Just around the corner holds the promise of hot, sunny days, beaches, canoeing down wild rivers or hiking to the top of magnificent mountains. While many students have already set their summer vacation plans in place, or perhaps their parents have, this might be a good time to check in with those who have nothing planned or their plans have ended in a rejection letter.
What happened to the good old days when lying on the beach, scooping ice cream or just hanging out with friends was considered a great summer? Sadly those summer days are long gone with the ever-increasing pressure to impress the admission officers of highly selective schools. It is sad because collectively we have lost the age of innocence that came with the sense of adventure. Families are much more interested in the exploration of another classroom than the freedom of the outdoors, developing coping skills while struggling to climb mountains or learn a new skill. We have lost the awareness of nature and the importance it brings to remind us that few things are more important that fresh air and a good sweat.
Several days ago I was talking with a student who had been rejected by all of his summer schools. It became apparent that the family only wanted big name school programs. There seems to be this myth that only highly selective schools offer “the best” programs. Sadly, this is not at all true.
Colleges rarely care where a student goes for summer school or what a summer program teaches. They don’t care how highly selective the school may seem. What they DO care about is what did the student learn and how has it opened their minds, developed their character and helped them achieve a new understanding of who they are and perhaps what they might become in the future.
My student really wanted to study Math over the summer because that is what he excels in at school. We talked about looking at programs that provide how to use math in different ways from Marine Biology to astronomy. But I also had to remind him of one of the important factors – learning happens everywhere all the time! Learning happens on the sports field, in the dormitory, at the dinner table or wherever people come together and some times it comes from just reading a good book. So while we are still looking to find a good program for him, I hope we will take a broader view of what his summer means.
Here is what a student should definitely not do – stay at home and study for TOEFL and SAT/ACT. Ok, maybe a little bit, but sitting in a classroom for 10 hours practicing tests is definitely not a good use of time. And how boring! Wouldn’t it be a better use of time to not only learn the vocabulary, but also be able to use those words, correctly, among friends, classmates and teachers? Or how about reading a good book so you can learn words in context? More importantly, there is great value in the social aspect of being involved with other students who may or may not be doing the exact same thing – like studying hours on end for a test.
While breaking the trend of what other people are doing can have a feeling of risk, there is a lot to be said for taking risk and learning. There is too much pressure to succeed, that many of us have forgotten the importance of failure. But even more important it this thing called individuality. Standing apart from the crowd has its own merits. There is a sense of uniqueness and without doubt helps create character. While everyone else is doing the same thing, standing alone can be daunting, but it does so much for building resolve. Now obviously there are certainly things one should not do, however, it is important to get off the train that seems to be targeted at one small and rather not so significant factor – testing. People may argue that I have this all wrong. Building character lasts a lifetime, taking a test lasts for three plus hours, at most.
So go on, take this bull by the horns. Go take the challenge to learn about yourself. Go build character, learn to give to others rather than take. Do some service to help those less fortunate. Climb a mountain, learn to kayak, breathe some fresh air and remind yourself that the world is a bigger place than a single destination. Take a class outside your comfort zone. Stretch not only your body but also your mind and your character. You will be a much more interesting person when you do!