The Road to College
By May S. Ruiz
June typically marks the end of another school year. In my days, the onset of summer meant taking a break from the harried pace of schoolwork, extra-curricular activities, and academic clubs events. But increased competition to gain admission to very selective universities has forced teens to fill summer hours with other pursuits to put on their resume.
Having a summer job shows admissions officers that your children took on responsible roles and gained invaluable real-world experience. It also gives young people the satisfying feeling that they have the ability to earn money. However, finding employment may be trickier for today’s youth.
According to the latest outlook figures from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement career and transition service company, industries that traditionally cater to teen workers are scaling back. Retailers, including big department stores, clothing, and accessories shops, are cutting in-store workers which affect both seasonal and full-time employees; they are also closing brick and mortar locations because customers are buying more online. Opportunities for teens looking for summer employment may come from unexpected sectors or even later in the summer when retailers have assessed consumer demand.
The good news, says Challenger, is that unemployment is at 4.7 percent. And with 200,000 plus new jobs per month, older workers and college graduates who may have taken part-time or entry-level positions have more opportunities to move into higher, better-paying jobs. That could translate to more teens finding employment this summer.
Besides acquiring summer jobs, teens are also looking for enrichment activities – arts workshops, sports camps, etc; obtaining internships in their fields of interest; and traveling to third-world countries to dig up latrines, or to build houses through Habitat for Humanity as their community service. Today’s teen-agers are constantly doing something.
While I am not advocating that your children just lie inert for three months as a reward for having successfully finished one school year, I would suggest a less frantic pace. Sometimes, letting their mind and body recharge would do more good than drilling for the PSATs, SATs, SAT IIs, ACTs, APs, and whatever other standardized test acronyms and initials are out there.
Having said that, though, there is the reality that the gap between school years is so big that kids forget everything they learned then go back to school in the fall unprepared for the work. Parents should let their children have a variety of fun, educational, productive activities so they don’t become stale and uninspired.
It’s also the time to look at what your children have accomplished, and what benchmarks they need to achieve to propel them to the next school year.
Ninth grade is behind them! Your children’s grades should indicate that they took high school seriously and that they put all their efforts at getting good marks. They should have already made plans for summer programs, internships and community service work. They should engage in activities that truly reflect their passion. Instead of yearly joining a group of kids building houses in Guatemala, they might consider an activity that would really mean something to them.
College admissions officers see the same pursuit on all the resumes they receive that your children would not be doing anything memorable. Encourage them to think outside the box, avoid the herd mentality. If your kids enjoy music and performance, for instance, they might consider organizing an original musical to be presented to seniors at your city’s retirement center.
Last year, the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a seminal report called “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions” which was endorsed by 80 colleges and universities. It points out that today’s process puts much emphasis on personal success rather than service for others.
It recommends students engage in: meaningful, sustained community service; collective action that takes on community challenges; authentic experiences in diversity; work that helps them appreciate the contributions of the past generations; contributions to one’s family.
All the recommendations in the study, however, are courses of action that high school counselors are already preaching to students. So in that regard, it really isn’t anything new. What’s new is the strong emphasis on community service which the study wants admissions officers to use for making their decisions.
Should American universities really take this study to heart and use its recommendations, it is incumbent upon you to encourage your children to do well in school and to put a lot of thought into what community service they want to embark on.
Your children’s end-of-year marks in 10th grade should have improved over last year’s if they didn’t do well in their freshman year. College admissions officers want to see students who continue to better themselves.
They need to take whatever standardized tests are required – ACT or June SAT subject tests are the norm. They also need to continue the community service activity they started last summer. While it is advisable to show consistency for admissions officers to know that your kids have a passion for such work, they could do a variation of it; they don’t want to be monotonous.
They can start researching about colleges, specifically looking for the institutions offering the courses they want to major in.
The school year that just ended was a pivotal one for your children as it would be the last full year that college admissions officers will see on your kids’ application. It should reflect your children’s efforts at getting the best marks they could muster, and an improvement over the first two years of high school.
Make sure your children have their community service work, internship, and enrichment program ready for summer. These activities should be a continuation of the previous years’.
This is going to be their busiest summer with standardized tests like the ACT, SAT, SAT IIs, and APs. If they have not seen the schools they are considering applying to, this would be their last chance to visit college campuses. You might consider making it a fun summer trip for the family (my daughter and I spent two weeks visiting universities as part of our summer vacation).
Your children should start thinking about their essay topic; meeting with their school counselor to make sure they have taken all the required courses for graduation and college (the UC and Cal State universities have their A – G requirements that need to be completed); and lining up teachers they would like to ask for recommendations.
Well, your children have accomplished a major milestone – successfully completing high school and getting accepted into a college or university! This period in their life will never again be repeated, so let them revel in what they have achieved. Give yourself a pat on the back while you’re at it, you’ve been a major influence in whatever path they choose to take from here.