#The High School Experience

Summer programs, trips, camps, jobs, internships, research, and more are being canceled or moved online. Some are still in a state of limbo, with coordinators (and, therefore, students) holding out hope that they may be able to continue as planned.

First and foremost, we truly feel for all of the students who will miss opportunities to learn new skills, explore new places, and connect with friends old and new this summer.

With that said, students must consider the possibility – in most cases probability – of their summer plans being canceled. Hope for the best, of course, but prepare for “the worst.”

Note the quotes. There are opportunities to do something personal and meaningful for every student during a period of quarantine. These are not just encouraging or reassuring words. This is the truth. 

This can even be manageable for those who are struggling for motivation. Do you have a student who is filling every free hour with video games? An idea: organize a tournament where every participant puts in a certain amount of money, and the winner gets to choose what COVID charity to donate to. If the idea gains traction, make a social media page and turn it into a series.

Or what about a student who is filling those same hours with Netflix? What if they organize a virtual film discussion club (or throw in the corresponding books and make it a film-book club)? This is a great way to stay connected with socially distant friends, and if it continues into the fall, they can try to get a teacher to sponsor a school-sanctioned “club.”

As difficult and disappointing as shutdowns may be, there is no reason for teens to be unhappy or unfulfilled in their extracurricular activities. They should, at the same time, not feel compelled to do something “just for college.” The limits to making any interest, curiosity, or pursuit more personally enriching – and beneficial to the broader world – are one’s imagination. Now is a time for students to embrace their ikigai.  

Here is a simple thought process to follow to find an ‘insurance plan’ for the summer in case all other plans fall through:

  1. Start with what is meaningful and interesting. Like we said, every student should feel happy with whatever they are doing. Not everybody has a passion as a teen (many do not), but start with two or three things that are enriching and fulfilling. 
  2. How can that interest be taken to the next level? There are boundless opportunities for more advanced learning through online courses. (And finally a chance to explore if that prospective major is really right.) Everyone with a laptop has the ability to start a blog, podcast, or video series to share with the world – not to mention share knowledge and skills through Zoom. (Sing and play an instrument? Teach lessons or lead virtual sing-a-longs! Love baking for fun? Start a baking vlog to share delicious ways to spend quarantine.) 
  3. How can a pursuit be not only personally enriching, but also help the world? Creative hobbies can turn into artistic collections or Etsy businesses where proceeds are donated to those in need. (Sewing homemade masks is heroic, but selling paintings you make to raise money for a local food bank is equally admirable.) West Wing binge watches and hours of reading/watching the news can turn into advocacy and activism from the living room. (2020 is an amazing year for anyone with civic engagement and socially conscious interests – reach out to political campaigns local and national for at-home volunteer opportunities.) And there are so many small businesses who are suffering right now, students can take any number of business and creative skills and offer them for free to local companies who are struggling right now. (Offer to build a business a website, take professional photos, build up their social media, etc.)
  4. Make it happen. Right now, the struggle for many is not having a normal routine, which makes taking initiative and action even more difficult than usual. So create a schedule. Make a pursuit part of the daily routine so that every morning starts with the promise of direction and purpose – something to look forward to. 

This summer is likely to be atypical. We would be remiss if we did not mention that colleges are likely to favor applicants who were able to be resilient and creative in a time of crisis. Your students should ultimately be selecting – and creating – activities based on their own personal interests and drives. Those who succeed in doing so tend to be viewed most favorably in the admissions process.