Congratulations, college-bound youngster. Your hard work has paid off, and by September you will be a college student. So, until then, you are twiddling your thumbs. I hope not! It’s just about eight weeks between now and orientation, and although you have put in so much effort to get where you are, don’t be tempted to let this summer go by without meaningful use.
Celebrating your achievements and resting are important, but your perspective on life and your knowledge of what is possible for you can change with one camp or one conversation. Here are a few ways you can use the many minutes still left in this summer:
Academic and Professional Development
- Shadow an Established Professional
Chances are you are heading off to college with the hope that it will prepare you to become a competent professional. You might have already chosen a profession, or you are hoping you will develop an academic interest that will point you to one.
While academic preparation is important, nothing will teach you more about how you want to spend your time as a professional than experiencing what a profession demands and rewards. One of the best ways of doing this is to shadow someone established in the field. If you want to be an investment banker because you love finance, or a middle school teacher because you love children, but you are unwilling to put in the long work hours needed to excel in these fields, it will serve you well to discover that early.
Honest conversations with a professional will give you a clear idea of the lifestyle, income, autonomy and fulfilment you can expect in their field. If even for just a day, shadow someone in a profession you are interested in before you head off to college.
- Generate Income
Depending on your existing financial resources, getting through college can be a financial challenge. You will need books, electronics, clothes for different seasons, and bus and plane tickets. You might also already need to be thinking about your student contribution for the fall and winter semesters. Some schools offer on-campus employment; off-campus employment might also be available to you, depending on your immigration status where you are studying.
While it has been proven that being involved in part-time employment can help you get more out of your college experience than if you only study, alleviate any potential strain caused by not having enough money during the upcoming semester by working and saving all you can this summer. This will leave you free to focus on your studies.
- Look Over a Course Syllabus, Start Reading a College Text
If you didn’t connect with current students and alums during your college application process, now that you are bound for college, the admissions or dean of students office will be more than willing to connect you with a current student. Ask a current student about syllabi and texts for an entry-level course that interests you, and review them in the coming weeks. This will acclimatize you to the volume of work that you will be expected to produce in a semester, and give you an idea of how you will need to manage your time.
Syllabi will also give you an idea of how a course is designed, including how much face-to-face time you will have with the professor and teaching assistants. Understanding the work involved in different courses will also show you why it is not a good idea to take only core or general education requirements in your first semester. Take a mix of subjects, to ensure that you don’t get lost in only mid to large classes upon arrival.
4. Take an Online Course to Strengthen a Skill or Learn Something New
As a writer, my bias is to recommend that you take a writing course this summer; I think one can always become a better writer, and you will have to write well in college. However, you might wish to improve your skills in investing, songwriting or coding. Whatever you want to learn, Coursera, Udemy or edX are good places to spend a few hours each week until college starts.
Personal Development and Self-Care
- Develop The Habit of Taking Care of Your Body
Adapting to a new environment, especially one with copious amounts of food and no one monitoring how much you eat, can lead to unexpected weight gain that spirals to unhealthy levels. Greater academic demands, and being awake for longer and later hours, can also lead new students to pack on more pounds than they desire . The summer before college is a good time to commit to a healthful lifestyle that includes regular exercise. If you already exercise regularly, it is a good time to create and meet new fitness goals.
Taking the best possible care of your body will be essential to your physical, emotional and financial health for years to come, and thus is a good habit to form before you get to college.
- Learn a Life Skill
I went to college in Maine, and one of the little joys of being there was observing students turn into hairdressers, barbers and chefs for each other. Learning to comb, cut and style your own hair might come in handier than you think, if you are going to be far away from your regular hair care provider and want to still look sharp. Knowing how to cook even one meal will come in handy on days you don’t want cafeteria or catered food. Moreover, these can become ways that you gain new friends or streams of income in college. Ask a skilled relative or friend to teach you a life skill while you still have time to learn.
A volunteer experience can provide many of the things paid employment does, including exposure to the demands of a particular profession and to a network of people with similar interests. However, it provides something else that can make such a stint in an area you care deeply about more valuable than a job in an area you don’t feel particularly invested in: Inspiration.
“Being successful isn’t about being impressive, it’s about being inspired,” says First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. Still, being inspired often leads to having impressive achievements; you excel when you are driven to work at something for a reason that transcends compensation. A volunteer experience this summer could give your college coursework meaning and direction, and inspire your life’s work. Go do it.
I’ve written about the reason travel in unfamiliar territory is one of the best ways to grow. I am especially fond of careful solo travel. You experience diverse ways of communicating, eating, getting married, raising children, working, expressing affection — living. And while it is never too late to get to know the world beyond your local borders, traveling at a young age typically means you have a longer time to harness the lessons learned along the way. If it’s just a neighboring town, parish or city, travel a little this summer.
9. Spend Time With Friends and Aging Relatives
I went to college in Lewiston, Maine, far away from my home in St. Catherine, Jamaica. By my third year I became convinced that every year there was “a call” — news you would rather not hear by phone. So it became important to me to return home as often as I could and spend time with friends and aging relatives.
As you grow, the conversations you have with the childhood friends and relatives you stay in touch with change, but the bond with these people who have known all the versions of you often become a strong source of balance in your life. Spend some time with these loved ones before you move away from them, or have less time to be in their presence.
- Write a Letter to Yourself
Pen a note to yourself about your hopes for college. Why are you going? What do you expect? How do you want to change? Which parts of yourself do you wish to remain the same? What, to you, will be the mark of having had a successful college career? Seal your note in an envelope that you open on graduation day, and celebrate the ways in which you have grown positively since you set out to purposely use your college experience four or so summers ago.