The typical three-month-long summer break gives juniors and seniors a great opportunity to explore a variety of situations and options. Attending a summer session at a college on your shortlist, for example, will accomplish two things: spending a couple of weeks on campus will give you a better idea of how the college fits in with your needs and requirements. It will also indicate to the college admissions staff that you are considering their institution seriously. Likewise, volunteering at home or abroad adds another positive dimension to your admissions profile. Working during the summer is another positive entry in your profile. Travel abroad with the specific purpose of learning about other cultures also builds your profile. With this in mind, let's look at five summer options for exploration.
Summer session on a college campus
A summer session at a college or university can be a motivating and inspiring experience for college-bound students. Here's what one participant had to say about the Summer College for High School Students at Duke University.
"The best summer I’ve had in my life. I wouldn’t trade anything for the amazing relationships I made with my peers and instructor and the experience of going to such a fantastic university."
– 2018 Summer College Student
This video gives us an overview of Duke's summer sessions for teens.
Besides the inspiration factor which attending a summer college session provides, many institutions also provide college credit and a letter of recommendation. These benefits will vary from college to college. Be sure to ask about them.
Justin Berkman has compiled a list of colleges which offer summer programs for high school students that will help you find a suitable program. 129 Pre-College Summer Programs for High School Students. Places at summer programs are limited and fill up quickly. Don't wait to apply at the last minute.
Volunteer at home
The opportunities for volunteering in your own home town are limitless. VeryWell Family lists over five volunteer activities worth exploring. If you are looking for something further afield, International Volunteer HQ lists volunteer opportunities in New Orleans, for example. https://www.volunteerhq.org/volunteer-in-usa-new-orleans/ Naturally, volunteering away from home presents a different set of challenges than volunteering at home. Do your due diligence carefully and thoroughly to confirm living arrangements and details of the volunteer assignment. It might even make sense to stay with relatives away from home and volunteer in their location.
This video discusses the importance of volunteering.
Volunteering abroad can be an uplifting experience. But it also can be challenging for a young person who has never lived away from home. Personally, I would examine the sponsoring organization very carefully before allowing one of my children to go. Having said that, here's a description of a volunteer opportunity in Merida, Mexico, offered by International Volunteer HQ.
"Volunteer in Mexico with International Volunteer HQ and choose from a wide range of volunteer opportunities available in the vibrant Mexican city of Mérida, including Teaching English, Childcare, Animal Care and a unique Sustainable Agriculture project. With low program fees and top-rated volunteer projects, you will not find a more affordable and trustworthy volunteer travel organization in Mexico."
I have a home in Mexico and I can personally attest to the satisfaction of learning about a culture which is different from the one I have known all my life. Learning Spanish and discovering the depth and breadth of that country's history has been a real eye-opener. That's what a young person will come away with after spending a summer volunteering abroad. My main concern is safety. Keep that concern front and center whether your child volunteers in Poughkeepsie or Prague.
Many teens are quite content to work locally. Flipping burgers, stocking supermarket shelves, washing cars, and a myriad other jobs are the stuff of summer employment for teens and have been since time immemorial. The advantage for us parents is that our kids get to leave the nest gradually and safely. After a summer or two of working locally, don't be surprised or overly concerned when your son says "I want to work on Martha's Vineyard next summer. My buddy Paul knows the owner of XXXX and he would be happy to have us work for him." Been there. Done that. Our eldest daughter worked in an ice cream parlor one summer near home, then decided to work on Martha's Vineyard the next summer. We did our due diligence and decided to let her go. Mind you, this happened in the days when all we had were landlines. No smartphones. So, when the phone rang unexpectedly, my heart was in my mouth. It was a relief to hear my daughter's voice asking for help cooking a sea bass which a customer had brought into the restaurant she was working at. She knew her mother would have a simple, tasty recipe. What I am really saying to you is to be prepared to let your son go. You have done a great job of preparing him for adulthood. It's time to let him fly solo.
I call this the Grand Tour Option. In my grandmother's day, young ladies and gentlemen would travel in Europe for several months. Most of the time they were chaperoned so that travel was fairly safe. The obligatory visits to museums, stately homes, theater, ballet, and opera were de rigeur. Nowadays, dozens of tour operators offer young people a dizzying array of travel options just about anywhere in the world.
This ad copy on Travel For Teens site is typical:
"Our Older Teen programs are carefully crafted with students finishing 11th and 12th grade in mind. Older teens flourish with itineraries that offer more independence to encourage growth and even more confidence with traveling.
So whether it’s hitting up a larger variety of cities and countries, learning to use the Eurail train pass in Europe, or just having a bit more freedom, these programs are designed to guide older teens to becoming more independent and savvy travelers. Are you ready to find yourself with TFT this summer?"
This video describes Travel For Teens programs.
Once again, speaking as one parent to another, do your due diligence on the travel operator very carefully and thoroughly. Once you are satisfied, then have several serious strategy sessions with your child covering what to do in an emergency, spending allowance, street smarts, communications, and all the other concerns you may have.
All things considered, summers full of learning, working, volunteering and traveling are a good thing for older teenagers.
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