Ah….summer! In Seattle, that means hiking, biking, swimming, beach BBQ’s and summer festivals. My friends in other parts of the country are amazed at how much we pack into our precious summer weekends.
If you are a high school student, especially one who is interested in applying to selective colleges, summer is all of the above, plus a time to grow and learn. Some lucky students have nailed down internships or summer research opportunities. Others are attending summer programs at universities. But what if your summer doesn’t have something like that on the agenda? What if the only thing you have scheduled is your family’s annual trip to the Midwest to visit relatives?
It’s not too late! You can still find lots of interesting things to do that will look good on your college applications.
Are you passionate about something?
· Photography? You could put together a photography show and have it displayed at your local coffee house.
· Creative Writing? You could write short stories to submit to writing competitions or work on a novel.
· Video Games? You could take Coursera classes (for free) on developing video games. Or on the psychology behind those games.
· Hiking? You could volunteer at an outdoors club. Even better, show leadership by organizing a weekly hike.
· Biking? You could plan and undertake a long distance bike trip.
· Music? You could volunteer to help at local music festivals.
· Sports? You could coach younger students in your favorite sport.
· Politics/Activism? You could volunteer at your favorite organization.
The cliché is that “the sky’s the limit”. But in this case, it really is true. You can do anything that you care about.
One of my favorite books about extra-curricular activities was written by Cal Newport; How to Be a High School Superstar – A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College By Standing Out Without Burning Out. Mr. Newport offers lots of ideas for approaches that students can take. He believes that getting into college doesn’t have to be a chore, but instead can be the reward for living a genuinely interesting life.
What about getting a job? That’s a great idea. For several years, summer jobs were hard to come by, but lately I’ve been seeing “Help-Wanted” signs all over the place. And I love it when I run into one of my students bagging groceries or making lattes. Having a job doesn’t mean that you can’t spend the summer pursuing a passion. You can do both. Get a job and spend some time doing something you love. Bonus points if you manage to find a job doing something you love. Now that’s the way to make the most of a Seattle summer!
For rising seniors – I’m offering an Essay Brainstorming Workshop on Sunday, July 12 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Bring your laptop or paper and pen and we’ll spend time doing brainstorming exercises, learning what admissions officers are looking for and getting started on the Common App personal statement. Cost $150. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to reserve a space.
Enjoy your summer!
You might be surprised to learn that the coveted National Merit Semi-finalist status, proudly touted in the Seattle Times and on high school reader boards each fall, is based solely on the PSAT that is taken in October of junior year!
That’s right. National Merit status is based on just one test. But a lot of students don’t know that. And, if you are a kid who tends to do well on standardized tests, it could be in your best interest to study for the PSAT this summer. “What???” you say, “No one studies for the PSAT!”
But that’s not true. The students in the know do study for it. Lakeside, which usually has the highest number of NMSF’s, offered a practice PSAT to their sophomores two months ago. Lakeside understands the system; if strong students move up their SAT prep to the summer between sophomore and junior year, they have a much better chance of qualifying for National Merit status.
“Okay,” you say, “but how do I know if I have a chance?” That’s a good question. It is hard to become a National Merit Semi-Finalist, even if you are a good test-taker. And, it is even harder in our state than in some. That’s because the strongest students in each state are nominated, and we have a lot of good students here in Washington State. For the past few years, the qualifying score in our state has been around 218. Sometimes a little lower, sometimes a little higher.
Do you have a PSAT score from last fall? If so, pull it out. Take a look at the overall score and then look to see where you can improve. Did you miss math questions because you didn’t remember how to do all the math? Did you miss questions on the writing section because you didn’t know all the grammar rules? Historically, practicing math and grammar have been the two easiest ways to raise your PSAT and SAT scores.
But….this year has a wrinkle! There is a brand new SAT coming out in March, 2016 and the 2015 PSAT will be based on the new test!
So, how can you study for it? The same way you would have studied for it in the past, with one big difference. You want to make sure to use the study materials for the new test. The College Board is releasing a study guide with four practice tests in July. And they are teaming up with Khan Academy to have practice questions available for free online, hopefully this month. In the meantime, you can go to the College Board site to learn more about the new test and to see practice questions:
Chances are, you are going to be studying for the SAT or ACT anyway. If you are a good test taker, you have nothing to lose by moving up your timeline a bit and prepping for the October PSAT. And then, maybe you will see your name in the paper in the fall of senior year!!!
Author: Teri Thompson