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  • jzlevison

This Summer's Assignment: Who To Be, Rather Than What To Do

School’s out, summer’s here, and there’s a fire-hose of information about all the ways to utilize the coming weeks to advance the university application process. Most of it is aimed at helping families and students get organized and plan for a busy fall. Hopefully, it helps reduce stress, not intensify it.

This post is not another “to do” list, especially when, emerging from a pandemic, what students may need most to do is recovery and reconnection. Instead, it suggests a mindset to help 12th grade students feel clear-headed and in control about the fall. I’ve boiled it down to five essential “R”s.


What’s most important this summer? Get a job, travel, do an internship, or sit on the beach, but reflect deeply on what you want to do after graduation.There’s no such thing as perfect information, and the pandemic has taught us there is no crystal ball, but examining oneself and defining a set of goals and ambitions for now should be possible. If you’ve decided on pursuing university, what is the field you’re drawn to? Are you seeking scholarship? pre-professional experience? a set of relationships? a credential? social life? a place, an identity, or a specific campus culture? These are the questions that will enable you to identify “right fit” schools and build an effective university list. Or, maybe you think school’s not the answer and you have other plans. Use the summer to reflect.


If you’re headed to university, grades and coursework are paramount, but ultimately the strength of your application will depend on how the elements cohere to tell your personal story. What do you seek to accomplish? Why these goals? What experiences or knowledge have you sought or attained along the way, and what individual characteristics do you bring to the pursuit? Do you have the motivation and discipline to progress further? How will a university education support your growth, and what contribution to campus life will you, in turn, make? Some of these questions can be contemplated over a lifetime, but preliminary answers should be reflected in your applications this fall.


A resume, then, is not only a record of activities, but a version of your personal story. It’s a tool to present your goals and what you’ve accomplished both inside and outside the classroom to reach them. Summer is an ideal time to pull your resume together and reflect on how the pieces cohere to form the story you want your application to tell. In addition to the personal, there’s the practical: come fall, your resume can be given to the teachers writing your letters of recommendation, snippeted to create your activities list, and even attached to your application.


Wherever there’s an internet connection, there’s an opportunity to connect with schools. Summer is the time to research the schools you think you’re interested in, discover new schools, attend information sessions, and schedule open days. Keep your story in mind and see how schools measure up. Create an excel sheet to organize your findings. Since every school will come with trade-offs, use your research to help determine what you want vs. what you need, making sure that the schools in the latter column end up at the top of your university list. And take notes about what you like (or dislike). You’ll be grateful to have them when you plan your personal statement, write a “why” essay for a specific school, or discuss your application in an admissions interview.


If your family hasn’t spoken yet about finances, make sure the summer doesn’t end before you do. Affordability is the preeminent concern for most families, for whom the “right fit” school is the one they can pay for. As hard as it is to talk about money, setting yourself up for the heartbreak of getting into a school you can’t afford is worse. For U.S. colleges and universities, net price calculators can help families anticipate early the real cost of attendance. No matter where you apply, if you wait until after you’re admitted to research external aid and scholarships, it’s usually too late.


No matter what, avoid regrets. Do not cheat yourself. Taking time this summer to examine your needs, reflect on your goals, research options, and be deliberate about your applications is time profoundly well-spent. You will apply to schools (or not) knowing you have done your best and learned from the process. The results will prove it.


Do you need help with university research or planning, or building a smart university list? Contact us at or at (420) 602 612 705. An initial consultation is free.

Visit the UB4U library for additional resources.


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