Take a deep breath. Ahhhh. Can’t you just feel summer? Smelling the ocean breezes and mountain wildflowers. Watching little kids jump through front yard sprinklers. Sipping sweet cold drinks as we build elaborate sandcastles. Taking late night walks to see brilliant sunsets. Hearing the crack of a bat hitting a baseball. Or, if you’re in Houston, it’s often walking through flooded streets and hearing the crack of thunder!

No more homework. No early morning alarm clocks. No essay stress. No dinner table interrogations about college. No college forms to fill out….

Wait. What? A college admissions advisor talking about enjoying the sights and sounds of summer and leaving behind the college admissions drama? It’s kind of a “What you talkin bout, Willis?” moment, right?  I know that seriously dated me as a child of the 70s and 80s, but what can you do?

YES. That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s important to take some time in the summer and recharge your batteries. Allow yourselves time to unwind and relax. College admissions can wait just a little while. Unbelievable, right?

Believe me. I know you might feel overwhelmed by everything you think you need to do and feel like you need to get started ASAP,  but I ask you to recognize that summers can be an important time for personal growth; they are a time when the sixteen-to-eighteen-year-old brain is developing and growing into the future college student brain. And part of that process is to let go of some of the college admissions drama, so the high school student can relax and then begin that transformation.

So, what to do? What to do? Yep, this is an important summer for you, but there is no magical formula of what you must do to get into any colleges– even the most highly selective ones. Here are a few suggestions for the best approaches to college admissions prep during the summer:

  1. Take some time–at least a week or two, if not more– to be completely switched off from school and all school-like activities (this includes form filling and essay writing…).
  2. During this summer, make sure that you spend lots of time reading (real books), writing (just for fun), and being outside.
  3. Don’t panic if your summer isn’t yet planned.  If you’ve already got a summer internship or program abroad, that’s fabulous, but if you’re just now getting into the summer groove, you still have plenty of time to find something productive and engaging to do.
  4. Get a summer job if you don’t have one already. You can actually stand out from the applicant crowd these days by making a smoothie, flipping a burger, or scooping ice cream. These kinds of job allow you to learn about taking care of others and listening to what the customer wants, learn about organizing your thoughts and activities, learn to work with others and gain experiences you might never have the chance to gain again. So, blow whistles at kids running around a pool. Teach swim lessons. Learn to make delicious smoothies or to work a cash register. Deliver pizza. Fold sweaters and t-shirts in a shop. Wait tables. Herd little kids through activities at a summer day camp. Wrap burritos.
  5. Check out what William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Harvard Admissions, has to say about summer: “Bring summer back. Summer need not be totally consumed by highly structured programs, such as summer schools, travel programs, or athletic camps. While such activities can be wonderful in many ways, they can also add to stress by assembling “super peers” who set nearly impossible standards. Activities in which one can develop at one’s own pace can be much more pleasant and helpful. An old-fashioned summer job that provides a contrast to the school year or allows students to meet others of differing backgrounds, ages, and life experiences is often invaluable in providing psychological downtime and a window on future possibilities. Students need ample free time to reflect, to recreate (i.e. to “re-create” themselves without the driving pressure to achieve as an influence), and to gather strength for the school year ahead.”
  6. When you’re ready — either at the beginning, middle, or end of your summer, spend a little time thinking about and planning for college admissions. Maybe take a college trip. Spend a few hours reading through the common app. Start filling out those forms. Brainstorm some ideas for those college essays. Float the idea of writing a personal statement. Or two. I have a long list of questions you can ask yourself to get started.  Just let me know when you want it!

When your batteries are recharged, come say hi and ask some questions or share your wise words on the subreddit  r/applyingtocollege, message me here on my website, or find me on instagram or twitter. Together, we can create a plan that will help you manage your college applications and allow the high school brain that important downtime. I would love to be able to say that we can create a “no stress plan” for you because that’s truly my goal, but I know we will have to go with a “minimal stress plan” because that’s the world we live in. Just remember, though, that the college admissions process doesn’t have to be stressful; in fact, it can and should be a fun and exciting time for developing self knowledge and personal growth.