How to fill up your summer without really trying

By Scott Sager

Summer vacation has arrived which means my daughter survived her junior year of high school.

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High School Parent | College Parent

Even before final grades are posted online, the pressures of testing, academic achievement and extracurricular activities seem to recede. A flood of relief washes over the whole family as we look forward to fun and relaxing times in the warm weather.

Then reality hits. There will be no break for my 17-year-old. She will start an independent study class and begin writing her college application essays. We will squeeze in campus visits during what free time we can find so she can tour the schools on her list, particularly those she might consider applying to Early Decision or Early Action. Our family vacation will be planned around getting to some of the more distant states where she has an interest in attending college. Welcome to the last summer of high school!

When my daughter was younger, summers were simple and refreshing. New experiences balanced with needed down time, July and August always dedicated to hiking, camping, and swimming (diminishing the influence of cell phone, computer, and television). My preference is still to push her outside, but the fact is, without other time commitments, summer becomes the perfect opportunity for her to fill out her resumé by selecting an activity or program that will add to her admissions profile. As a likely STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) applicant, a stint doing lab research or a computer science project could put an exclamation point on her high school transcript.

As a family, we’re not buying into the idea of applying to college as an all-out arms race. But my daughter watched her older sister go through the process and she’s a pragmatist. The fact is, as more and more students send out increasing numbers of applications, many colleges become ever more selective. The summer class was her idea, and so I support it.

Some tasks I fully understand, like getting a head start on college application essays. While the Common Application makes the process easier than when I used a typewriter and my best handwriting to fill out the forms, my daughter will be busy in the fall with coursework, volleyball, and her social life. Over the summer she can find time here and there to pick her topics, write a draft and edit it at least once, which will make her life easier as deadlines loom in November and December.

What about other summer family traditions, like visiting grandparents? We will take multitasking to a new level, combining a stay at Gram and Grandpa’s with tours of nearby campuses. (We may even drag the younger cousins along to information sessions.) How about driving practice so my daughter can get her license? No better way to log hours behind the wheel than on a road trip, taking the scenic back route through charming college towns. And when she’s in the passenger seat, she can flip through flash cards (she will retake either the SAT or ACT in the fall). A hotel lobby or the airport, meanwhile, is the perfect setting for a practice test.

Still, I’m determined to carve out space for her to restore her energy and enthusiasm — time with friends, an amusement park visit, a weekend with no plans, anything to be sure she’s physically and emotionally rested when senior year starts. Once the bell rings for her first class in September, there’ll be no escaping the mad rush until she hits “send” on the last college application.

There is so much to squeeze into this short season, so many demands on the long days ahead, but summer is still summer. Sunshine and warm weather will accompany us wherever we go and whatever we do. Here’s to making the final summer of high school last and last.

I’m determined to carve out space for her to restore her energy and enthusiasm. Once the bell rings for her first class in September, there’ll be no escaping the mad rush until she hits “send” on the last college application.

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