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Let's Make Lemonade: How to make the most of your covid summer

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

Highlights: In this post, we’ll cover SAT/ACT prep, college planning, academic enrichment, summer opportunities, volunteering/service, and work advice. Click here to watch our live webinar, "How to Have a Productive Summer - Despite COVID," and check out our next blog post "Virtual Summer Programs for Teens" to get a comprehensive list of summer activities!

When you think back to how you spent your summers as a kid, what do you remember?

Are there sights, sounds, or smells that trigger memories of the summer months? The two most formative summers for me involved spending time with my extended family in Vittoria, Sicily, the town my dad grew up in.

I still remember the warmth of the Mediterranean sand at

the beach that I never wanted to leave, the tart sweetness of the lemon granita (aka “Italian ice”), and the sound of the loudspeaker on the trucks delivering eggs and milk to my grandparents’ neighborhood each morning: “uuuuuoooooova!” In general, the summers of my childhood were characterized by fun, freedom, and frozen treats.

Now think about the summer after junior year of high school. Ugh. More like fatigue, fear, and furrowed brows. There are only so many practice multiple choice questions one human can take. And that’s before factoring in the unique challenges of 2020.

I want to push back a little, though, on the idea that the summer before senior year needs to be stressful to be successful. Because the college application process really accelerates heading into the first semester of senior year, it’s common for students and their parents to feel a sudden sense of panic as soon as the initial excitement of completing junior year wears off. Indeed, college-bound students should be busy during this particular summer, as there is work to be done to reach their goals.

But wouldn’t it be nice if that could be a productive, rewarding “busy” as opposed to a stressful, overwhelmed “busy”?

That is exactly what this guide to the upcoming summer is for.

Read on to learn more about various ways that juniors can make the most of this

unprecedented summer without feeling academic burnout. It’s important to clarify that these

options should not be treated as an all-you-can-eat buffet; instead of piling your plate high with a little of everything until you feel sick, choose the perfect two or three dishes that correspond to your interests and your level of progress. The key is quality, not quantity.


Let’s kick off the menu with a task that juniors shouldn’t wait until summer to begin: test prep. In a typical year, the summer before senior year would be a reasonable time to take a second, third, or fourth official SAT or ACT test to try and improve on previous scores, but it would be relatively late to start the testing process. We know that 2020 has been anything but typical, and spring test date cancellations have forced many current juniors to delay their first or second official test until summer or fall. Looking ahead, there are ACT dates scheduled for June, July, and September, while the next available SAT dates are in August and September. Right now, not a month from now, is the time to be studying for these official test dates. With Strive to Learn’s test prep tutoring students, we generally recommend 20-30 hours working with a tutor, spread evenly over the two to three months leading up to the test date, along with independent practice assignments between each meeting.

Given that there may be fewer opportunities for rising seniors to retake the tests than in previous years, there is a clear incentive to really focus on scoring as well as possible on that next test date; starting test prep now would allow for more time to practice testing strategies and brush up on the math and language arts content on the tests. For any students planning to take one or more of the SAT Subject Tests for college admissions, August 29th is the next available date to study for, with additional test dates in October, November, and December. As a note to current sophomores, this summer is the perfect time to kick off your test prep, when you have time to focus on practice questions without trying to balance your homework load. If a less stressful test prep experience sounds appealing, make the most of this extra time at home to sharpen your testing skills.

College Planning

Along with preparing for standardized tests, there are several tasks that current juniors who are planning to apply to colleges can work on right now and during the summer months to avoid pushing everything until the last minute. Here are some things you can work on right away:

Researching colleges and building a good-fit college list

- Check out Strive to Learn founder Josefine Borrmann’s super-informative blog post and webinar on this topic.

Attending virtual tours and virtual info sessions for colleges you’re interested in

- For virtual tours, YouVisit and Campus Tours are two great options to start with, and there's always the tried-and-true tactic of Googling "[School Name] virtual tour"

- Visit websites for individual colleges to find out about and register for virtual info sessions.

- Parents are encouraged to participate in these virtual events too.

Exploring possible careers and areas of study to pursue

- YouScience is my favorite career exploration tool; it requires a paid account (included in Strive to Learn’s comprehensive college counseling packages), but it’s well worth the price tag.

- To research specific careers, O*Net Online is an excellent free resource.

Brainstorming, planning, and writing college application essays

- For more direct guidance, work with a Strive to Learn essay coach.

- The 2021 Common Application will allow students to share, in 250 words or less, any adverse effects COVID-19 has had on their lives; this is in addition to the usual 650-word “Additional Information” section. If this applies to you, now is a good time to start working on your response.

Creating your online account for the Common App and any other applications you plan to use

- For the Common App, August 1st is when the Fall 2021 application will officially become available, but juniors can register for an account now.

Create or update your resume

- This will make filling out your activities lists on each application much easier, and it’s an essential document when applying for jobs and internships.

Academic Enrichment

Aside from studying for the SAT or ACT, there are plenty of other ways to keep your brain active and growing over the summer. If there are any subjects you struggle with in school, take advantage of the extra time to study at your own pace; Khan Academy is an excellent free resource with a wide range of subjects to dive into. If you are registered for

honors, AP, or IB courses for next year, work on your summer assignments or get a head start on the reading list. If there is an academic subject you’re interested in that your school doesn’t offer any courses in, consider taking a course through one of the many nearby community colleges during Summer term. Or, educate yourself: there are countless free online resources available to students who want to take a deep dive into an area of interest, such as over 400 free online courses from Ivy League schools.

Summer Enrichment Programs

Many summer programs for high school students involve travel, so the landscape of these programs has understandably been altered due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of opportunities available for students looking to try something new this summer, as many of these organizations have modified their programs to comply with safe practices during the pandemic. At the bottom of this post, you will find an index of virtual summer programs and opportunities that are still available to sign up for at the time of this posting. Here are a few examples of programs it’s not too late to get involved in:

  • Capitol Debate’s Virtual Summer Camps in public speaking, debate, business communication, and more.

  • BlueStamp Engineering's Remote Summer Programs, offering project-based, hands-on learning in the field of engineering.

  • Girls Who Code’s Summer Immersion Program, which provides a computer science foundation for beginning coders.


As with the summer enrichment programs above, volunteering during the upcoming summer means something different than it does in a typical year. Fortunately, there are still

ways for students who are passionate about serving their community to do so safely. Volunteer Match, a search engine for volunteering opportunities, currently has a feature to search for ways to remotely help communities affected by COVID-19 and another page for “virtual volunteering” opportunities in general. Also check out this list of nine ways to get involved from DoSomething, a student-led social justice organization.

What About Work?

The average summer is a great time for rising seniors to take on an internship, job shadowing experience, or a part-time job, as they can gain valuable work experience and venture beyond their comfort zones... (say it with me once more) ...but this is not an average summer, and the United States is currently facing an unemployment crisis. To those who do have the opportunity to begin an internship, job shadowing experience, or part-time job, please stay safe and avoid putting yourself in risky situations. To the majority of students who probably won’t have that chance, my advice is to continue helping out your family in any ways you can: cooking meals, cleaning, helping with supervising younger siblings, etc. If you’re not sure how you can help at home, just ask! You might see your parents make a facial expression you’ve never seen before.

According to Janet Lavin Rapelye, a former dean of admission at Princeton University, admissions officers at competitive universities are not asking students to occupy every hour of the day with college prep activities, contrary to what some might assume. Instead, Rapelye cites the importance of high school students “enjoy[ing] the richness of life as it presents itself,” and speaks directly to parents with a clear message: “let your children enjoy their youth.” Rapelye’s words resonate with me as a reminder of how future-focused we can often be, in ways that might prevent us from appreciating the value of the present moment. My humble request to any high school students who are reading this is to enjoy this journey rather than fixating on the destination. Definitely be diligent in preparing for the next phase of life; just make sure to savor the small rewards life provides along the way.

Check out our next blog post "Virtual Summer Programs for Teens" to get a comprehensive list of summer activities, complete with links, descriptions, and deadlines!

Want to learn more about how to have a productive summer despite COVID-19? Click the photo below to watch our live webinar on the subject, featuring expert counselor Kristina Dooley!







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