available and how to gain your lifeguard certification. Tualatin Hills offers similar choices and volunteer positions.

Ruby Jewel needs extroverted and enthusiastic high school students with scooping power to staff its many carts that proliferate at Portland’s street fairs, outdoor markets, and festivals.