For most teens, having fun is the main item on the agenda for summer vacation, not learning.
But summer can be a great time for high school students to explore different interests and careers, as well as prepare for the college admissions process.
"It can be a really important time of self-discovery," says Stephanie Diozzi, a guidance counselor at Burlington High School in Massachusetts. Not all high school students know what they want to study in college, she says, so they can use the summer to cultivate interests in a low-stress manner.
These four activities can allow students to develop those new interests and skills, whether they are spending the summer at grandma's house or in their hometown. Plus, students can include these experiences on their college applications.
[Find out other ways to make family vacation educational.]
1. Participate in an educational camp or college program: Many colleges, museums and other organizations offer summer learning opportunities for high school students, Diozzi says.
Summer programs can be great way for students to explore possible majors or areas of interest, Diozzi says. Many offer financial aid and scholarships for students who want to attend, and students shouldn't rule out these programs even if the enrollment period has ended.
"Call to see if there are any last-minute cancellations. Sometimes families' plans change and they have to bow out of a program," she says.
2. Get a summer job: Students shouldn't underestimate the importance of small jobs, Diozzi says.
While it may be challenging for a 14- or 15-year-old to find a formal job, odd jobs like mowing an elderly neighbor's lawn are seen in a very positive light by college admissions officers, she says.
"It shows that the student has initiative and that they've taken on a responsible role in their community to the best of their ability," she says.
3. Visit colleges, near and far: Even a 10-minute drive through a college near a family's vacation destination will allow teens to get a feel for different types of schools, Diozzi says.
A visit to a school that a teen has no initial interest in may have unexpected results too, says Frances Kweller, founder and CEO of Kweller Prep, a New York-based company that offers test prep and college admissions advice.
"You never know if there is something there that may appeal to you that you definitely now want in a college," she says.
4. Job shadow: Observing someone in a field of interest can help students determine if their intended career path is for them, Diozzi says.
She has seen the power of job shadowing in action. One student shadowed a nutritionist for a day and discovered her passion for nutrition. She says the student has committed to go to college to study nutrition and has signed up for other enrichment opportunities.
"Just that one day spent in the field really made a huge difference and gave her a really strong focus," Diozzi says.
[Read about how parents can engage teens in summer learning.]
Above all else, students should use the summer to re-energize and explore activities that they may not have time for during the school year, Diozzi says. And it doesn't hurt to talk to the experts.
"We're biased, but they should definitely talk to their guidance counselor and they could certainly help point them in the right direction," says Joe Attubato, the guidance director at Burlington High School.
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