GUEST BLOG: Summer Vacation is Upon Us!

From what I have been told, I am now a grownup, and with that, I no longer get the glorious 2 ½ month summer vacation I so much enjoyed when I was a teenager. Nevertheless, even for those of us who work in college admission, the summer months of June, July, and half of August provide some time to relax, reflect on the year that was, and start setting the table for what we hope is another fruitful admission cycle. And while we here at USC certainly admit that campus is a bit less exciting with all our students out and about for the summer, we would be lying if we said we didn’t enjoy the slightly shorter lines at the many eateries around campus, but that is beside the point.

As high school students wrap up another school year, we in the college admission world are often asked by students (and especially, by their parents) on how they might spend those summer months in a way that will “stand out” to those of us responsible for reading your applications. Ultimately, how you students spend your time is up to you, and we are in no position to tell you what you should or should not do during your much deserved summer vacation. But here is one admission counselor’s take on some fun summer activities that might leave you with a good story or experience to then share on your college applications:

Consider finding a part-time job.

As I get further and further removed from my own high school years, and look back on the activities I participated in that continue to have the greatest effect on who I am today, the one that stands out the most are the summer jobs I applied for and was lucky enough to receive. One year, I worked the concession stand at the local movie theater. In another summer, I worked as a house painter.

Both experiences were the first time I had a “boss” who wasn’t a parent or a club moderator at school. I was working with other adults and had to learn how to talk to other adults, despite being just 16 and 17 years old. If I made a mistake, it was up to me to figure out how to solve the problem, and I can think of no other skill that proved to be more important as I went through my college career.

It was also nice to walk away with a little spare change in my pocket that was mine and mine alone. I’ll never forget opening up that first paycheck from the movie theater for $79.08, and thinking I had won the lottery.

Read the newspaper!

There has never been a time in human history where so much information has been at our fingertips. The challenge is figuring out what to do with all this information, and trying to put it all together to make sense of the world.

One of the first real eye-opening experiences for any new college student is arriving to campus and meeting hundreds of new students who have all had different life experiences from his or her own. You will do yourself a big favor if you are able to hold an informed, respectable conversation with someone new you meet in college. Monthly online subscriptions to publications like the New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal are the cost of a couple cups of coffee at Starbuck’s. And who knows? Maybe you will start to learn more about a topic that could turn into a spark for what you want to major in during college, or where you might like to study abroad.

Go to a local park, or to a local shopping mall, turn off the cell phone, and just do some people watching.

In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast…If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I get the impression from students that when they are trying to think up a story to write for their college essays, they often feel they have to share this seismic, one-of-a-kind story that will punch their tickets to any college or university of their choosing. It is a difficult task, to say the least.

So my advice to students is to take some time to just “think.” Get to know your hometown a little bit better, and some simple people watching can be the easiest way to do it. It is also an easy way to practice empathy, which is a skill that will serve you very well as a college student and beyond. The more time you take to give some thoughts to things, the easier it will be to put some ideas down in the essay.

Most importantly…relax and recharge!

No question, summer can be the best time to visit different colleges, make fun of the cheesy jokes told by college tour guides, and start crafting a college list. And if you are heading into your senior year of high school, you are on the cusp of a school year where it might seem like one thing after another, as you may be taking on your toughest class schedule to date, or may finally be the captain of the sports team or President of student government.

Therefore, learn to be okay with taking time to breathe during the summer, and dare I say, be a little lazy every now and then. Believe it or not, when I was in high school, MTV used to be a channel that only showed music videos, and I can’t tell you how much time I spent during my summer vacations just sitting and watching. And it felt really, really good! And when it was time for school to start up again, I felt rested, refreshed, and ready to go.

By: Michael Gulotta
Associate Director of Admission