Don't let the snow on the ground and deep-diving temps fool you - it's not time to hibernate. To be a competitive applicant at highly selective colleges, you need to begin making your summer plans now! The easiest way to explore your interests is through a reputable summer program that's away from home. Try to avoid summer programs where all you have to do is enter your name, address, and school, and BOOM!, you're in. No. That's not what I'm talking about. If you're going to spend the money and time, do so with a program that has some substance. Typically, a program is reputable and holds its weight with colleges if there's an extensive application. This usually includes an essay or two, and even a teacher recommendation. You want programs where they select you to attend. This means more than just a pay-and-go program.
Another aspect of a worthwhile summer program is where it is held. If you've never been away from home for an extended period of time, this is an opportunity to prove to yourself and to colleges that you won't get homesick. Colleges like to see that you've been away from home and have been successful. It's proof that you won't bail on them mid-semester if you're far away from home. This could help in your acceptance into the college. Every aspect of an application stems from a college's yield, but also retainment of the entering class. Prove to them you're not a flight risk!
Summer programs also give you ample background to write those supplemental essays you'll have to deal with in your future college applications. You'll probably come up against the "Why Your Major?" question in those supplemental essays - the essays asked by the specific colleges. This is in addition to your Personal Essay on the Common App. What better way to solidify your reasons than discussing your summer program experiences? I think the best outcome is when you thought you were interested in a specific field, went to a summer program, and learned it was not for you. That's the best story because it's really about being open to change and being able to pivot. The curiosity of finding one's true passions is application gold! Sometimes you get more hyped, and sometimes you find out it's not for you. Either way, it's perfect.
You'll have to begin your investigation now because reputable programs usually have early deadlines. We're talking January - early March. Don't be left out in the cold because you do not have all the required elements for the application. Do your homework, choose something you truly want to explore more deeply, and know that being away from home will teach you a great deal about yourself, as well. It's a win-win to attend at least one summer program during your high school years. I hope you make the investment. It can pay off in so many ways.
Admittedly, reputable summer programs are not for the faint of wallet. They can be extremely expensive, especially if they are held on campus, not near your home. Depending on program length, costs can range between $1,000 to $6,000! Shocking, I know! So, if this is absolutely out of the question for your budget, think of other ways to have a productive summer. There are so many options that may even put money into your pocket. Create a professional resume and begin looking for summer employment in the Spring. Beat the college kids coming back from school looking for jobs and get hired first! How about finding a summer internship in a research lab or company that does what you think you want to do? Be creative. There are opportunities galore to explore your interests. You just have to be bold enough to seek it out and ask.