Capstone College and Career Advising

Ways to use your winter break wisely

December 20th, 2013 by

I know, I know – you probably haven’t even opened your first gift yet, much less polished off the last Christmas cookie. But I would be remiss in my role as a college admissions advisor if I didn’t gently suggest a few ways you can make the most of winter break.

After all, many area schools will not resume for two entire weeks. That leaves plenty of time for visiting friends and family, seeing all the new holiday movies, catching up on your sleep, AND checking a few of these tasks off your to-do list:

Plan spring break visits: Spring break is a great time to visit campuses, especially if your break dates don’t coincide with those of your intended schools and you can see campuses “in action.” If you still have a long wish list, now is the time to get serious and figure out which schools you can reasonably visit in March. If your heart is set on just one college, get out the map and figure out which nearby schools you can tack on to the trip. Even if you don’t seriously consider these other schools, comparison shopping can help you look at your ideal schools more critically.

Investigate summer programs: Many universities offer academic and enrichment activities – far beyond band camp and sports clinics – throughout the summer. Enrollment will open as early as next month, and the best camps fill quickly. Signing up to learn coding or study biology can help students narrow down their prospective majors and buff up their college application resumes. Just as important, in many programs, students stay in the dorms, eat in dining halls, and enjoy a taste of college life. I’ve known students who chose colleges because they fell in love with the campus during a summer enrichment camp. I’ve known others who switched intended majors because a week of intensive study convinced them it wasn’t the right fit for them. Both experiences are valuable.

Beef up your community service: It can be hard to find time to volunteer during the school year, yet admissions officers really do look for meaningful community service. During your break, you can either get in some extra hours at a place you already volunteer (such as a hospital or animal shelter) or research new causes to get involved with. Three places to start: volunteermatch.org lists both local and virtual volunteer opportunities. The site idealist.org lists internships and volunteer posts, in addition to overviews of several local charities. Finally, this very newspaper often publishes volunteer opportunities at local agencies.

Catch up: The long days of winter break offer bonus hours for time-stretched students. Graduating seniors, make sure you’re on track with your college paperwork, such as making housing deposits, completing enrollment forms, and applying for scholarships. Students of all levels can get a head start on that novel that’s already been assigned, or start planning the spring science project. It may be tempting to kick back the next two weeks, but a little work now will make second semester that much less stressful.

Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college advisor for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, and find the college that’s right for them.