For the past two weeks I have discussed ways that high school and college students could utilize their summer break in order to make themselves more competitive for the upcoming scholarship season. In Part I & II, I discussed the value of working and volunteering during the summer, and how these endeavors assist students in gaining valuable experience for one’s resume, gaining experiences for one’s scholarship applications, and in developing relationships that may lead to future references. This week, I am changing direction a little bit, moving away from external work to internal work, i.e. personal development.

Personal Development

For the past nine months you have been focused on academics, be it at the high school or collegiate level, and while it might sound like a good idea to unplug for a few months and let your brain recharge and relax, this is a mistake. Instead of allowing your brain to atrophy, use this time to develop a personal growth plan that assures you are ready for the upcoming academic year. While there is no cookie cutter approach, here are some suggestions:

Cultivate A Love For Reading

My grandfather once told me, “Chris, you are either growing or you are dying.” He’s right; you are either growing in your knowledge base, or you are losing it, being passed over by people who choose to grow. While the internet has become the go to place for learning, I have always found that my knowledge base has been developed most through the reading of books.

If you are at a loss as where to begin, I would suggest one of two starting points: read the classics, or read on topics of interest. Books such as Huckleberry Finn, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and The Great Gatsby are great for the imagination, while also being useful for later writing projects. As you write your scholarship essays, you may be able to draw examples from these works into your answers, adding a “wow” factor for the judges. Moreover, if you aspire to write well, then use these great writers as your mentors; they are classics for a reason. Second, focus on books that relate to topics of particular interest to you. If reading the classics feels too much like a literature course, then find a topic about which you are passionate and start there. This is especially useful if you are in high school or are in college and have not yet declared a major or minor. Before you spend good money taking a non-required course, learn about the discipline to see if it is of interest to you. This reading will either reinforce your passion for the topic or demonstrate to you that you have other interests.

Study for Standardized Tests

Your scores on the ACT or SAT for college or the GMAT, GRE, LSAT, or MCAT for graduate school make or break any opportunity for internal scholarship dollars. If colleges and graduate schools focus intently on these exams, so should you. So, if you are looking at earning academic scholarship awards, spending the time and effort to increase your scores could reap great rewards. Over a summer, you have plenty of time to not only improve your areas of weakness, but reinforce your strengths. For example, learning the 500 most used vocabulary words would be difficult to learn during a school year, but that amounts to five or six words per day over the summer. There are various programs available based on your financial ability; everything from self-study books to crash courses. You may even be able to ask a teacher or professor to work with you if your school does not provide test preparation opportunities.

Prepare for Upcoming Courses

After the standardized test, colleges focus on your high school GPA. With that in mind, you need to be sure that you are prepared for your upcoming class load. If you know that you are weak in math and you are about to take Algebra 2 next year, prepare accordingly. Go back and review your coursework for Algebra 1. Better yet, purchase an Algebra 2 course book and begin working ahead. This same concept can be used in any course where you may need additional work.

Enroll in Advanced Placement Courses, Community College Courses, & College Level Examination Programs (CLEP)

Although I was a business major, almost half of my college degree came from courses outside of the College of Business, and most of these credits could have been transferred in from another institution. If I had realized this, I could have taken courses in high school that could have transferred to my college (Advanced Placement), taken courses at a community college for a lesser fee and transferred to my college, or a self-studied and institutionally proctored exam that would have given me credit for these freshman and sophomore classes (CLEP). While not necessarily a scholarship, I have known students who began their college careers as juniors, due to the amount of coursework they were able to transfer in to their academic institution. Cutting two years off of any school timeline would dramatically reduce your total educational expenses. Moreover, your commitment to taking these courses early tells a compelling story to any scholarship committee that you are committed to the learning process and are willing to do what it takes to succeed.

Taking your summer break and focusing on your future through working, volunteering, and developing, will assist in making you a more compelling candidate for scholarship dollars. In my next post, I will give guidance on how to put these suggestions into practice from a time management standpoint.