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Summer Studies . . .

Summer vacation is when we take a deep breath after a long year and relish a sense of wellbeing after the strains of the school year. We vegetate mindlessly in the sun and we laze days away in a hammock. But we also catch up on our reading, argue with friends about ideas that have absolutely nothing to do with homework and linger over a volume of poetry that was never required for school. Rather than putting our minds on hold, the summer gives us time to recover a joy in exploring ideas for no better reason than our interest in them.

This is indeed exactly what high school students need to do with their summers, and one way to do so is by attending a youth program with like-minded peers.

But in deciding to send a student to one of the many such programs offered in the US and across the world, parents often have far more functional intentions – they hope quite bluntly that attending pre-college at College X, or a few weeks helping the poor in a developing country, or traveling to exotic locales will impress admission officers and increase the student’s chance of admission at College X. Having countless students pursuing summer programs for the same set of reasons has, however, helped to dilute the impact of this strategy. Yet there remain excellent reasons for students to seek out a summer program that excites and intrigues them:

  • the opportunity to explore an academic field – economics, archaeology, computer science – with peers that share that interest
  • to travel to a new city or a far-flung country
  • to meet students from all over the country and even the world, enlarging their perspective
  • to develop their English language skills if that is not their native tongue
  • to expand their sense of service to those far outside their own community
  • to get a taste of college life and remind them of the adventure ahead
  • to leave home and begin to develop an empowering sense of independence and self-sufficiency

Will any of this have any impact on their college applications? Definitely. But the impact will in fact be far more intriguing than many parents anticipate. Pre-college programs are offered either by for-profit organizations or as a money-generating venture by a unit within a college that is completely separate from the admission office of that institution. Doing such a program at College X therefore does not in itself improve a student’s chances of admission at that college. But that does not mean that admission officers will not notice that a student attended. Instead they will notice:

  • because it suggests that a student is actually interested enough in the college to spend time there – a form of “demonstrated interest” that colleges have to care about as they fret about their admissions yield
  • that the student has enough intellectual engagement with a subject to spend time on it
  • that the student has the social and emotional maturity to spend time away from home
  • that an international student has sufficient English skills to cope at an American college

Colleges will of course take note of the academic and social growth that attending such a program can generate. But the value of a summer program extends far beyond a college application. Instead, the student will have spent a week or more of their summer having fun, making new friends and talking about new ideas, while expanding the horizons of their world and of themselves.

For an overview of summer programs, please download the Summer Programs PDF on our Resources page.

The “hidden” degree requirements

Some of the most important things you will learn at college will never show on your college transcript. These are aspects of affective (versus cognitive) development. They are what employers are expecting to find in college graduates, quite apart from the subject matter of their degree studies, or professional training. Solid affective skill development is key – without it, the chances of graduating are slim!

There is no “curriculum for developing the affective capabilities you will need, and acquire during your college years. But you can control, to a certain extent, how painful the process of acquisition may be. One useful thing to remember is to “expect the unexpected.” Resilience is the quality of being able to take things in stride and handle the rough patches well. It helps to “be prepared” by knowing in advance that statistically some things will not go smoothly. It helps even more to learn to anticipate obstacles and have a Plan B in place when you aren’t certain of Plan A’s chances of success.

As a new college student, what affective skills will you need?

You will mostly discover the need for certain essential affective skills when the lack of them “jumps up and bites you!” Life experience teaches us much. But perhaps a checklist of some valuable skills may be of value to a student who wants to “be prepared” and is willing to think ahead to help smooth their way.

Here are some affective skills you will need in order to graduate:

  • Ability to prioritize
  • Ability to solve problems without having a parent run interference for you (think room-mate problems)
  • The inner strength to stand up to many demands, pressures and challenges all at once
  • Resilience – being able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off after a disappointment or crisis
  • Organizational capability – to buy your books on time, keep track of assignments and deadlines, exam dates, times and venues
  • Confidence – to reach out for support from peers or professors
  • Proactiveness – signing up early for limited options; finding out about good opportunities
  • A personal conscience that kicks in when you are missing too many classes or getting too little sleep
  • Being able and willing to defend your opinions, in class and in your social setting
  • The strength of character to be able to change your opinions if circumstances or the arguments of others lead you to a new outlook
  • The ability to brainstorm on your own – you can’t rely on the good students always sharing their bright ideas with a group. Coming up with your own original thoughts is rare, even in graduating college seniors

I just arrived at college – now what?

One of the key affective skills it will pay you to learn is “how to make friends.” Be prepared to go outside your comfort zone, especially in these first important weeks of your first semester at college. Even if you’re shy, commit yourself to striking up a real conversation with at least two strangers each day. Not trivial chit-chat – be prepared to talk about your opinions, what you are missing about home, what you are finding quite surprising about your first experiences on the campus. Ask questions, all the time!! You have no idea how important an affective skill it is to be able to speak up and ask for the information you need or simply to engage another person.

Affective learning in college begins as soon as you arrive. But one more thing – good judgment is possibly the most important affective skill you will need. It may not be perfect yet – but don’t leave home without it.

Gail Lewis,
College Admissions Consultant with College Goals