Don't Let Your Teen Sleep the Summer Away

It may have taken some hard work convincing my students to attend a camp, job shadow or take a class over the summer, but all of them were thankful they did in the end. Why do I ask them to trade in their sleep for 'work'? The simple answer is DISCOVERY.

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At a time when students feel pressured to pick their career/course of study even before their senior year, exploration and self-discovery opportunities are important. Although they may not come out of summer with an exact plan, the students will at least have a clearer picture of what they want.

Students often come to me having a long list of occupations they are interested in pursuing and they feel lost. I am not talking about a list of jobs all in the same field, I am talking about things all over the board (think dog trainer/accountant/doctor all at once)! Where do they start? How can they possibly figure out what they want to do at the young age of 16 or 17? The answer is not simple, in fact there isn’t that ONE thing they can do to help them make their decision. However, there are many ways they can develop it further.

Summer camps, particularly those offered at college campuses, give students the opportunity to explore a subject they are interested in as well as experience a bit of campus life. They often get to sleep in dorms, eat in the cafeterias, use the campus labs and classrooms and meet professors. They get the chance to explore a subject they may not have had in high school or at least not enough of to make a decision on college majors. Enjoying their one year of HS biology is hardly enough to bet their future on! Whether or not they loved what they did at camp, at least the student will be one step closer to knowing what they want or do not want to do in the future. They will also have generated more ideas about what qualities they want in their future college. Better food, modern labs, single dorms, residential campus, small classes, urban location…? These are all things that could be discovered at a summer program on campus.

If not a camp, a job shadow could easily be done. For nearly any occupation a student may be interested in, their parents, neighbors or friends probably have a connection in that field. Reach out and ask about the possibility of a day or even a week of shadowing. The worst they can do is say no. This is the student's chance to get a glimpse behind the scenes and see the good, bad and ugly of the job. They thought they wanted to be a nurse but got squeamish seeing blood? They thought they wanted to work in accounting, but got tired of crunching numbers and staring at excel? They thought they wanted to be a teacher, but it turns out they don’t even like kids? These are all things they could discover through job shadowing or interning somewhere and are all things we should strive to help them discover before they spend 4 years studying.

Volunteering for local organizations is another way to help students explore their interests. Not only do they get to see what these organizations do, they get the chance to give back to the community and boost their application. I have heard many stories from students who have gone on volunteer trips or spent time with a non profit and come out knowing exactly what they want to do. Of course this is not going to happen for everyone, but at least they are doing something good along the way.

If students are thinking of doing these things solely for resume padding, they are missing the much bigger, more important picture. They should do it because it is a chance for them to explore their options and discover an interest they may not have known they had. Do it because if not now, when? Even if they already think they know what they want to do, there is no reason not to explore it further. In this case, they are demonstrating their passion to their future college too. The schools love to see someone who actually knows what they want!

Don’t let the expenses and loss of summer break freedom sway you or your teen, these opportunities may indeed prove to be priceless. They should use their summer wisely and they won’t regret it.

Author: Ashley McNaughton

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Ashley is an independent college counselor and founder of ACM College Consulting, LLC. Before becoming a college counselor, she spent several years in Spain and Germany as an English teacher. In addition to her BS in Business from Bucknell, she obtained her Certificate in College Counseling from UCLA. Alongside her consulting work, she volunteers with ScholarMatch, a nonprofit helping high achieving, low income students get to college. She enjoys working with students and has helped teenagers and parents of many backgrouns from across the US and Europe over the past 10 years.