School is out (or nearly out for some of you — sorry! Keep studying!), so is it time to click the brain off and the new “Summer Jam” playlist on? Not completely, but there’s a happy medium here. Let’s talk about that.

Everyone needs a break, and provided you’ve worked hard this academic year, you should take a little respite (see how I snuck in that SAT vocabulary?! Clever, huh?) to recharge your jets.Burnout is real thing, and one you really want to avoid (junior year is classic burnout time, which is dangerous as junior year is the year eyed most closely by your list of desired colleges for application).

Because of this, we don’t recommend cramming your summer full of nonstop intense activities like volunteering in South Africa in June, attending Calculus summer camp in July, then rounding things off by winning the national golf championship in August, all while taking an online SAT prep course. You need some down time, and you should use this opportunity to take it. On the other hand, sitting on the couch watching MTV’s “Awkward” for three months isn’t exactly fueling your intellectual, spiritual, and cultural well-being. Somewhere in the middle of these two summertime extremes is the perfect zone in which to find yourself. Here are some questions to help you figure out how to spend the next three months both challenging yourself to grow and recharging in preparation for next year’s adventures:

1. What do you enjoy doing most? 
During the school year, it can be hard to find the time to do the things you love to do. Summer is a perfect chance to pursue things you love simply because you love them. Don’t choose activities based on what you think will look best to colleges someday. Instead, choose to unabashedly pursue your passions to their full potential. Colleges actually love to see you doing this; your passions are what make you YOU, and that’s what colleges want to see. Love cooking but can’t fit a class into your AP-packed schedule during the school year? Do it in summer. Got an itch to satisfy your creative potential by learning to use that nice camera your Dad has in the closet? Teach yourself this summer (there are awesome blogs out there for this!). Do what you love, and don’t feel like you are wasting your time doing it if you enjoy it. That’s what summer is for (at least, while you are a teenager that’s what summer is for. Once you get to be old like me, summer is like the other three seasons, only hotter).

2. How can you give back? 
Summer is a perfect opportunity to volunteer. There are too many volunteer opportunities out there to name, so when deciding where to volunteer, think first about what you can offer, next about what you enjoy doing most, and then about whom you can be of service to. Search local volunteer opportunities through your city or online. However, don’t be afraid to contact an organization, non-profit, or business to see if they could use your help. Often times they can work with you to find a way to utilize your skills, even though they may not advertise the volunteer opportunity elsewhere. In other words, don’t be afraid to talk to people to create the opportunity you want to pursue. Colleges consider it a big plus to see you spending your spare time bettering not only yourself, but the community in which you live. There is much to learn from volunteering, and you might be surprised by how helping others recharges your own batteries and fuels your soul (cheesy, I know, but true!).

3. How can you keep your brain running?
This is important, but it doesn’t have to be the main event of your summer. Keeping yourself in the habit of using your brain is a good thing. You can do anything from practicing a vocabulary list, to reading ahead with your lit class book list, to spending a week studying physics at a university camp. These are all great options and not so intense as to put you into burnout mode. Choose one or two academically oriented things to do this summer and that should suffice.

The key to your perfect summer is to blend these three pieces in a way that works best for you. Do the things you love (travel, write poetry, build a fort), find a way to help others, and keep your brain active.

The last piece of advice we have is, if you are going to be traveling, see if there’s some time to tour colleges along the way. Even if you aren’t interested in the school in the city where you’re staying, you can still learn a lot about the options available to you in higher education by learning about that university. As always, we can help by answering your questions, talking to you about options best suited for you as an individual, and most everything else related to college planning. Call or email with questions!

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