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The summer is a terrific time for high school and college students to engage in activities that will allow them to explore their interests and improve their emotional, cognitive, and life skills, such as stress management, problem-solving, empathy, and decision-making.
Students can engage their minds and add skills to solidify an area of interest by exploring their interests through an activity that they can continue throughout the summer, such as sports, dance, music, academic-related projects, travelling to a place they have researched about, a road trip, hiking, camping, etc. Sometimes these activities can become turning points for a career decision.
I've seen a student become so involved with the environment through summer activities with "Save the Tiger" and "Water for Everyone" projects, that they eventually chose environmental engineering as a career, graduating from Stanford University with a master's degree and now working in a top consultancy firm that specialises on water management for various countries.
Everything requires effort, dedication, discipline and focus, which students should realise as the outcome of these activities. Students in high school and college should be more cautious about their selections because they will be discussing these experiences with admission officers in their essays. Summer activities that connect with a student's unique selling proposition—their most valuable quality or contribution to society—are helpful. Here are some ideas for college activities:
Internships or Research - Compared to other summer activities, internships can be hard for school students but college students are great candidates for them. There are focused companies today which help you secure an internship that allows you to connect with corporates for two months 5-6 hrs a day. Many paid and unpaid internships exist for college students. Internships should be related to the student’s interests, if possible, and should result in a tangible outcome such as a paper (published, if possible), presentation, poster, and/or recommendation.
Academic enrichment programmes or summer school programmes - Universities like to see that students care enough to enhance their own knowledge of a subject or improve their skills in a specific area. In particular, there are excellent science, business, and writing programmes. Competitive programmes that offer a deeper understanding of the subject matter are equally regarded. One word of caution: programmes offered at elite college campuses may or may not be elite programs. They could be an expensive waste of money. So do your research. There are many good programmes in India, US, UK and Europe.
Community service - This is still one of the big checkboxes for colleges. They appreciate students who dedicate their time to helping others, their community, or the world. There are many good community service options out there. It helps to do your research to differentiate organisations that are truly altruistic from those that are more commercial. If you can find community service that is related to your academic or extracurricular interests, all the better.
Extracurricular enhancement programs - Elite athletes can benefit a great deal from attending camps or workshops related to their sport. Good writers can benefit from attending exceptional writing programmes. Gifted artists can benefit from instruction within their specific field of interest or talent. The key is to find programmes that will enhance their narrative as it relates to activities.
Significant independent projects. Whether it is travelling to Europe to research the origins of modern religions, building a life-size race car to study aerodynamics, starting a foundation to raise awareness of a particular human or animal malady, travelling to the Mediterranean country to study the origins of the Sabir language, or interviewing climate artists from around the world to create a presentation on climate change, a large scale project can separate you from other candidates who are submitting a more mundane list of activities.
I wish you all the best in your search for an activity, be wise to choose and meet a counsellor to discuss your options.
The author is the President of University of Michigan India Alumni Association (UMIAA) and the Founder & CEO TNI Career Counseling.
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