Summer is a time to get ahead, prepare, and recharge for the following school year. With that, it provides you with ample time, away from the grind of the school year, to elevate yourself and come back stronger in the upcoming year. Here are seven ways to get ahead of your peers this summer:
1. Learn a New Skill
School helps build your critical thinking, but it’s crucial to expand by building up skills you can put on your resume or even get a job with.
- Pick up graphic design. Whether it be for making your presentations more aesthetic or if you want to pursue art as a career, learning the basics of graphic design gives you an avenue to express yourself creatively. In a world where design and branding are more important than ever, graphic design skills can allow you to secure marketing, UI/UX, and design internships in college. Start building up your portfolio.
- Write more. Writing is probably the most underrated skill today. The simple way to become a better writer is by writing more. The more deliberate practice you have, the better you get at it. Writing is a life skill in which you’ll immediately see the benefits of improving it when writing essays for class or eventually writing college essays.
- Social media marketing. 72% of Gen Z is on social media. The ability to run a successful social media account is in hot demand, and Gen Z is positioned best to help run the social media accounts of small businesses today. If you learn how to manage social media for a company, you can likely easily secure a job or internship in marketing.
2. Create a startup
When you’re young, you have little to no commitments outside of being a student. You’re positioned at the unique opportunity where failure doesn’t matter. Starting a startup in high school has high asymmetric returns (small risk, with the potential of big rewards).
The truth is that most startups are not successful. But a study by Harvard Business School found that while first time founders are only successful 21% of the time, second time founders have a 30% chance of succeeding in their next company.
Here are some of the lessons you can expect to learn when creating your startup:
- You get to know yourself better. You learn about your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. You can surround yourself with co-founders that complement your strengths to create an elite team.
- You learn how to work with other people. What’s your style of working with others? You learn how to delegate tasks to divide and conquer.
- Become a leader. Leadership positions make you stand out when applying for job or college applications. Leadership develops essential life skills from communication to building solid relationships.
- Execution is hard. Ideas are easy; execution is hard. You’re going to have your ups and downs when working on your startup, but trust me, it’s going to be worth it. Knowing how to build a product, essentially going from zero to one, is an invaluable skill to learn while in high school.
- Wearing many hats. In a startup, you have to be a generalist, versus while working in a big company, you have to be a specialist. A generalist wears many hats, from programming the front and back end to UI/UX design and marketing. At the same time, another person may be doing the outreach, finances, and legal. A generalist is a jack of all trades, which is what you need when working on a small team. In contrast, a specialist has specific knowledge in a specialized field.
- The art of selling. In life, you have to sell. You have to sell yourself (ex. selling yourself to be hired at a company, selling yourself to a future spouse). The ability to sell yourself is crucial, and startups help develop that skill.
3. Network, network, network!
As cliche as it is, your network is your net worth. Several opportunities have opened up to me simply by who I knew.
- Create a LinkedIn. With over 810 million members, LinkedIn is the go-to place for professional networking. Build out your LinkedIn profile, and start connecting with people in fields you’re interested in. People are very willing to help others if you simply ask, and it’s flattering when a high-schooler reaches out asking for advice. Don’t be afraid to reach out!
- Engage in online groups. First, ask, where are the people I want to engage with? For example, this could be a subreddit, a discord server, a slack channel, or even just a traditional group chat. Be active, wherever that may be, and connect with people you see yourself as in 5 years. If that person is where you want to be in 5-years, ask them questions about their path, how they got there, and if they have any advice.
4. Take online courses
For the first time in history, you can learn everything about anything with enough effort. Get ahead in your classes or start preparing in college. The time is now. Here are some of the top FREE websites to learn anything.
- MIT Open Courseware. MIT has published recorded lectures and notes on all of its courses within the last decade. This is an absolute gold mine and an opportunity to learn from a Top-5 university.
- Coursera. Coursera is a MOOC (massive open online course) platform with popular courses taught by top universities. After completion, you will obtain a certificate which you can add to your LinkedIn or resume from top schools like Stanford.
- edX. edX is similar to Coursera. Both offer the same value proposition; however, the courses on each platform are different. I would look at the offerings of both and decide what subjects you want to learn.
- Udemy. Although most courses are paid (typically less than $15), it offers high-quality courses on any tool or skill you want to learn. From development to business to the Adobe suite, Udemy has you covered.
5. Plan for college
If you have the privilege of going to college, it’s best to start planning as early as possible. I went through the process just two years ago, and here’s my top advice:
- Create your college list. This will not be perfect and will likely change a lot. But it’s good to start researching to prime your brain on where you want to apply. When creating your list, start with at least three safety schools (schools you expect you’re going to get into), at least five target schools (schools where your stats match a typical student at that school), and at least two reach schools (your dream school, ivy leagues, Stanford, etc.). Here is a template for starting your college search (Template).
- Reach out to teachers about letters of recommendation. This only applies if you’re currently a junior. Email 2-3 teachers during the summer and ask if they’re willing to write you a letter of recommendation. Pick 1 STEM-related teacher (Math or Science teacher) and one humanities-related teacher (English, history, or art). The diversity helps you stand out as a well-rounded student, and the teachers will list different aspects of your personality as the subject base is different.
- Begin visiting schools. Now that you’ve made a list of schools you want to apply to see if you can visit the schools in person. Visiting a school in person is a different and real perspective vs. how you would experience that school otherwise.
- Start thinking about essays. Prompts don’t typically change year to year. Look at past prompts and start to plan out what you may write about for those prompts. Start thinking about what you will write about for your personal statement.
6. Develop good habits
It takes on average 66 days to build a habit, which is just a fraction of your summer. Here are the best habits to develop in high-school.
- Sleep. Start fixing your sleep habits now. Sleep is involved in healing, repair, and cognitive ability. Teenagers ages 14-17 should be aiming to get around 7 and a half hours of sleep a night. Sleep effects everything related to your health. It helps regulate your immune system, maintains weight, improves mood, and allows you to think clearly.
- Don’t stretch yourself out. It’s better to focus on 1-2 clubs, and the president of those than to be a member of 4-5 clubs. Colleges want to see specialization over generalization. Be the top person in a focused category of activities vs. middle of the pack in a few different clubs.
7. Take college-level classes at your local community college
Taking college-level classes in high-school or enrolling in a Dual program in offer will allow you to come into college with a huge head start when it comes to credits. You don’t have to waste your first year taking general-education classes (save yourself anywhere from 20k-80k), and can jump directly into classes related to your major. Community college classes are easier than university classes but usually transfer to the same credits (this depends college-to-college).