high school

Smarter Summers: High School

As students embark on the latter half of their high school careers, the prospect of what comes after looms large on the horizon. The college search involves a daunting combination of introspection, research, testing, and logistics that can feel overwhelming even for the most organized student—and it arrives at a time in their academic career when most students are also facing more pressure at school than ever before. That’s why it’s increasingly important to make the best use of summer breaks to get ahead in the college application process. For older students this means focused review for standardized tests, brainstorming for the personal essay, and college visits. Importantly, though, it also means that even students early in their high school years need to take advantage of the summer break to find a passion project, learning experience, service opportunity, or summer job that will spur meaningful growth, offer exposure to a potential area of study or interest, and, as a result, provide them with compelling material to relate during the admissions process. 

These days, more and more students forestall the age-old question: what do you want to be when you grow up? And that’s okay! In a rapidly-changing world where young adults are expected to hold more distinct jobs than any generation before them, flexibility and openness are prerequisites. However, rather than an excuse to avoid reflecting on their future goals, this open-ended world creates an invitation (even an obligation) to explore the possibilities that await. Students will be increasingly responsible for navigating their own way through the thicket of opportunities, rather than stepping onto a career path that is clearly marked out for them from the start. The open days of summer are a first taste of this freedom, which can be equal parts exciting and overwhelming. What students do with the summer months is up to them, but it’s our job to guide them into experiences that will help them to better define their future goals, and to take real steps toward meeting them.

These summer experiences often serve as the source material for a student’s personal essay, which conveys to admissions officers the particular qualities that a student can bring to their school. It also makes sense to use the summer to begin the development of this essay as well, during a relatively slow moment in the year when students have the time to reflect and experiment. That’s why Smarten Up will offer a week-long intensive in the personal essay this summer, developing original and effective essay drafts in a small group setting. Together we will break down successful examples of this type of essay, learning a set of best practices to employ as we also experiment to find the right story for each individual student. The personal essay is a student’s chance to share their unique voice with admissions officers—but ‘be unique’ is, of course, uselessly vague advice. The workshop will focus on the actionable steps in the writing and revision process that will allow this unique voice to emerge. 

Will you join us? Email mara@smarten-up.com for more information. 

Meet a Student: Jamie

What is your favorite book?

My favorite book is “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. I really enjoyed reading about the struggle of the various characters during the Dust Bowl and how the characters confronted an environmental challenge.

If you were a teacher, what subject would you teach?

If I were a teacher, I would teach math because I love numbers and the fact that there is a procedure to follow to solve each problem.

What have you learned about yourself as a student since you started with tutoring?

What I have learned about myself as a student since I started with Smarten Up is that I am capable of handling the rigors of a mainstream high school workload. This has especially been true with Ben’s support and encouragement. He has motivated me to believe that I am capable of anything to the point that I decided to take AP Environmental Science. Not only has Ben helped me, but Karla and Brendan have supported me tremendously as well. Karla helped me get through Honors Precalculus and Calculus and boosted my math confidence and abilities to the point that I want to take Calculus I in college in the fall. Finally, Brendan helped me to overcome my testing struggles on the ACT.

Since this month’s focus is on productive summer breaks, can you tell us about one summer you’ve had that was particularly impactful?

One summer I had that was particularly impactful was last summer, after junior year. It was impactful because I took an intensive two week pre-college course at Marist College in Environmental Studies. The semester course happened in just two weeks, therefore, we had high school length of classes and a college load of work. The schedule was so structured to the point that it was difficult to complete all of my work, especially the reading. However, I was able to use my studying skills and willpower to finish everything and get to bed at a reasonable time. I also learned how to live in college dorm for two weeks, which was not too difficult since I lived in a dorm for 4 years in middle school. The best part of the experience was that I found an even deeper passion for environmental science, and loved my professor. He took us on trips including going camping, to a water treatment plant, and on an old boat. This set me up perfectly for AP Environmental Science. 

Outside of school, what do you like to do for fun?

Outside of school, I enjoy exercising like going to the gym or for a run. I also enjoy being immersed in entertainment and culture so I can take advantage of all New York City has to offer. I enjoy going to the movies, museums, concerts, broadway shows, and restaurants. I also enjoy the outdoors like going for walks, playing golf, biking, and hiking.

How do you like to prepare for a test?

I like to prepare for a test by making a Quizlet for key terms, reviewing old assignments, notes, and assessments. I also like to rewrite the definitions or say them aloud in order to commit them to memory. I sometimes make mnemonics to remember terms. For math, I usually just practice problems of a particular concept repeatedly until I understand this process. This can be done for studying for any test in order to commit it to memory.   

What is your favorite word?

My favorite word is mashugana, which is a Yiddish expression meaning something that is crazy or strange.

What is one goal, big or small, that you have for the next year?

One goal I have for next year is to become more of an independent learner, especially since I am starting college in the fall and living away from family.