The Road to College
By May S. Ruiz
June 21st is summer solstice, marking the beginning of summer. Most high schoolers have recently graduated, or are about to graduate. When I was in school the onset of summer meant taking a break from the harried pace of schoolwork, extra-curricular activities, and campus club events. But our children have a widely different experience from ours. Increased competition to gain admission to very selective universities has forced teens to fill summer hours with other pursuits to pad their resume.
There was a time when teenagers worked summer jobs. More than the financial gain, having a summer job shows admissions officers that your children took on responsible roles and gained invaluable real-world experience. It also gives young people the satisfaction that they have the ability to earn money. However, finding employment is not on most teenagers’ to do list for the summer.
According to the latest outlook figures from Challenger, Gray & Christmas (CGC), an outplacement career and transition service company, summer hiring will be stagnant as ever more teens are focused on education, family obligations, and extracurricular activities.
In June 2017 over one million teens found jobs, the strongest hiring numbers for this group since 2007. However, an analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics by Challenger, shows that number fell four percent last summer to 1,288,000 jobs gained.
While the shortfall in summer work can be traced to retail store closures, including that of Toys R Us which typically hires teens, employment in this age group has been falling steadily since the 1990s, especially after the 2008 recession, according to Andrew Challenger, vice-president of CGC, Inc. He adds that teen participation rate in the summer months has hovered near 40 percent since 2009, well below the highs of 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s at near or over 60 percent.
Echoing what I have been observing, Challenger says “With the myriad responsibilities facing American teens, it’s no wonder few opt to add ‘summer job’ to the list. However, the kinds of jobs that employ most teenagers help build crucial soft skills that many employers value.”
This is the same reasoning that Cynthia Shapiro, a noted Southland career coach, tell college graduates. She says that today companies look for actual job experience to show employers that they have been in a work setting and were successful there. So, in the long run your children are not only earning money and learning the value of hard work, a summer job helps them get future employment when they’re out of college.
Today’s teens are heavily involved in enrichment activities – arts workshops, sports camps, etc.; obtaining internships in their fields of interest; and traveling to third-world countries to teach, or to build houses through Habitat for Humanity as their community service. Their summer months are spent in a dizzying number of undertakings that sometimes I wonder if they’re spinning their wheels unnecessarily.
While I am not advocating that your children just lie inert for three months as a reward for having successfully finished one school year, I would suggest a less frantic pace. Sometimes, letting their mind and body recharge would do more good than doing summer internships and drilling for the PSATs, SATs, SAT IIs, ACTs, APs, and whatever other standardized test acronyms and initials are out there.
Having said that, though, there is the reality that the gap between school years is so big that kids forget everything they learned then go back to school in the fall unprepared for the work. Parents should let their children have a variety of fun, educational, productive activities that stimulate their brain.
It’s also the time to look at what your children have accomplished, and what benchmarks they need to achieve to propel them to the next school year.
Ninth grade is behind them! Your children’s grades should indicate that they took high school seriously and that they put all their efforts at getting good marks. They should have already made plans for summer programs, internships and community service work. They should engage in activities that truly reflect their passion. Instead of yearly joining a group of kids building houses in Guatemala, they might consider an activity that would really mean something to them.
College admissions officers see the same pursuit on all the resumes they receive that your children would not be doing anything memorable. Encourage them to think outside the box, avoid the herd mentality. If your kids enjoy music and performance, for instance, they might consider organizing an original musical to be presented to seniors at your city’s retirement center.
In 2016, the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a seminal report called “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions” which was endorsed by 80 colleges and universities. It points out that today’s process puts much emphasis on personal success rather than service for others.
It recommends students engage in: meaningful, sustained community service; collective action that takes on community challenges; authentic experiences in diversity; work that helps them appreciate the contributions of the past generations; contributions to one’s family.
All the recommendations in the study, however, are courses of action that high school counselors are already preaching to students. So, in that regard, it really isn’t anything new. What’s new is the strong emphasis that admission officers place on the depth, rather than the breadth, of students’ engagement with any given community service.
Should American universities really take this study to heart and use its recommendations, it is incumbent upon you to encourage your children to do well in school and to put a lot of thought into what community service they want to embark on.
Your children’s end-of-year marks in 10th grade should have improved over last year’s if they didn’t do well in their freshman year. College admissions officers want to see students who continue to better themselves.
They need to take whatever standardized tests are required – ACT or June SAT subject tests are the norm. They also need to continue the community service activity they started last summer. While it is advisable to show consistency for admissions officers to know that your kids have a passion for such work, they could do a variation of it; they don’t want to be monotonous.
They can start researching about colleges, specifically looking for the institutions offering the courses they want to major in.
The school year that just ended was a pivotal one for your children as it would be the last full year that college admissions officers will see on your kids’ application. It should reflect your children’s efforts at getting the best marks they could muster, and an improvement over the first two years of high school.
Make sure your children have their community service work, internship, and enrichment program ready for summer. These activities should be a continuation of the previous years’.
This is going to be their busiest summer with standardized tests like the ACT, SAT, SAT IIs, and APs. If they have not seen the schools they are considering applying to, this would be their last chance to visit college campuses. You might consider making it a fun summer trip for the family (my daughter and I spent two weeks visiting universities as part of our summer vacation).
Your children should start thinking about their essay topic; meeting with their school counselor to make sure they have taken all the required courses for graduation and college (the UC and Cal State universities have their A – G requirements that need to be completed); and lining up teachers they would like to ask for recommendations.
Well, your children have accomplished a major milestone – successfully completing high school and getting accepted into a college or university! This period in their life will never again be repeated, so let them revel in what they have achieved. Give yourself a pat on the back while you’re at it; you’ve been a major influence in whatever path they choose to take from here.