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How to Have a Successful Summer

It may be tempting to spend your last summers of high school lounging at the beach, playing video games or hanging out with friends. But summer is also a great time to gain skills, knowledge and real-world experience that will help prepare you for your future career -- even if you don't yet know what that will be.

Summer school is one option, but there are a lot of beneficial -- and fun -- ways to make the most of your summer break.

"You've got internships, you've got camps, you've got programs, and you've got activities during the summer," says Jason Ma, founder, CEO and chief mentor at ThreeEQ, Inc. His company provides private mentoring services to teens and young adults, helping guide them into top-tier colleges and universities and lay strong foundations for successful careers. Ma is also the author of the book Young Leaders 3.0: Stories, Insights, and Tips for Next-Generation Achievers.

"Super high-achievers would have nailed [summer activities] down early in the calendar year because the application deadlines for some of the extremely competitive programs -- like RSI [Research Science Institute] at MIT -- were months ago," Ma says.

Similar competitive programs span all disciplines: sciences, business, STEM programs, and the liberal arts.

Students wanting a break from studying often opt for summer jobs. One reason jobs as camp counselors or lifeguards are so popular is because teens commit for the summer only. Retail, food service or office jobs might seem harder to find because employers are looking for year-round employees.

A growing number of employers are participating in summer jobs programs like New York City's extremely successful Summer Youth Employment Program [SYEP], open to New York City residents age 14-24. The program, which started 1963, has become a model for similar programs across the country. SYEP offers job opportunities with government agencies, hospitals, small businesses, not-for-profit organizations, museums, law firms, retail outlets, sports enterprises and even summer camps.

"Last year we developed over 8,000 sites for our young people to work at," says Christopher Lewis, SYEP director, at the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development. Last summer over 130,000 people applied for 47,000 SYEP positions. Participants were chosen at random.

"The program isn't just about finding a job for a young person and having them work and get paid for six weeks over the summer," Lewis says, noting the youths are paid minimum wage. "We also provide workshops to give them skills for job readiness--what kind of tie are you supposed to wear? How to build a resume. How to behave in the workplace."

Lewis says SYEP helps participants explore what kinds of careers fit their interests and skills, and the ways higher education can help them achieve their goals.

Even if your community doesn’t have a summer jobs program like SYEP, some local organizations might be able to help.

"We work with 50 community-based organizations who recruit people for our program and handle work site development," Lewis says.

"So I'd suggest getting in touch with workforce development or youth development organizations in your area. It may be an after school program, but they might also be operating a program of this nature, or might be able to help you find employment or help your figure out where to find additional services."

If you couldn't get into a summer program or didn't get hired for the job you applied for, there are other productive ways to fill your summer. Be proactive and check into internships and job shadowing opportunities, or start looking for potential mentors or coaches.

"Mentors are great," Ma says. "Finding coaches or a mentor is fine, but the more successful you become the more you'll be in need of a mentor because the problems you face are more complex."

No matter what you do, using your time wisely is the key to a successful summer.

"I always encourage kids to read a lot. Spend your time nourishing your brain. Go on some vacations [if you can]," Ma says. "Keep working on skills, on mindsets, and don't spend the whole summer playing video games. Help yourself by spending time constructively, as well as having some fun. We all need to have some fun. That's important."



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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.