How do you encourage students to spend their summers? Are professional work experience or programs abroad viewed positively or can some become too gimmicky?
Mr. Syverson of Lawrence: This was addressed well by one of my colleagues yesterday. Students should follow their passions and develop the aspects of their personalities and proficiencies that are most exciting to them, not the ones they think will best “package” them. Far too many students are spending far too much of their young lives attempting to do “what the colleges want to see in an applicant” in order to someday gain admission to some highly idealized (often hyper-selective) college. Loren Pope, one-time editor of the New York Times Education Section, who passed away earlier this year, spent much of his latter years promoting the concept that the quality of a student’s college education has more to do with the student’s engagement than with the specific college. Through books like “Beyond the Ivy League” and “Colleges That Change Lives” he argued that there are many wonderful colleges in the U.S. that offer an educational experience as good as (or better than) those at the highest profile colleges (albeit without the pedigree). The college search should focus on finding a college that is a good match for the student – not just the most selective place to which they might gain admission.
Mr. Brenzel of Yale: We encourage students to make use of their summers in the way they find most interesting. If they undertake a specific program, it should be because it appeals strongly to them, not because they imagine it will look best on a resume. Why? First, it is frankly impossible to know what will look best to a particular admissions committee at a particular college. Trying to outthink or outguess the admissions committee strikes me as a useless exercise, though many book authors and private consultants purvey the illusion that they can do this for you. Second, for both education and life, the best program is the one that you find most valuable for yourself at this point in your life. We also honor and value summer jobs; for many students they are necessary and for others they can be just as important a learning experience as anything else. What’s important to us in not what you chose to do for the summer, but what you got out of it.
Mr. Poch of Pomona: While unusual activities may add a great deal to a student’s experience and have a profound effect on their world view, for some it just comes across as decorative, not substantive. Is a special experience or summer expected or a minimum requirement? No. Many of those “special” experiences reflect the educational and economic background of the family more than the curiosity or talent of the student. For example, I believe most admissions officers would assume it’s not fair to expect a student who works and contributes to family expenses to take an overseas internship. I confess I often wonder why some students who live in areas that have many social service needs unaddressed will ignore the local situation but move to another country to perform a similar social service. Is it really a service trip or is it a summer vacation built for college admission purposes? It may be both and that’s not a penalty point, but it isn’t a bonus consideration either. Is the student whose family connections provided an internship at a high-profile organization more worthy than a student who delivered pizza or tended to family farm commitments? The rest of the application will give us the answer.