It’s June and I can’t help but think about how immeasurably beneficial it is for students to make the most of their summers.  Many realize this… or in some cases parents may be saying, “You’re not just hanging around the house all summer!”

Summers are for enjoying, regenerating, even relaxing. They are not to fill with activities “just to pad a resume”. Sophomore/junior summer is the most important.  Do something you love. Then build on it during junior year.  And guess what?  It will likely go onto your resume. Don’t know what you love? Do something you could love. Confirm it over the summer and run with it.  Or, discover you don’t love it and move to the next thing you think you could love. Clearly the more summers you are actively doing, the more you learn about yourself, where you want to go, and meet people who can help you get there.  Summers can help you move from the theoretical to the actual. 

Anything goes; what matters is what you do with it.  A client spent her summer planning and shaping a student-volunteer organization in support of a national organization that raises food for schools in lesser-developed countries.  She gained a keen awareness of hunger in the world; a passion to help; raised $60,000 and spawned six more teen groups for the organization during her junior year. Another student “put away his soccer shoes” for the summer and gave research a try through a research mentorship program across the country.  This led to becoming a national finalist in the Siemens Competition and ISEF international finalist his junior year.  Did she know she would raise $60,000?  Did he know he would even like research let alone be a national finalist? Heck no. Did they do these things to “check the box” on their resumes? Nope.  Instead they took their summer experiences and ran with them. Yes, it made for very busy junior years, but they loved what they were doing, so it worked. They learned volumes about themselves and their character. (And, by the way, they had plenty of time to hang out with friends during the summer).

Start early.  Many summer program applications are due in February and likely require essays, teacher recs, and transcripts.  Take a look at summer program lists.  Here are two for STEM: one from a college and one from a high school college & career center. Find lists of things you love. If doing research is fun for you, go to a college website and find research being done that you are interested in.  Email and call the professor doing the research.  Tell them why they should let you help out this summer.  Consider applying to governor school programs, or MOOCs about something interesting to you, or your school’s summer school (or college courses approved for credit) – particularly if it helps get a requirement out of the way to take a class you want to take the next year. 

How many weeks, days, hours are there in the summer? And, how many weeks, days, hours do most camps, programs, internships, research require?  The point is, do more than one thing in the summer. A six-week research program and a 2-week camp volunteering; summer school and a part-time job (paid or unpaid); sport team summer league plus an online class and a 2-week program.  The possibilities are endless. They don’t need to be expensive. If you love what you are doing there is plenty of time and energy for friends and family in-between. You’ve only got 3 summers, use them!