Four Ways to Prepare for College This Summer

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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.