If you (like me) live in the Midwest – or the Northeast, or the mid-Atlantic, or really just anywhere that’s currently buried under two feet (at least) of snow and waking up to temperatures in the negative degrees, you’re probably dreaming of summer.
(All I want is to go outside and be able to breathe in without coughing – is that too much to ask?!)
If you’re a high school student dreaming of summer, you’re probably hoping for summer break – the chance to eschew homework for a few months, work on your tan, and sleep in every morning. And as an equestrian, summer means show season and the opportunity to not only ride every single day and advance your skills, but also to accumulate points or scores toward some of the end-of-the-year shows, see how well your hard work over the winter has paid off in competition, and (of course) gorge yourself on the delights of horse show food.
(Walking taco, anyone?)
But is that really all that summer should be about? If you aspire to gain admission to a top college or university or want to boost your potential scholarship opportunities at a variety of schools, it’s going to take more than some solid horse showing and a summer-long pursuit of the best walking taco in America to make your college application shine; you’re going to have to work for it.
How do you do that?
Unfortunately, you’ll need to treat summer a bit more like an extension of your school year (and your college search) to get the work done. Does that mean that you have to turn your entire summer over to math tutoring, SAT and ACT preparation, coursework at your local community college, theatre camp, basketball camp, and every riding camp you can squeeze into your available hours? No – but it does mean that you’ll need to sacrifice some of your tanning time in order to maintain the same level of productivity you manage during the school year.
Ultimately, if you select just one thing to focus on (academics, riding, work experience, career exploration, etc.) and make strides in that direction over the course of summer, you’ll have boosted your resume and hopefully also learned something along the way. But how do you know which area to focus on?
- Do I need to strengthen my academics in a particular area? Did you have an awful year in geometry this year? Are your writing skills not as polished as you would like them to be? If there is a subject that you feel will suffer from lack of practice over the course of the summer, then don’t take time off. Instead, seize the opportunity to focus on that one subject and see if you can’t improve your capabilities when you don’t have all of those other subjects getting in the way. Also, if there’s an academic area that you’re really passionate about, see if your college counselor or a teacher can recommend a camp where they teach the subject that can give you a fun and immersive experience for a week or two. Focusing on one subject for a period of time can also give you a chance to explore some career possibilities – which brings us to Question 2:
- Are there career fields I’d like to learn more about or see up close and personal? College and university campuses across the country host a plethora of college major and career-focused camps over the summer and they might just have one that sounds interesting to you. Are you curious about engineering or the sciences? Have you ever wondered what an entrepreneur actually does? Or are there several different fields you’d like to explore in the hopes of discovering what you’re really good at? Chances are, there’s a camp out there that can fit your interests – or if you’d prefer not to trek to a faraway campus and be in such a formalized setting, see if there are intern or shadowing opportunities available to you locally. Perhaps your vet will let you ride along with him or her for the summer to see what the daily work of a vet is like or a family friend will let you observe the day-to-day operations of their law office or business.
- Is there a campus I’d like to learn a lot more about? If you’re the type of organized student who already has a list of colleges that you’re really interested in, attending a summer camp on that school’s campus can be a valuable opportunity for you to find out if you’d like to apply there as a senior. Is camp anything like your daily life as a student there will be? Not exactly – but close. Campers traditionally stay in the same residence halls, eat in the dining halls, and interact with some of the same staff and faculty they will later learn from if they enroll, so while the experience isn’t always infused with the same degree of rigor or same campus culture found during the school year, it might be a close enough facsimile to help you decide whether or not to apply. And if you’re an equestrian wondering about college riding programs, that also brings up:
- Is there a college riding program you’d like to experience from the inside? Many IHSA and NCEA equestrian teams open up their stables (and keep their school horses working) over the summer to allow future intercollegiate equestrians to train with their instructors and not only improve their riding skills, but also to learn more about riding at the college level. Do you have to go to a particular school’s camp if you want full consideration for joining their team as a college freshman? Absolutely not! Summer riding camps aren’t tryouts in that they will make or break your hopes of joining the team – but they are a tryout in the sense that they provide an opportunity for you to try out the program and see if you would like to become a part of it in the future.
- Do you lack the time to work or volunteer during the school year? Many high schools have required volunteer hours that students need to meet for graduation, but even if your school doesn’t fall into that category, are you so busy during the school year that you would like to volunteer but just don’t have the time? Or is there potential for you to get a summer job that will give you experience and a paycheck? Either way, if you have the opportunity to pursue volunteerism or a job over the summer months and you think that you will not only learn a lot, but that it will be of value to you later on, by all means go for it!
I know that the idea of doing something meaningful this summer might seem overwhelming at first – especially when you’re presented with the myriad of opportunities that exist for high school students! – but remember that the most important thing you can demonstrate on your college application is that you pursued or explored an interest when you were presented with the time and ability to do so. Don’t worry if your summer experience doesn’t sound as fancy as some of the things your classmates plan to do; just make sure it’s going to be valuable to you in the long run.
(And if you’re still stumped for ideas, maybe a blog featuring your candid reviews of horse show food across America will fit the bill; I know I’d read it!)