How to Structure Your Summer Vacation

The summer is fast approaching, and many high schoolers will by now already know how they are spending their break. If you still do not have plans, think seriously about what you want to be doing, whether it is spending time with family, getting a job, volunteering, learning a new (coding) language, or attending a program.

Look Out for Quality Programs

Programs are great because they provide structure and encourage productivity. They also give a glimpse into campus life. On the other hand, they can be costly, and some are money-making schemes that are best avoided. My general rule of thumb is that a student should think about attending a program if she has a special skill set she really wants to enhance, or if she can gain admission into a prestigious and competitive one (better yet, an all-expenses-paid one!). Otherwise, I am not a huge fan of general “college prep” programs, or other generic and wide ranging “humanities” or “leadership” programs. Make sure to inquire about the daily and weekly schedule — watch out for programs that are heavy on fun trips and socializing but light on the coursework.

No Plan?

If you don’t have a specific agenda, don’t go to a program for the sake of going to a program or filling up your summer. In many ways, getting a job painting houses or volunteering at the local animal shelter might be a more valuable use of your time — not to mention probably will lead to a more interesting personal essay.

Create Structure

If you choose not to attend a program (or for the weeks that you are not in a program), it is a good idea to structure your summer and breakdown your larger goals into deliverables (project management lingo from my days at the hedge fund!). For example, let’s say you’ve decided to write a book. Be honest a tough with yourself:

  • How much (exactly — in words/pages/etc.) will you complete?
  • How will you structure your day to stay energized, happy, and productive?
  • How will you manage other competing priorities?
  • How often will you check in and evaluate your progress?
  • What will you do if you can’t deliver?
  • What will you do with your product afterwards?
  • Who is going to hold you accountable?
  • What is your reward and “punishment” system?
  • Who will objectively measure of your success, and how?

Answer all these questions when setting your goals, so that you can give yourself the most realistic and challenging summer projects possible with the precious time you have.

Document, Document, Document

Whatever you choose to do this summer, even if it’s as simple (and inexpensive) as reading a book every day, get the most out of it by creating structure, and then setting deliverables. If you’re reading every day, why not keep a blog about the experience? ☺ Document everything — the day-to-day, feelings, observations, sensory details. If not for your future self, at least for raw material out of which to craft your future college essay.

If you need help structuring your grand ideas, or ideas on how to best spend your summer, feel free to reach out.

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Juli Min is the founder of Boutique Education Consulting, an international consultancy that focuses on prep school and college admissions, with a focus on editing the personal essay.

Originally published on on April 15, 2015