April vacation is still weeks away, but 16-year-old Sabrina Boutselis is already thinking about summer.
The Andover High School junior will spend two weeks at the Brown Environmental Leadership Lab, where she will live and study on the 372-acre Haffenreffer Estate on Narragansett Bay in Bristol, R.I. She will be part of a group studying environmental issues, all relating to global climate change.
Later in the summer, Boutselis plans to volunteer at Farmer Dave’s, a sustainable farm in Dracut.
“It’s always a good thing when colleges can see you’re extending your education beyond school, but it’s also good to learn about something that could be a potential career,’’ said Boutselis, who is undecided on a career path and is eager to explore environmental options this summer.
Guidance counselors and college admissions officers say the summer is the perfect time for high school juniors to gain experience that will not only add to their resumes, but prepare them for life beyond the classroom.
Whether it is taking an internship to learn more about a particular field, performing public service, taking a community college course, participating in a leadership conference, or working to learn the value of a paycheck, officials say it is a good idea to keep busy in the summer.
“We encourage them in their freshman year to start thinking about what your resume is going to look like,’’ said Lauri Howard, a guidance counselor at West Bridgewater Middle-Senior High School. “Get involved in activities, work, or community service. They are all opportunities to show colleges that you’re experiencing different things because they are looking for well-rounded students.’’
Diane Ryan, director of counseling at Bedford High School, said she also encourages juniors to make the most of their summer months. But she also said it does not mean families have to spend money on expensive programs. Students could be reading, playing sports, or working, Ryan said.
“Colleges are interested in students who are doing something with their lives other than studying,’’ she said.
“It’s a way to demonstrate that there is something to you other than studying. I don’t think it has to be expensive or exotic. It’s just important not to do nothing,’’ she said.
Justin Ellis, assistant director of admissions at Gordon College in Wenham, said the summer is a good time for students to gain real-world experience.
“For a student’s own personal development, summer is a vibrant time to start engaging in other aspects of who they are,’’ Ellis said. “It’s such a great time to expand outside the classroom.’’
While fellowships or volunteering for a nonprofit are examples of valuable summer activities, Ellis said, any type of job is also worthwhile.
Ellis said that when he was a teenager, he was planning to study physical therapy, but he worked at a Costco store in high school and college. While the job was not in his intended field, he said, he gained more than a paycheck from it.
“It wasn’t a life-changing experience, but I had so much more professional experience going into the admissions interview,’’ he said. “I also knew simple things like getting up early in the morning to go to work, and I knew the value of a dollar.’’
Ellis said some high school students are so focused on academics that they struggle when they get to college because they are not prepared to deal with multiple responsibilities.
“When you get to college, there is a consistent two or three things that could take up a majority of a student’s time,’’ Ellis said. “Getting involved in a paying summer job, an internship, a fellowship allows a student to engage in a multifaceted scheduled format. They start to understand where and when things fit. We see students academically prepared, but they get to a college environment and are taken aback by the amount of things on their plate.’’
If students have time during the summer, taking a community college course is a great way to get a taste of college life, Ellis said. The credits will usually transfer so students will even be one step ahead of the game once they graduate from high school, he said.
Ellis encourages students to talk to their guidance counselors for advice, and also said students should not hesitate to contact college admissions offices.
“Take advantage of the resources available,’’ Ellis said. “We are willing and definitely able to work pretty independently with each student we come across. Go to an admissions event and ask questions. There are never too many questions.’’
In addition to providing an opportunity to beef up the college resume or gain experience through work or an internship, the summer is also the perfect time to stay ahead of the college application process, Ryan said.
Howard said students can visit college campuses, start a rough draft of their essay, or even start filling out the common application, which is available in August.
“One of the things we encourage them is to get out and visit the schools,’’ Howard said. “Continue to research colleges, attend tours and open houses with the goal of narrowing down that list so when they come back in September they have a good sense of where they are going to apply.
“It’s all about pacing yourself,’’ she said. “When you let it pile up, it gets overwhelming.’’