As summer draws closer, it is inevitable that conversation turns to summer plans. For many, a competitive spirit bred during the year and heightened during testing is powerful motivation to carefully plan their summers around activities or programs perceived to “boost” college applications. However, the most advantageous activity is to simply do what you are passionate about.
While grades and test scores used to suffice as a method of distinction between college candidates, the volume of applicants has increased enough that additional metrics evaluate capability and achievement. Students have evolved their planning to accommodate this change. The summer previously embodied relaxation and freedom from academic rigors, but now the summer can be a medium for students to further demonstrate their abilities and character. Consequently, students try to secure the best internship or most unique volunteer program.
Though students should be commended for their dedication, often the motivations for these selections are ill-founded. College admission officers are experienced, and after thousands of applications, it is likely that they can deduce which activities students do for college only, as opposed to what they do for personal enjoyment.
A simple transition in thinking can remedy this consequence. Students should participate in activities or programs based on passion, instead of the perceived application “boost.” This approach has two distinct benefits: it provides depth, substance and meaning to college essays, and it appeals to the college admissions officers by presenting them with a unique individual.
As every English student understands, voice is crucial to excellent writing. College application essays in particular demand voice, as it provides the reader with a look into an individual’s personality and experiences. Strong voice reveals true emotion, whether that is the intention or not. The implications of this are profound. If students choose to spend their time on programs which they are uninterested in, the boredom and monotony they felt during their time is evidenced in their essay. On the other hand, passion fosters meaning, and the portrayal of genuine fascination or revelation in essays is simplified when the experiences legitimately felt engaging.
“Classes that help you gain an advantage are not worth [the time],” mathematics teacher Carol Evans said. “If you want to see if you will enjoy medical school, don’t take a class in advanced biology. Go volunteer in a hospital.”
The second benefit relates to what applications are truly about. The basis of the admissions process is a search for bright students who exhibit characteristics similar to those of college students. These attributes include independence, self-motivation, taking initiative and community participation. One of the distinguishing traits between high school and college is the ability for students to decide which field or area of study they enjoy the most. According to the MIT website, the prestigious university looks for students to “take the time to really explore things that interest you, both inside and outside of school.”
By choosing a summer activity that reflects sincere interest, admissions officers are presented with a strong student, self-motivated, who demonstrates the desire to further study a particular area.
“At this point you don’t know what you will enjoy doing,” Evans said. “Summer, if you have the means, is the time to figure out which opportunities are out there. That is the best use of your time.”
Several current seniors used their summer this way, with excellent results. Senior Claire Bowie went on a ten-day hiking trip in New Mexico, complete with horseback riding and backpacking meals. She felt as though the experience allowed her to learn about new skills and passions, with originality as a side beneit.. “While just about everyone can say that they worked at a summer camp on a college resume, I can now say that I got skills like horseback riding…experiencing something few others have,” Bowie said.
Students, plan your summer around what you love. Restore an old car. Learn how to play a new instrument. Develop a mobile phone application. Passion inherently results in genuinely meaningful experiences, and when the summer concludes and the essay writing begins, every student will have a unique voice that they can share with the admissions world. And that, more than any other factor, is what will set you apart.