Realize your creative potential this summer.
The beginning of June is usually a time when students and families are gearing up for a summer full of activity. Jobs, internships, sports, theater or music camps, volunteering in your community, attending a program in another country or state would normally be sources of anticipation and excitement. But, as we all know, this summer is different. For many students, their intended summer plans have been thrown into chaos by the pandemic that has upturned all of our lives. Along with the threat of going stir crazy, this lack of summer activities also prompts college related anxieties. The importance of presenting a robust and committed extracurricular profile to colleges is well known. Students worry that a lack of sustained involvement will negatively impact their admissions prospects.
We at Educational Advocates College Consulting view the summer of 2020 in a more optimistic light. It’s true that spending several months doing nothing but napping, selecting the perfect Snapchat filter, or playing Call of Duty will not increase your admissions prospects. But, approached correctly, this unusual summer presents an opportunity for students to creatively pursue their interests in a way that will appeal to admissions officers. Some of the primary qualities admissions committees look for are commitment, independence, innovation, initiative and curiosity. This summer offers a unique opportunity to develop your own interests in a way that highlights the qualities colleges most value in applicants. What follows are some tips for how you might turn a summer that appears to be a liability into an opportunity to learn and grow in a way that will bolster your college applications.
LET THEM BE BORED
Downtime leads to innovation in project ideas.
A former professor of mine recently sent her daughter to study film as an undergraduate at Yale. Impressed and delighted by this acceptance to such a selective program, I asked my friend what she had done as a parent to facilitate her child’s success. Her response was surprising: “I let her be bored.” To her mind, the most important thing she had done for her child was give her the opportunity to use her time creatively. Rather than filling her days with structured activities, her parents encouraged her to independently explore her passions. Without externally imposed guidelines, this student had to innovate projects on her own. As a result, she developed an ability to create structures in which to explore her passions for literature and film. She had to figure out how to fill gaps in her skills and knowledge that prevented her from realizing her vision. As a result, she took charge of her own learning, and harnessed her intrinsic motivation around her interests to get things done. During high school she began to develop extracurricular film projects of her own. She wrote, directed and edited an elaborate series of YouTube videos in which student actors acted out scenes from her favorite Victorian novels with an innovative social-justice spin. These became a social media sensation and this project was an impressive feature in her college applications. What we might perceive as a superfluous pet art project was her ticket to Yale – because it was a project to which she was truly dedicated. Her long summer days of making the most of boredom had given her the tools she needed to harness her passions productively.
BUT I HATE BEING BORED
Some of you might think that this strategy does not apply to you. Perhaps your interest requires an external structure or a physical/social setting that makes it impossible to work on it from home. Maybe you have trouble staying focused on a single task or dislike working alone. Maybe you don’t feel that you have a “passion” at all, let alone one you’d like to devote an entire summer exploring. Here is some advice for how to approach your summer plans if you fall into any of these categories.
It’s true – certain kinds of activities are easier to pursue from home or online than others. But just because you love sailing or musical theater or something else that normally requires being with others outside your home does not mean you have no options. All you need is a little creative thinking outside the box and you can find a way of continuing your favorite pursuits. Make a list of your favorite extracurricular activities and hobbies. Don’t limit yourself to organized activities or programs. If you enjoy knitting, reading stories to your little brother or watering plants in your garden add these to your list. Each of these could become the core of a summer project: create an Etsy store where you sell knitting patterns you design; get involved in an online volunteer project where you record yourself reading stories to children who don’t have ready access to picture books; start a landscaping business in your neighborhood or grow an organic vegetable garden according to sustainable gardening practices that you care about. Almost any interest can be turned into a project with a little creative thinking.
It’s easiest to complete a project that has defined goals from the start. Once you figure out what you want to do, the best way to assure that you get it done is to create a concrete goal for the final product along with a set of concrete steps you will take to get there. Once you have identified the steps, you should look at a calendar and develop a timeline that identifies when you can realistically complete each step and ensures you’ll have time to complete your goal by the end of August.
Create Your Own Structure & Community:
Many of us find lack of structure paralyzing. When in-person school was in session many students were happy going to class each day and working on assignments in the evening. But once school shifted online this spring and students were working from home independently, some have found it increasingly difficult to get things done. If this is you, the key to success will be figuring out a way to create your own structure. One of the best ways to do this is by collaborating with others. If you can draw other people into some kind of group project, your chances of maintaining momentum and focus will greatly increase. Find a friend or two that you would enjoy working with and who share your same interests and develop a project together. After you find your partner(s) you might also find it helpful to impose an external structure on your time. Set up a time each day or each week in which you will work on your shared project together. Even if the work you do is individual, you could set up a Zoom chat where your mics are on mute and you are both doing your work while the other is in the background. A parent or other family member can serve this same function. You’d be surprised how much a regular meeting time and a friend or parent sitting physically or virtually beside you as you work can help you maintain focus. You don’t have to do it alone! Tell others what you would like to do and figure out ways in which they might help you create structure and maintain focus.
The novel coronavirus has changed our lives dramatically. Sometimes it feels like it has stripped away all our opportunities to do the things we most enjoy. But, approached correctly, this summer could be the ideal time to delve into your enthusiasms in a way that will impress colleges, yes – but most importantly, energize and sustain you through these difficult times.