The leaves are starting to fall and summer is behind us, but if you or your teen took part in an educational summer program, internship, volunteer position, or summer job this past summer, now is the perfect time to maximize your summer experience and make the most of it.
I can hear you saying to yourself, “… sorry …. NOW is the time?” Yes! You can’t change the past, but what you do now could make a big difference.
Neglecting to take key steps in the fall could hurt your ability to leverage your summer experience for future college or job applications. Right now, things are fresh. You haven’t forgotten any tidbits of information, missed possible connections, or lost that important piece of paper yet. Follow these steps and get ready to maximize your summer experience… after it’s already over!
1. Reach out to ask for a reference letter
If you start with the hardest task, everything else seems easy! No matter who you are, reaching out to ask someone to vouch for you is intimidating. This is especially true when it comes to asking someone you might not know so well, or someone in a position of power. However, in order to maximize your summer experience, you need a reference who can tell a potential employer or admissions board what you did and what makes you stand out. This only gets more difficult as the days go on.
Right now, you remember your whole experience, and that applies to your potential reference too. A strong reference is someone who can speak in detail about what you did and how you did it. They might not remember all that when you ask them next year (or years down the line), but they do now. If you reach out soon, they may be able to include particular anecdotes about you that will set your reference letter apart from the rest.
Also, by reaching out now, you give yourself a better chance to get a personalized and lengthy letter. Your potential reference is not being inundated with reference letter requests like they will be in college application season. Plus, you show that you are serious about using your experience this summer to work towards your goals. Your potential reference will see that you didn’t just contact them in a pinch and on a deadline, and might put in the extra effort to write you a quality letter.
You can read more about how to ask for a reference here.
2. Collect it all up!
All those notes, certificates, time sheets, photos – it’s time to store them in a manner you’ll be able to find easily. In order to maximize your summer experience, you need to have something to show for it!
Scan any physical copies and save them in a folder with any digital work you did, together and easily accessible. This includes things like a job or program description and any resumes or applications you submitted. Now, when something comes up and you need that one piece of paper from your summer experience two years ago, you know where to go. You’d be surprised how often this will happen!
Here at Powerful Youth, we’ve received countless emails from past participants wanting copies of their graduation certificates that they’ve misplaced, sometimes even years after they completed the program! Don’t be that person.
You can’t possibly know exactly what a potential employer or admissions board will ask you about your experience this past summer. Maybe they’ll want to know the exact details of that one small project you did that one Tuesday, and the challenges you faced. Or maybe they would love to know more about a moment that inspired you. Will you remember all that? Probably not.
If you want to maximize your summer experience, you need to be able to talk about all facets of it in detail. The best way to do this is to take some time now and jot down a reflection of your experience. Written reflection allows you to step back into that moment, whenever you may choose. You can read over your reflections before any interview or application process, and be ready to answer anything that may come your way. These written reflections can also act as starting point for thinking about what to include in an admissions essay or cover letter.
Summer experience reflection prompts to get you started
- What were the highlights of my experience?
- What were the challenges?
- If I could do it all over again, what would I do differently?
- How did I feel when I succeeded/failed? What were the factors in that?
- What did I learn, and how will I apply this learning?
- Who did I meet, and what did I learn from them? How did they inspire me? Who did I work well with?
- What am I most proud of accomplishing?
Beyond reflecting on specific experiences, daily reflection is considered by many as an invaluable tool for self-growth, especially for leaders. Don’t just take our word for it – this Forbes article can tell you all about that. At our Global Leadership Academy reflection is a key component of every single day. We even use a digital education platform to record our work and reflections, which allows participants to log back in to review after the program is complete, allowing them to skip this step altogether. Congratulations GLA-ers… one less item on your list!
4. Update your resume
It may seem silly to update your resume unless you’re preparing an application, but in fact, keeping this up-to-date allows you to quickly grab any opportunities that may come your way! You’ll never be blindsided by anyone asking for a resume – with nothing to show for it. And now that you’ve followed the tip above and taken time to reflect, you’re ready to take this on!
If you really want to maximize your summer experience, the few lines about it on your resume are crucial to conveying the way you spent your summer to anyone reading it. While it’s still fresh in your mind is the perfect time to consider how to best summarize what you did. What are the most important factors to mention? What are the key transferable skills? No pressure, but this will probably stay on your resume for years.
Don’t have a resume yet? It’s never too early, and it’s easier than you may think! Read this quick-and-easy guide to creating a resume as a teen or young adult.
5. Continue growing your new skills
If you learned new skills this summer or worked on building up your experience, don’t let the momentum slow! To maximize your summer experience, consider what your next steps are.
Employers and admissions officers want to see that you are committed to personal growth. More than anything, this shows them that you are hardworking and always looking for ways to improve. The best way to show that is to be able to display a progression of experience and skill-building. Because you don’t have years of experience under your belt, you need to come up with other ways to show your growth. Figuring out how to keep the momentum up and apply what you learned is the best way to do that.
Did you take on an internship or summer job?
Consider what new skills you learned, and put them to use for a student group or club you are a part of. Or contribute your new expertise as a volunteer for a local non-profit or charity you believe in. Many non-profits look for a variety of types of volunteers, including people to help out with administrative work, website design, social media, or event planning! Even if you don’t have an organization in mind, websites like Volunteer Match can help you find the right opportunity for you.
Did you attend a leadership program, maybe even our own Global Leadership Academy?
Now is the time to showcase and flex your leadership muscles! True leaders are always growing and applying their skills to new challenges. An important part of our program is determining and developing the Dream Project, a social impact project to be completed by the participant once they return home to their community. The best way to demonstrate leadership skills is by doing. So whether it’s your own project, or taking a leadership role within an existing organization, project, or event, now is the time to continue your leadership journey, because it’s just that – a journey!
Did you volunteer or take part in a service project trip?
Think about other projects the organization does that you could take part in. For instance, maybe they have fundraising events that could use volunteers, or require a few hours of help each week that you could contribute. In the case of international volunteer trips, you may think there’s nothing you can do now that you have returned home, but this is not the case. Continue your involvement with the organization by helping with recruitment events or information sessions to find new volunteers. Ultimately, employers and admissions officers will value your loyalty to an organization. It shows that you care enough about your experience to continue being a part of the organization’s success after summer – a clear indicator of passion and commitment.
Did you learn a new language this summer?
Consider joining a conversational group in your city, or even better, start your own! Or you could start a blog or video channel in that language, and put your skills to the test.
6. Establish your network
It isn’t just about what you learned, it’s about about who you met! You can maximize your summer experience by making sure you stay in touch with these new connections.
Of course, having people to reminisce about the good times with is great. But in terms of getting the most out of your time this summer, having a network to support, encourage, and inspire you is what it’s all about. Why not create a group on social media to share updates and motivation?
You also now know the skills of these new people around you. Maybe you were in a program that involves a lot of team challenges and teamwork skill-building, like our Global Leadership Academy. Someone in this network could be the perfect person to turn to for help or advice, or to ask to collaborate with on your next project!
This network is also an amazing way to find (or share!) opportunities. You all have a shared goal, interest, or mindset, because that’s what initially brought you all together. You never know what could come of it, be it job opportunities, future collaborations, or attending other events or programs together.
Maximize your summer experience – now!
You put a lot of time, effort, and brain power towards using your summer to gain new skills and set yourself apart from other students. You could have been sleeping in late, lazing around, and hitting the pool for a couple months, but you understood how important it is to use this valuable time to help you reach your goals.
You’ve already done all the hard work. Now, all you need to do is follow these steps to make sure that hard work works hard for you when you start applying to make your goals reality.