• Lisa Perkins

The Relaxed Summer Student - Intentionally Engaging through Down Time

Article by Robb Jenson


Last summer, many families had their plans thrown into chaos, as nearly every college prep program, athletic summer camp, and volunteer service canceled their activities. This created some unique challenges for all, and left many searching for creative opportunities to highlight in their college resumes. However, I believe that, through this experience, we all learned the benefit of intentional downtime as it relates to creating a more relaxed environment that encourages deep thinking and personal exploration.


While this may initially seem counterintuitive to what we traditionally hear about intensive college prep, it actually highlights an underlying truth: colleges are searching for interesting students who add to the dynamic of their collective student body, who have a deep understanding of themselves, and who can articulate those interests both verbally and in writing. I like to ask students to think of it as “the campfire test”: can you meet someone new and connect with them by speaking deeply about your interests for 20 minutes or longer, like travelers connecting around a campfire?


Much like travelers around a campfire, we can develop our own narrative into an engaging tale. But how do you go about doing this? How does your child explore these interests and develop new skills, and then present those skills in an engaging way


The first question I like to ask is, “If you were to wake up tomorrow morning with an empty schedule, what would you do to invest in yourself?”. More often than not, students are stumped by this question. To prepare an answer, you can use this summer to learn about yourself. Read below for creative ways to deepen your knowledge or develop your individual skills.



Knowledge Exploration

  • Take an Online Course or Two. There are many FREE resources available online that can help you deepen your knowledge in many different subjects. Try using resources such as Edx.org, coursera.org, and Lifehack.

  • Consistently Follow a Blog or Podcast. Today, there are so many individuals who are looking to share their knowledge and interests with others. Use this time to explore various topics, then settle on 1-2 that fascinate you. Eventually, search for ways to connect with the writers or producers to learn more about their journey.

  • Shadow Someone. Reach out to someone who has a similar interest or career that you wish to explore. Ask to sit down with them to ask questions and learn more about their day-to-day responsibilities. Be curious about their pathway. Seek to understand what they would have done differently, in hindsight, to accelerate or bolster their career. Who knows, the opportunity may eventually yield a job or internship. At the very least, you’ve started building your professional network.



Skills Exploration

  • Take a Software/Coding Class. Learn graphic design in your spare time, or teach yourself a new coding language. Summer is a perfect time to approach new skills at a relaxed pace.

  • Strengthen your Writing Skills. Consistently write to a family member (grandparents, aunts and uncles) and look for ways to strengthen your skills with careful revision. If you’re wanting to step up your skills even more, look to start a FREE blog using any number of available platforms.

  • Develop Life Skills. Learn to cook a meal or two, or how to manage an area of your house. Open a checking account and manage your money with a small set of bills, such as car insurance, gas, food, etc. While these skills will not necessarily show up anywhere on your college application, they will ultimately help you with your transition to college. The less stress you have with your transition regarding everyday tasks, the easier it will be to manage the larger stressors of college life.



Take the summertime to relax and explore your individual interests. Doing so will create a sense of ownership regarding your personal development, which will aid you as you navigate your way toward success in college. Colleges ultimately want students who know how to invest in themselves, without the need for constant direction. With a relaxed summer, the biggest commodity that your child has is TIME. Help them invest that time in themselves wisely.


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