What Are You Doing Next Summer?
You work hard during the school year to make your college applications as strong as possible. You study a lot, get good grades, and are involved in extracurricular and community activities. While you might think that summer is the time to take a break from worrying about improving your resume, there actually are things you can do to get an extra edge when applying to college—and have fun at the same time!
To maximize the potential of getting into your top college choices, you might want to consider attending a pre-college or specialized summer program after your sophomore or junior year (or both!) or working as a summer intern.
Pre-College and Other Summer Programs
The idea of spending a summer taking classes or actually working might not be very appealing to you, particularly if you’re already struggling to focus on school with the temptation of warm spring weather. But by enrolling in a summer pre-college program, you’ll have the opportunity to enhance your resume, obtain college credit and sort out what you want from a career, all while getting a taste of what college life will be like. Some programs even invite students to live on campus, where they enroll in college-level courses and eat in campus dining halls. Other specialized summer programs are for a much shorter period, but still offer a great experience.
Not All Programs Are the Same
There are a variety of summer programs intended to help high school students meet their summertime goals. The three most popular types of programs are: college-offered courses or programs, institution-offered programs, and internships. Each of these types of programs offers a different experience, so it’s important for students to do ample research into the particulars of each if they are considering enrollment.
Here’s an overview of the basic differences:
Many college-offered programs are designed specifically for high school students. While they sometimes are focused on a particular field of study, such as drama or the sciences, other college-offered programs are simply open-enrollment general education courses in which high school students are welcome to participate. Generally, you can also get college credit when you enroll in a college-offered course. Most colleges offer one or both of these programs, so take a look around for opportunities that interest you.
In addition to obtaining college credit, a pre-college program may help you narrow your field of study to those subjects that truly inspire you. For example, if you are interested in graphic arts, but aren’t sure that you want to study it in college, then taking a summer course in basic graphic design can help you make up your mind.
“I was lucky enough to attend a summer program for high school students before my senior year in high school,” said college graduate Julie Yannalso. Yannalso attended a pre-college program offered by Penn State University. She lived in the college dormitories for two months and enrolled in a general education course in psychology alongside matriculating college students.
In addition to receiving college credit that later helped Yannalso complete her major in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, she also gained insight into what her college years would be like. “The program helped me know what to expect when I actually went to college. I learned how to meet people and make friends, so the transition into college was easy,” said Yannalso, who now works for her alma mater’s alumni association in New York City.
Colleges aren’t the only places to search for pre-college programs. Nonprofits, leadership development organizations and even governments offer programs to help you experiment with career options. These programs differ from college-offered programs in that they are more often specific to a particular field (such as education, engineering or business), making them a better fit for the high school student who already has a definite career goal in mind. They also differ from college-offered programs in that they typically don’t provide the attendee with the “college experience,” (dining halls, dorm living, etc.) and often don’t earn the student college credit.
There are institutions that focus on just about every professional and artistic field under the sun. You may have to travel in order to attend these programs as many of them are overnight experiences that last from four to six weeks. Some of the programs are as short as one week, but offer a fascinating experience.
At Presidential Classroom, for example, students immerse themselves in week-long programs at the nation’s capital. The nonprofit civic education organization offers several distinct programs, each with its own focus, activities, site visits, speakers and experts.
“At our recent National Security Policy program, students enjoyed in-depth tours at the Naval Academy, the CIA, the NSA and Andrews Air Force Base, where they welcomed President Bush and Secretary of State Rice upon their return from the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg,” says Presidential Classroom’s Executive Director Elizabeth Sherman. “In addition, students worked as ‘agencies’ and in ‘policy groups’ on a variety of true-to-life executive decision-making projects that engaged their intellects and imagination.”
Other programs include: Journalism and Communications (which has included leading journalists from the New York Times, People Magazine and USA Today): Science, Technology and Public Policy (which recently included keynote speaker Dr. Buzz Aldrin); Entrepreneurship and Global Business (visits to Capitol Hill and various embassies) and many more.
“One of our most amazing programs is the Future World Leaders Summit, where 450 students from around the world are brought together to explore international relations, diplomacy and the changing world economy,” says Sherman. “There are working groups on everything from peacekeeping and refugees to trade and health issues. We also hold a Cultural Day with dancing, costumes and presentations on various countries. You realize that you really are surrounded by the leaders of tomorrow.”
“I learned more about our government and politics in (one) week than in any class I’ve taken during a school year,” said recent participant Joshua Pavey. “(It was) not only the most educational week of my life, but the most fun one as well.”
Students often choose to enroll in similar institution-offered programs so that they can get an in-depth appreciation for a particular subject. That education can not only serve as a welcome boost on their college application, but it also can help them in their future classes. “I learned so much about economics from this experience,” said Ian Smith who attended the Powell Center for Economic Literacy in Richmond, Virginia. The Managing Director of Goldman Sachs, CEO of PartnerMD, Senior Vice President of Wachovia Bank, and Service Quality Vice President of SunTrust have been among the Powell Center’s guest speakers.
The key to getting into these often-selective programs is applying early. You’ll need good grades and, for some programs, a recommendation letter from your school.
Many high school students enjoy taking advantage of internship opportunities offered by local businesses, nonprofits and associations. As an intern, students are generally treated as if they are entry-level employees of the organization. While the stereotype that interns are the low-level folks getting coffee for the higher-ups may be true in some places, most interns simply work on projects, such as filing and research, and attend meetings. If you choose to accept an internship position, you’ll get a good idea of the operations and the field. By learning about what it would be like to work in a similar environment or position after college, you may be able to narrow down your field of study (or, you may decide that a certain path is simply not right for you).
There are many ways to obtain an internship while still in high school. One way is to simply call an organization or business that you think you would like to work for one day. When you call, tell them your situation and make sure they know that you are willing to spend a significant portion of your time dedicated to helping them with their everyday tasks.
Additionally, there are some organizations and businesses that actively recruit high school interns. Ask your guidance counselor or peers for any suggestions in your area. Also, a popular route to obtaining an internship is to enroll in a program that fosters relationships between organizations and high school students. When you enroll in the program, you are matched with an internship sponsor. Programs are nice because they take exhausting legwork out of finding an organization that is willing to mentor high school interns.
The previously mentioned Powell Center is one of many programs across the United States that acts as a broker between high school interns and organizations. Because the Center focuses on educating students in the fields of economics and business, they place students with large companies such as Bank of America, the Medical College of Virginia, BB&T, Circuit City Foundation, Media General and United Way, to name a few.
You may discover after your internship that the career you thought you wanted to pursue might not be the best long-term fit. There’s no better time to discover this than before you dedicate an entire college education to learning how to function in a job that you may not like after all.
Tips for Getting the Most out of Your Internship Program
The key to getting the most benefit from your experience is defining your summertime goals. Therefore, before you begin an internship program, plan out exactly what you hope to achieve by the end of the summer.
Todd Gehr, Chief of the Nephrology division at the Medical College of Virginia (MCV), hosts a handful of high school interns each summer. “What students really get [from the internship] is a view; not a huge amount of knowledge. They get exposure,” said Gehr.
While you certainly can’t expect to walk away from your summer experience as an expert in any field, perhaps the most important benefit is that you can gain valuable insight into your potential career. This can not only be entertaining, but it can help to prepare you for your next academic stage.
“The students go on rounds and have interaction with physicians, residents and medical students,” Gehr said. “The experience offers a good perspective for them.”
Companies and organizations with established internship programs usually offer the best overall experience. If a company or organization has an internship program in place, they usually make sure the intern gets exposure to many different departments and aspects of the business.
Before accepting an internship, you’ll want to ask about the type of work you’ll be performing. Some organizations may have interns only do administrative work, which can be valuable for part of your time, but you also want to be sure that you’ll be doing work that allows you to learn what the type of business you’ve chosen is all about. Also, ask if the internship is a paid position. Along with all that you’ll learn, it may be a good way to make some money during your summer vacation. However, even if the internship is unpaid, the experience will still be valuable.
Finding a Summer Program
If you would like to participate in a summer program or internship, the best place to begin your search for experiences is with your guidance counselor. Most guidance counselors receive regular announcements from summer programs and internship hosts that they then retain as resources for interested students. You should also contact some local colleges to ask about the programs they offer.
You can also do independent research online. Begin either with programs at colleges in your area or with programs that focus on your discipline. The more you search, the more you will realize that the availability of programs is abundant.
Finally, word-of-mouth is perhaps the best tool for finding a program or internship placement that will fit your needs. Ask friends and family if they know of any pre-college programs or internships that might appeal to you. And don’t be shy about calling local businesses, including nonprofits like hospitals and associations, to see if they have an internship program.
Most of all, remember that your summer experiences should be designed to help expose you to a career or field that you could be engaged in for years to come. Take time out to have fun amidst all that learning! After all, if you aren’t having fun, then it might be a sign that a particular career is simply not right for you.