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How High School Students Can Make the Best of Quarantine

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Rising Senior

I’ll never forget the time Evelyn, a rising senior, was rejected from every ultra prestigious summer program she’d applied. “No worries,” I quickly reassured her and her mom. “A DIY summer could make an even stronger case at top schools!”

Sure enough, after spending her time volunteering at a medical center, taking an online class in environmental leadership (which blew her mind!), and using her extraordinary musical talents to mesmerize fellow volunteers during breaks and play birthday songs for best friends, she was accepted to UC Berkeley in Computer Science.

Sometimes a humble plan you’ve patched together is your key to life, as it was with Evelyn, who ultimately landed a job at Amazon.

What Can You Do to Make the Best of Quarantine as a Rising Senior?

COVID-19 has laid this challenge at every teen’s feet: do cool stuff with what you have. And while everyone needs time to get over the disappointment of botched plans, the more quickly you turn things around, find a new purpose, and get active on an alternate plan, then the more successful you will be in college admissions.

UChicago Dean of Admissions Jim Nondorf agrees! In a recent Facebook Live interview with Sal Khan, he told the audience: “What you do with the resources you had is what will make your application.”

Top schools are excited by students who quickly move on to Plan B (or C or D). These are the students who are not deterred. They understand that the world is really big, and that there’s always a lot to do. And they want to do it!

Not sure what to do? Well, to help you out, I came up with a few student examples. What do their summer plans look like?

Rising Seniors Are Making the Best of the Situation

A rising senior with computer science, biology, and music as her focus, Katie is:

  • Doing online research in computational biology through SkoolMentor after her original plan, COSMOS, was cancelled. She’s hoping to submit this project to a science fair in the fall.
  • Prepping for USACO – she’s already achieved Silver level and will be doing self-paced practice problems to work on Gold, possibly enrolling in courses in the fall.
  • Volunteering for StreetCode Academy, which “empowers communities of color with the skills, mindsets, and networks to use tech and innovation to fulfill their full potential” by teaching online classes.
  • Developing an online summer class “Biology in Your Backyard” for kids in her neighborhood, demonstrating interest in biology and community service
  • Online volunteer music instruction through QuaranTunes demonstrating both commitment to community service and interests outside of CS
  • Working on essay free-writes (school list already set)

Robert, a rising junior who is excited about business, data science, and gardening, will be:

  • Starting a small business over the summer creating and selling “Shelter-in-place Gardening Kits” while also building and tending to his own pollinator friendly garden.
  • Offering 30-minute online tutorials for people interested in learning more about gardening.
  • Taking an online course - Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies (EdX) and explored options for an at-home science experiment working with data
  • Leading his Boy Scout troop in organizing a food drive for a local food bank
  • Working on an at-home science experiment working with data
  • Watching his younger sister in the mornings while Mom and Dad work at home
  • Prepping for the SAT/ACT prep so that he can take the test in fall or spring

Rising sophomore Shelley, who loves debate, environmental science, and cooking, will be:

  • Downloading EarthJustice and Earth Day Network Toolkits to learn about what she can do to raise awareness about drinking straws and other single use plastic pollution, which has increased since COVID-19.
  • Creating a YouTube channel focused on ways to live sustainably during coronavirus with short videos on specific actions people can take.
  • Taking an online course on critical thinking, arguments, and fallacies Khan Academy - Critical Thinking course.
  • Cooking vegetarian lasagna and delivering healthy meals in eco-friendly packaging to seniors in her neighborhood who can’t get to the grocery store.
  • Exploring careers in environmental engineering and public policy

What Can Students Do to Get the Most Out of Summer?

As you can see, each of these students will be involved in a variety of activities. How did they decide which activities to pick? Well, before you start making your plans, I strongly recommend thinking about what you are trying to achieve overall. In our practice, we encourage students to use their summers to demonstrate:

  • Interest in potential majors or careers
  • Commitment to community service
  • Curiosities and activities outside intended major or career interests, and
  • What we call the 7Cs of Admissions Distinction (Collaboration, Commitment, Character, Curiosity, Creativity, Challenge, Cultural Intelligence)

I hope these suggestions spark lots of ideas for you! If I were to leave you with one last piece of advice: don’t spend too much time thinking about what to do. Pick a few things you’re interested in and go, go, go! If you don’t like the activity, pick another and try it out. Agonize less, and explore more. Put ideas into action. As Anna from Frozen II advises, “do the next right thing.” Good luck!