Across the globe, students at every level—from kindergarten through college—have faced challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re in high school, no doubt you’ve missed seeing your friends, attending in-person classes, and participating in extracurricular activities in the usual way.
But adversity often brings opportunity, and it’s a good time to start thinking about opportunities you can pursue during the summer. Some traditional activities, like jobs at restaurants and summer camps, might not be available, but you can take advantage of—and perhaps even create—other opportunities that will enrich your life and broaden your horizons.
For college admission purposes, our core advice remains the same as always: do something meaningful and productive. Let’s explore some possibilities.
You may want a break from school over the summer, and understandably so. But academic opportunities can provide worthwhile enrichment and structure, which might be especially important this summer. Some students might pursue independent study projects with favorite teachers, while others might pursue formal online classes. Summer academic programs traditionally provide an opportunity to explore a nascent interest, to gain mastery in a specific subject, or to explore college coursework and possibly earn college credit. These options still exist, albeit online.
Colleges. Some colleges that usually offer on-campus pre-college programs or courses for high school students have moved those programs online. Examples include UCLA, Brown, Notre Dame, Cornell, Georgetown, Tufts, Wake Forest, and many others. This list will be evolving, so if you’re interested in these opportunities it pays to update your research frequently. (Some programs have been cancelled, like Boston University’s Summer Challenge.)
Online Course Platforms. Several online platforms offer courses students can pursue at their own pace. Some, like Coursera and edX, host classes offered by universities, while others concentrate on job-related skills, like Udemy and Udacity.
You may be aware of Khan Academy, which offers courses, instructional videos, exercises, and personalized learning in a variety of subjects. It has partnered with other organizations, like NASA and The Museum of Modern Art, to offer specialized material. (Khan Academy also offers SAT preparation in conjunction with the College Board.)
These platforms offer an enormous range of courses, so you’ll need to conduct research to find out which courses you’re ready for, which formats seem like the best match for your learning style, and which courses have received the best reviews.
Development of Skills or Interests
You may have an interest or skill you can develop on your own or with others this summer. Examples include music, coding, visual arts, writing, cooking, literature, yoga, and languages.
Consider forming a group to pursue these and other interests online. For example, we know students who have composed music collaboratively in school, which they could continue to do over the summer. Musicians can also jam together, and even perform gigs online, with platforms like Jamkazam. Students with a literary bent could form book groups and hold meetings online—just like their parents do!
Foreign languages are well-suited for independent study. Students can use platforms like Babbel and Rosetta Stone and read online materials in their chosen language. Better yet, if you know or can find someone fluent in the language who’s willing to help, start correspondence or dialogue. Or form a study group with friends interested in the same language and learn together.
Defined goals can be helpful. For example, a musician might aspire to learn some challenging pieces, a visual artist might try a new medium, and aspiring chefs might master some difficult recipes. In these cases, it might be helpful to establish a plan or schedule to keep you on track. But even when specific goals aren’t especially relevant, you should be able to explain what you’ve learned and how you’ve developed in your skill or interest.
And remember, in the activities section of the Common App, you’re asked how much time you spent on your activities, so it’s best to stay disciplined and committed to whatever you pursue over the summer.
Work and Volunteering
Many traditional jobs won’t be available, but enterprising students might find work nonetheless, whether paid or volunteer. For example, students might become dog walkers, and academically strong students might find opportunities as tutors working online.
Others might get involved with charitable organizations to collect and deliver food, raise money for charitable causes, provide tutoring, or otherwise help those in need. Here are some good sources for virtual volunteer opportunities:
ysa.org (Youth Service America)
wearepasta.org (Peers and Students Taking Action)
Standardized Test Prep
While many institutions have gone test optional this year, you will still be able to submit test scores, and many schools will still require them, so why not do your best? High scores will always strengthen your applications. (For a constantly evolving list of test optional schools, go to www.fairtest.org.) With the SAT offered in August (and now September), you can prepare over the summer so test prep won’t interfere as much with school and college applications in the fall.
Due to lost school time this year, some students might have missed material that’s tested on the SAT and ACT, especially in math. This might warrant extra preparation, whether with test prep tutors or using other materials, including the old-fashioned books published by the College Board (SAT) and ACT. Online materials are available too, such as SAT prep through Khan Academy.
Summer 2020 promises to be an unusual one. Whatever you choose to do, make good use of your time—and stay safe and healthy!