The summer before senior year is finally here. There are a lot of things to think about, including college. Here are some of our best tips.

There are a million ways to spend the summer before senior year.   I realize, of course, that your own situation is going to be a big factor.  Maybe you need to work two jobs instead of just one to make sure that you can pay for school or to have enough pocket money.  Maybe you need to do some extra course work to make sure that your grades are in sync with your college choices.

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In other words, I’m pretty sure that you have a good handle on the important stuff you need to get done that summer.    But here are three good ideas that maybe you haven’t thought of.

Community service

You know those college applications are going to inquire about your experience helping your community.  Colleges generally prefer well rounded students, and one of the components of being well rounded is community service.  If this is an aspect of your profile that needs some extra work, then the summer before senior year is a perfect time to burnish your “college resume,” as it were.  There are lots of ready-made opportunities near you, including:

  • Retirement homes: assisted living, personal care, and nursing homes are eager to have someone who simply stops by to play cards or read the newspaper to them.
  • Your faith community: may have tons of nearby opportunities for you to get involved.
  • Boys & Girls Clubs: almost every town or city has a Boys and Girls Club where kids get together after school to play sports and work on homework.

When I was in high school I volunteered each week at a local soup kitchen.  Basically I chopped carrots and celery until my knuckles were raw.   I also ended up playing chess with locals who needed a hot meal.

Aside from the experience being very helpful as part of my “college resume”, I wrote about these experiences in a number of essays.  Years later an admissions counselor told me that my essay had stood out because I wasn’t just passing along shallow platitudes about “doing good.”  My essay brimmed with real-life “sights and sounds” from my volunteer experience.

Talk to alums

Another good idea is to do what my wife calls “academic due diligence.”  Let’s assume that you are pretty sure that School X is your dream school, and School Y is your favorite “realistic school.”  Meet with someone you know who attended the school (parent, relative, friend of the family). If you don’t know someone who attended the college, reach out to each of these schools and ask to meet with a nearby alumni representative over the summer.  If you know your major, ask to speak with an alumni rep who graduated with that degree.  If you ask the right questions, you might be able to learn some really important things:

  • What to emphasize in your application
  • The best majors
  • The best dorms, if you are going to live on campus

Here’s a little known secret.   If you get waitlisted, you might be able to enlist the alumni representative in making your case for admission!  Shhh!  Don’t tell anybody.  It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it really does!

What’s it all about?

Ok.  Here’s my best advice about what to do the summer before your senior year.  Seriously.

Give some thought about what you are trying to accomplish with college.   When I was working hard to get good grades in high school, my horizon ended with college.  Put it another way, the most important thing was getting into college.  But what about after college?

The best thing I can tell you is to view college as one more step in your journey.  Sure, it’s an important step.  But it’s not the last, or even the most important.  Spend this summer thinking about what you are passionate about.   What’s the one thing you’d do, if you had all the money in the world?  Figure out your passion and then think about how college will be an important step in exploring that passion.

  • If you want to be an attorney, college will give you the chance to improve your communication and critical thinking skills. So college is important.

But what about things outside of and after college?  What about interning in a law office during college?  Or at a Legal Aid office that helps poor people?  What about taking trips to see attorneys in court?   Ever been to the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC?   Visit a prison.  Talk with attorneys about how they actually spend their days.  Did you know that many attorneys never set foot in a courtroom?

  • If you want to be an accountant or CPA, college will certainly help you develop quantitative and analytical skills. But what about outside of college or after graduation?  Meet with practicing accountants to understand the differences between small, medium and national firms.

Did you know that CPA and accountants sometimes do a lot of traveling? Did you know that communication and writing skills are critical for successful accountants and CPAs?

  • If you don’t know what you want to be, that’s cool, too. Take an inventory of two types of skills – what you are good at, and what you are curious about?  Ask mom and dad to introduce you to their friends and colleagues in a variety of endeavors.  Share what you are good at.  Share what you are curious about.  You might be surprised by the jobs they suggest.

Oh, and here’s a great piece of advice:  talk with entrepreneurs who’ve started businesses.  Suddenly, the fact that you have LOTS of interests will be a huge asset.  Entrepreneurs place a high value on people who have a wide assortment of good skills rather than one expert skill – since a lot of thorny problems in startups require many perspectives not just one.


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