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What to Do the Summer Before Senior Year

The summer before your senior year of high school is something special and should be cherished as such. It’s the last summer before you have to make a major life transition (which is kind of terrifying.) It’s probably the most laid back summer you’ll have for a while. When you think about it this way, you may feel like doing nothing the entire summer before senior year.

But large chunks of time like this are full of potential. What can you do this summer to get the most of out your time?

Read on for:

  • how to live in the moment and enjoy the summer
  • what you can do to prepare for college application season
  • suggestions for how to figure out what you want to do with your life

First, create a list of everything you want to do before the end of summer.

We have the tendency to let the first weeks of summer slip away from us. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — we need the rest.

But if you don’t look ahead, you may miss great opportunities to have fun, learn skills, and improve your chances of getting into the schools you may want to go to.

So before you start daydreaming about your summer fun or your academic career, grab a piece of paper or create a blank document. As you draw inspiration from this article, jot down your ideas.

If you have a sibling or best friend you want to do summer activities with, include them in the planning process. It’s fun to sit in your room, laughing and dreaming together before senior year (and college) get intense.

When you’re finished with your list, put it up somewhere you’ll see it. 

In the moments when you’re lying in bed, bored, and scrolling, let it be a visual reminder of what you want to do with your time.

To enjoy the time you have now:

Intentionally set aside time for rest, relaxation, and the things you enjoy.

Once you get into the swing of the school year, college applications, standardized tests, and senior year activities, your relaxation time will shrink.

Before you get back to the grind full time, schedule in those things you enjoy: play video games, bake, see friends — safely, COVID-19 is still a thing in 2021.

Related: Don’t actually how to actually relax? Read this.

Discover what’s going on in your city over the summer.

Before COVID, many cities and towns would host a number of events over the summer: concerts, festivals, picnics, art exhibits, neighborhood yard sales, etc. 

In 2020, just about everything was cancelled.

As more people get vaccinated and the virus stops spreading, the summer of 2021 may feel more like pre-COVID summers. 

As long as you adhere to social distancing guidelines and maintain good hygiene, check out what’s going on in your area over the summer. Go to events that follow COVID-19 regulations, because you may not be in your city next summer to enjoy them.

Apply for summer programs and workshops.

Summer programs can:

  • give you something to do with your time
  • provide life-changing experiences and perspectives
  • help you find your passion
  • give you the opportunity to make new friends
  • fill up the “extracurriculars” section of your college application
  • give you a story to tell on the first day of school

Enroll in one of these top one hundred summer programs for high school students. Find a program in the arts, sciences, business, entrepreneurship, outdoor adventure, language, community service, or wellness.

If you can’t afford these programs, (because let’s face it, they’re expensive) check out these free summer programs for high school students in 2021.

Consider applying for programs that align with what you might want to do as a career. This is one way to figure out what to do with your future. It’s also a great way to make your application more appealing to an admissions officer.

But if there’s nothing that aligns with your academic or professional goals, just pick something that interests you. 

Related: Do you have no idea what you want to do? Try one of these five ways to figure out your career path.

Start an independent project.

Pie chart of the ideal independent project to do in the summer before senior year of high school.
The Ideal Independent Project

Independent projects are different than hobbies. They’re more concentrated endeavors, with specific goals laid out.

Examples of independent projects:

  • start a blog about something that interests you
  • build a website for yourself or someone else
  • learn basic coding skills
  • take a free graphic design course
  • start a business
  • do research at a local university
  • write a book or short stories; try to get it published somewhere
  • create a social media profile on a topic, for a small business, or for a cause, then build up a social media following to learn about best social media practices
  • do in-depth independent research on a subject, then write a thesis or create a presentation about it
  • start a club or group in your community (online or in person)
  • advocate for a cause
  • develop more sustainable practices in your household, school, or neighborhood

The ideal independent project for the summer before senior year is:

  1. something that interests you
  2. achievable with the resources you have available
  3. related to something you may want to do in the future
  4. teaching you a skill or exposing you to a field of study
  5. interesting to a college admissions officer

If your project doesn’t check all the boxes, that’s okay.

Just make sure you enjoy your project – otherwise you might not complete it.

To prepare for senior year and college application season, you need to:

Do some self-reflection.

You are not locked into a specific academic timeline once you choose where you want to go to college. There’s no set career path to follow once you choose a major. 

You will constantly make choices about what you want to do, and what you want may change drastically as time goes on.

But you should at least have some core values and insights to draw from when you start making life-changing decisions. Self-reflection can help you figure out your own core values and defining character traits.

Self-reflection is the habit of deliberately paying attention to your own thoughts, emotions, decisions, and behaviors. 

This is how you can practice self-reflection in your own life.

Make a list of the possible schools you may want to apply to.

Choosing where to go: Research schools in the summer before senior year.

Don’t rule anything out. You don’t know what could happen this year. You could get amazing test scores, write a great Common App essay, or receive a big chunk of money to put towards tuition.

So create an Excel sheet with a list of college names. For each college, include:

  • location and distance from home
  • a ballpark tuition estimate
  • preferred SAT/ACT scores
  • financial aid options
  • majors/courses that interest you

Even a vague idea of where you may want to go can guide how you spend your summer and your senior year.

Hunt for scholarships, find grants, and learn about the financial aid process.

Let’s face it, college isn’t cheap. 

Search for scholarships, grants, and financial aid on the College Board website. Financial award organizations tend to have specific criteria for applicants, so enter in as much information as possible to find the most relevant results.

Keep a list of possible financial awards and their due dates. Use your downtime this summer to apply for some of them. Aim to do one or two applications a week, depending on how involved the application process is.

Figure out how financial aid works. Learn about student loans: types of loans, interest and forgiveness, how much to borrow, and more.

Knowledge is power. Knowledge is also money.

Consider how your upcoming course schedule may affect your college applications.

When you apply to colleges, you have to send them your high school transcript. They are looking for students who can (and want to) take rigorous courses. They also take note of whether your current courses are related to what you may do in college.

For example, if a student is applying to an engineering school, they should take math and science courses this year. However, students who apply to graphic design programs should take more creative courses.

After reflecting on your potential college and career interests, you’ll have a better idea of how to spend your senior year.

Then, you can walk into school on the first day ready to change any electives or switch from regular to AP courses.

Study for the SAT/ACT.

Studying is probably one of the last things you want to do with your summer.

But you only have so many chances to take the SAT and ACT. And you may be too busy during the school year to really focus on studying.

Be proactive and start studying for your exams in small increments over the summer. Study in chunks, with consistency, and you’ll do well. Hire an online tutor if you need some external motivation to stay consistent.

Related: Compare the SAT and ACT, then decide which one is right for you.

What to do at the end of your summer before senior year:

Don’t feel like a failure if you don’t do everything on your list. You’re only human, after all.

But seriously, make sure you relax over the summer. You need to go into your senior year refreshed. Get ready to manage all the highs and lows of senior year, college application season, and waiting by the mailbox for your acceptance letters.

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