June 8, 2017
Summer 2017 arrives in less than two weeks. If you're a rising high school senior, you may be wondering what to do over these next two-to-three months or so. Maybe you aren't wondering and have a specific plan for how to spend your time.
If you don't have a plan, maybe I can help you to formulate one. Two practical and helpful ideas would be (1) application essays and (2) some kind of part-time work. I refer to this combination as essays and effort.
Getting a jump on your Common Application essay is time extremely well spent. Summer affords opportunity for thoughtfulness and response, the two elements most conducive to conjuring great essay ideas. It's amazing how clearly one's thinking can become when some stresses, such as school work and their deadlines, are removed from your lifestyle equation.
A summer job rewards your work on multiple levels. First, it provides funds for fun. You won't have to depend on Mom and/or Dad for what I call "community action grants." In other words, don't look to them for handouts to finance your leisure activities. Being financially independent, even on this type of small scale, can be inspiring and provide a useful model for later life.
You can also save some of this money for college. Sure, you won't be paying tuition bills from a summer job's earnings, but you can use some of these funds for a textbook or two or the always-needed pizza delivery.
Are you currently looking for a summer job? Have you acquired one already? Maybe you're already working one. The world of summer jobs has changed dramatically over the decades, along with most other things, I suppose, although some types of work remain the same as it was when I was your age. Was I ever that young? (WARNING: Here comes another one of those sleep-inducing "Dave recalls his Wonder Years" narratives. Do not read while driving or operating heavy equipment!)
Back in the day, I worked a number of highly unglamorous (by today's standards) summer jobs. I was a busboy at our local Holiday Inn. That was my first paying job. What did it teach me? Probably the most important lesson I learned was not to look too closely at how your food is prepared in a restaurant's kitchen. I also learned the crushing effect of taxes on a tiny paycheck.
Another summer, I strapped 40-pound boxes of small laundry detergent samples called "Cold Power" around my neck (check with your grandmother about that product; she'll remember) and spent weeks walking door to door throughout endless neighborhoods hanging them on door knobs. What did those toils teach me? ... Possibly, to figure out where the kink in my neck came from.
Then came tennis court maintenance. I worked one summer taking care of some beautiful clay courts at a country club. They required a lot of preparation for play, morning and evening. I had to drag them, roll them with a heavy roller, sweep the taped lines, then water them carefully, not too much, not too little, and finally reinstall the nets. What did I learn there? ... How to parlay my tennis knowledge into meeting and dating some lovely ladies who would saunter over to the courts from the club pool. Talk about perks!
My inspiration for this retrospective comes from a older Wall Street Journal article: In Praise of the Teen Summer Job, by Dave Shiflett, who notes, "From hauling bricks to delivering newspapers, traditional summer work taught generations of teens about life, labor and their place in the universe." That's also my recollection of summer jobs. Dave contrasts back-then to nowadays:
Among the signs of my advancing age is bafflement at hearing younger parents talk about what their teenagers are going to do over the summer. Some mention internships with documentary filmmakers. Others say that their offspring will spend the hot months building latrines in distant corners of the developing world. A few speak of expeditions to measure the disappearance of glaciers or a period of reflection at an ashram in Tamil Nadu.
What on Earth is an ashram? And when did teenagers start doing all these exotic things instead of working summer jobs?
I wish them well, of course, and hope that they build the finest latrines ever to grace the Guatemalan countryside. I should also acknowledge that I wish such opportunities had been available to me when I was growing up ...
Read the rest of Dave's article. It's an excellent argument for the joys of summer work. It's also an informative read for any of you students out there who are interested in putting all the upcoming weeks of non-school time to better use than following Facebook, Twitter, et al or keeping up with the Kardashians.
One of my goals every summer here on my blog is to suggest that, by the time you return to school in September, you will have completed your main Common Application essay. I emphasize the importance of essays, perhaps at times repetitively, for a specific reason: Essays are a critical part of college applications. No other part of the application can so clearly represent the individualism of the applicant and illustrate who you are and how you think. So, ignore the impact of your essay(s) at your own risk.
Thus, it's now time to start thinking about essays, if you haven't already done so. To help you get started thinking about how and what to write, as I've done with other rising-senior classes, here is my evergreen list of articles and blog posts that I've written about application essays. It's a long list, so don't feel duty-bound to read all of them. Find several that appeal to you and then learn from them:
What you'll see in the samples that I posted in the above articles is the natural style incorporated by the writers. Their essays flow smoothly and don't have an "academic" feel about them. When you read these, you can almost hear the writers speaking. In other words, their "voice" is natural and not at all affected by formality or overblown usage. They don't use big words just for the sake of impressive vocabulary. Big words don't impress admissions committees. A natural voice, convincingly presented, does.
Find your voice and "speak" through your written words. It's not that hard to do once you can relax, breathe, and enjoy the repose that summer provides.
So, essays and effort: the Dynamic Duo of rising-senior summers. Are you motivated? Are you focused?
More accurately, are you willing to do the work? Willingness is easily 50% of the battle. And trust me; it can be a real battle between your mind and your will, which has a tendency to always seek the easy way out.
Summer's coming. Don't get left behind!
Be sure to check out all my college-related articles on College Confidential.
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