By Jill Rooney

For college-bound high school seniors, the summer after graduation is typically a busy time. Between working summer jobs, celebrating with friends, and fending off clingy parents who are prematurely misty over the impending departure of their kids, students might neglect — or even purposely avoid — intellectual engagement, believing that rest is needed before the rigors of college begin.

But this would be a mistake for most students — the loss of academic rigor and skills over the summer months can set students back when they return to school. And though everyone needs a break, it’s especially important for high school seniors to keep learning through the summer months in order to prepare for the rigors of college.

To that end, a few ideas to avoid the summer slide and get prepared for college:

  1. TAKE AN ONLINE COURSE: One of the best ways for students to maintain their academic skills over the summer is to use them! Most colleges today now offer online courses; students can enroll in a course to reduce their course load in the fall semester or to get a taste of college-level work by focusing on just one at a time. Or, given the realities of financial aid packages that don’t begin until full-time enrollment in the fall, free online college courses, such as those offered by high-caliber universities like Stanford and Princeton, MIT and Harvard, provide a realistic glimpse into college-level courses.
  2. READ WITH PURPOSE: Though summer blockbusters are always appealing, students should take the time to browse through online college bookstores, take a look at the textbook list for enrolled courses, and get started on the assigned reading. Many professors also post course syllabi, allowing students to get a look at the assignments for the semester. Note that some professors prefer that students read texts within the context of the courses’ lectures and discussions, but for those who want to get a jump on the semester, students will not only maintain their learning habits, but can also reduce the amount of work that must be completed during the semester.
  3. GET STEEPED IN CULTURE. Visit museums and science centers and/or attend plays or other cultural events over the summer. Students can take tours led by trained museum docents, or they can complete self-guided tours using pre-recorded materials offered by the institution, which in many ways mimics the kind of independent work characteristic of college-level academics. These are usually relatively inexpensive activities, and students frequently have access to reduced admission fees. In addition, there are many online museum exhibits for students to view any time. One of the more powerful online exhibits is Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, a brutally graphic but historically valuable visual explanation of the culture of violent racism that existed in the early twentieth century. The intense nature of this exhibit is good preparation for the seriousness of college material, but there are plenty of different topics to explore.
  4. ASSESS YOURSELF: Students can work on knowledge gaps over the summer — but it helps if they know what those gaps are. Many colleges offer assessment tools that can help with this, but there are also free online skills assessments to test their grammar, for example, on Free College Grammar Assessment Quiz, created by teachers and students. There are also more comprehensive paid assessment sites.

These kinds of activities will help allay any anxieties students may have about starting college, build their confidence, and keep them on track over the summer. Though breaks are always helpful to re-energize the mind, it’s also important to start off the college semester well prepared.

  • Darleensun

    I would add:
    Get to really about your new college or university. If you can’t be there in person do it online. Learn about your professors. Look them up, see what they have published.
    Check up on why we go to college (hint, historically it was to get a job). 
    Remember what you wished you could learn more about in school but didn’t have the time.
    Look up some alumni and ask them what they wished they knew going in.
    Leave some time to de-school and let you mind wander!

  • Honestly, the 4 recommendations are good but I would suggest to any incoming students to get an exercise regiment going on. Try to get into the habit of eating healthy and exercising normally. By doing this you are more likely to keep to habit even during midterms and finals. I’ve found this to be extremely helpful while I know many who just let themselves go during the semesters and are now a tad bit overweight. Keep into habit will do wonders for study energy in the long term.

    Other than that, don’t worry too much about reading on the subjects you want to study. That’s why you are taking these courses to begin with. Instead familiarize yourself with vocabulary that goes beyond high school level. Having a strong knowledge of vocabulary will go a long way. Go beyond the regular dictionary, go with medical and legal dictionaries, and whatever else you can get a hold of. Ideally in book format. The internet format is often based on searching for a word, thus requiring you to know the word prior to finding its definition. Your public library should have some of these dictionaries.

    Other than that. Watch 2 TEDTalk videos each day. It’ll help open your mind on various subjects that may help you form a better idea of where you want to go with your studies. Short, easy to follow, and very entertaining.

  • Robert_smith1986

    Stop “preparing” and just live!  Love it!  College is the beginning of you learning a whole lot about yourself, the world, and growing into being your own person, but it’s also the beginning of a steady slide into the responsibility (and joys) of adult life.  So live as much as you can in the moment, and stop worrying.  My biggest mistake was spending my youth “preparing” for something that would always come later, and it ended in me getting frustrated and quitting school to travel and learn on my own (I eventually went back and got my BA and JD).  Be a student of life, and put all this anxiety aside.

  • Layla

    College instructor here. I personally believe that trying to get a head start on reading over the summer, especially if you are an incoming freshman, is a terrible idea. You will simply need to read it all again so that it is fresh in your mind for class discussion and exams. Why do that to yourself?

    I agree that students should keep their minds active over the summer, but I would encourage students to do recreational reading over the summer, not required reading. Pick up a science fiction novel, a nonfiction book, or whatever floats your boat— let yourself be reminded of the joy of reading something for pure pleasure, not for a grade.

    • Chester Morrison

      I do not agree. Reading loads for full-time are often way too much for a typical semester. Take good notes on your reading with page numbers and you won’t have a problem with review for discussion or exams.

  • “Take an online course over the summer before college”

    This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.

    • Chester Morrison

      I agree wholeheartedly. Online courses are not substitute for in class and they come at a premium of 100-200 dollars more than an in class course.

      • Katarzyna Wrona

        I have to disagree: Coursera and edX offer free courses (unless one
        wants to get Signature Track from Coursera, which is a verified
        certificate), and some universities offer parts of or all materials used
        in their courses on their own websites. None of these are meant to be
        like a class — we cannot reproduce the experience wholly as of now —
        though some of the courses use footage from the class (like the recent
        biology course on edX, Introduction to Biology – The Secret of Life
        taught by Prof. Eric Lander from MIT). Some schedule “virtual meetups”
        (eg. on Google Hangouts), which are later posted for use of all
        participants. Some even schedule real-life office hours at the
        university and record them as well, to ensure the students who cannot
        come won’t be in worse position than those who did come. Forums and
        discussion boards are always teeming with people asking for advice,
        helping others, offering insights and information linked with the topic
        of the course which could not be presented, exchanging opinions, and
        yes, sometimes arguing pointlessly and being awful to others, but such
        participants are often removed from the course upon being reported by
        other users. Another thing I’d like to point out is that self-motivation
        and perseverance is needed more when taking part in an online course
        than an in-class one. Unless one is doing something like Signature
        Track, one isn’t monitored, given any external pressure to learn and get
        good grades, etc. One signs a honour code, which states things like
        working independently on the assignments, not sharing answers to tests,
        being respectful of others. So while such a course will not be a
        replacement for a class, it will help a person develop in their own
        right and I think taking it is a good, valuable way of spending time
        during summertime.
        (I speak only from my experience of several courses on both platforms; it may or may not be similar to others’.)

  • Amy Ann

    Find out what type of learner and studier you are. There are the classic types (visual, audio, etc.), but also try what it would be like to pull an all-night cram session. Does that work for you? Do you like routine (studying the same subject at the same time every day)? Do you learn/study best in the silent library, or the bustling student center? How would your personality handle group work? These are the sort of things that, had I thought about or tried the summer before, would have really helped me. Instead, I struggled first semester because I never had to pay much attention or study in high school to succeed. College is different! Keeping your mind sharp by reading or taking classes is great, but knowing yourself is more worth it.

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