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Thinking of studying in the US? Make the best of your summer now

This is the first of a 12-part series on applying for undergraduate studies to US schools and colleges. The series is published on the first Friday of every month.
BY Katherine Ernst Mehta |   03-03-2016

As I watch pigeons and sparrows flit between the red, waxen blossoms of the silk cotton tree outside my office window, I know that spring has arrived in Delhi, and that summer is not far behind. For many high school students, now is the ideal time to begin thinking about how they can best use their summer break to prepare for college applications. For many high school students, now is the ideal time to begin thinking about how they can best use their summer break to prepare for college applications.

I recently met with a Class 10 student and his parents to discuss how he should spend his upcoming summer holiday.  They had pamphlets for athletics, performing arts, and pre-college programs in India and abroad.  The mother suggested that her son could volunteer with an NGO, and the father offered that he could set him up with an internship.  Meanwhile, the student was concerned about preparing for his upcoming school year and SAT exam.  They were, understandably, overwhelmed by the number of options.  

To them, and to other students and families planning their summer, I offer the following advice:

Do what interests you.  This might seem self-evident, but some students get so caught up in building the “perfect” resume, and doing what they think a college wants to see, that they miss valuable opportunities to learn more about themselves and their interests.  Ideally, the college application process and the summers leading up to it should be about self-discovery and exploration. For younger students, going into classes 9 and 10, that might mean pursuing different interests through pre-college programs, short internships, or volunteer work.  For older students going into classes 11 and 12, they should dive deeper into one or two of their interests through more immersive internships, research projects, or self-designed initiatives.

Colleges want to know what not just what you’re interested in, but also how you’ve explored that interest. Summer break is the perfect time for that kind of exploration.

Go on a college tour. Because most international students don’t have the time to tour college campuses during the schoolyear, students should consider visiting colleges during the summer.  College tours can give students a sense of what kind of school – large or small, urban or rural – will be the best fit for them.  This will help later on, when students must shortlist the schools where they plan to apply.  College tours also provide a good starting point for students and families who are just beginning to think about college, and want to learn more about the types of schools and the application process.

Take a break from academics. Yes, academics and standardized test scores are important in the application process, and should not be overlooked.  However, US universities use a holistic admissions process, meaning they evaluate your application beyond just GPA and SAT scores.  They want to understand you as a whole person, including what you do in your free time.  If you spend your whole summer – when you’re supposed to be taking a break from academics - preparing for more academics, your applications will likely seem one-dimensional.

Summer should be your opportunity to explore, try something new, and recharge for the upcoming schoolyear.  After all, it’s called a break for a reason.
 

Katherine Ernst Mehta is CEO and Founder of Edvanta Consulting, which works with international high-school students seeking admission to US universities. She first came from the US to India for research, and now lives in Delhi. You can reach her on Twitter at @EdvantaCo

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