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How to Shake Winter Blues and Have Your Best Summer Yet

A few years ago a group of mental health scientists performed a study to investigate the relationship between happiness and vacations. Their surprising results were eagerly picked up by HuffPost, The NYT, and other news outlets: people’s greatest boost in vacation-related happiness comes from planning a vacation, not taking one. What does this mean for you, a high school student, who likely has minimal say in planning your next family vacay? A proven antidote for mid-semester winter blues.

Vacation-minded planning doesn’t have to lead you poolside — it might lead you to explore a college campus, discover a new talent, or give back to your community. It’s time start planning for summer. Healthy doses of escapism and anticipation have the power to boost your happiness for months leading up to an exciting break from routine.

Last February we shared advice on How to Make the Most of Summer While Doing What You Love, and this year we’ve expanded our list to include new programs, dates and deadlines so you don’t miss out, and more inspiration to help you brainstorm your best summer yet.

Explore your interests on a college campus.

This summer, whether you’ll be a rising senior narrowing your college list or even a soon-to-be sophomore, consider spending 1 to 6 weeks on a college campus. Every year colleges and universities throughout the country host two kinds of programs for students like you.

College Experience Programs give you a taste of what lies beyond high school. You live in dorms, pick a few classes, try out campus events, and explore the surrounding city or college town with your newfound friends — basically a mini first semester. These sorts of programs leave you feeling newly inspired when you return to high school, because you have a clearer picture of what you’re working towards. They also lend invaluable insight into which qualities you do or don’t want in a university.

Below is a small sampling of college immersion programs to get you thinking. For more options, search schools or cities that interest you and check out this more comprehensive list.

Emory Pre-College Program: Choose from a wide range of courses, learn from discussion groups like “Writing the College Essay” or “Choosing a Major,” and explore co-curricular opportunities at Zoo Atlanta, the High Museum of Art, and the CDC.
Duration: 2, 3, 4, or 6 weeks
Application Deadline: Rolling Admission
Cost: $2,789 to $7,587 (depending on length of stay)

Summer Scholars Program at Notre Dame: Choose from 21 programs of study including “Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and the Struggle Against American Slavery,” “Marketing and the Common Good,” and “Identity and Pop Culture: Which Hogwarts House Are You?”
Duration: 2 Weeks / June 23 – July 7
Application Deadline: February 19
Cost: $3,400

July Experience at Davidson: Learn holistically in the rolling hills of North Carolina and even build mentor relationships with professors in this small, engaging program.
Duration: 3 Weeks / July 1 – July 21
Application Deadline: March 28
Cost: $4,000

Columbia University Summer Immersion: Go in-depth in the subject area of your choice, choose from 70 courses in more than a dozen fields, and explore NYC with your new friends.
Duration: 3 weeks / June 25 – July 13 (session 1) /  July 17 – August 3 (session 2)
Application Deadline:
Cost: $5,600 (commuter) or $10,980 (residential)

Subject Specific Programs are similar to college experience programs, but they enable you to explore your passion at a new level, alongside other students who share your interest in paleontology, film studies, medicine, reporting, you name it. Here are a few popular programs:

Chaos Camp at Tech: Learn about the physics behind chaos theory through hands-on experiments, like designing your own fractals, in ongoing Tech physics labs, at the Georgia Aquarium, and throughout Atlanta.
Duration: 1 week / June and July options
Application Deadline: Opens mid-February
Cost: TBD (check later this month for 2018 dates and details)

Environmental Studies & Sustainability at Washington Univ. in Saint Louis: Explore environmental issues through the lenses of science, politics, economics, ethics, and philosophy.
Duration: 2 weeks / July 1 – 13
Application Deadline: April 1
Cost: $3,885

Forensic Science at Georgetown: Investigate the intersection of science, medicine, and law enforcement, and get a firsthand look at forensics from detectives, special agents, crime scene technicians, and lawyers.
Duration: 1 week / July 15 – 21
Application Deadline: Rolling Admission
Cost: $2,895

Animal Science at Cornell: Cornell’s Sustainable Animal Husbandry offers hands-on farming and veterinary medicine experience as well as lectures and class discussions.
Duration: 3 weeks / July 23 – July 14
Application Deadline: May 4
Cost: $6,120

Expand your horizons (and resume) by getting a job.

If jumping into an academic immersion program during your break from school doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, or if you’d rather save than spend money on your summer experience, consider getting a job or internship.

Many high schoolers spend their summers away as camp counselors or coaching at sports day camps, but there’s also a wealth of experience to be gained by working retail, valeting cars, lifeguarding, or serving in the food industry. One of the best college essays I ever read was about a student’s experience as a waitress at a sushi restaurant. She conveyed her growth with wit and incisive self-reflection, culminating in an anecdote about using the wrong customer’s card to pay for a large bill and realizing she was up to confronting this sticky situation on her own.

Volunteer in your community.

If a job proves hard to come by, or if you aim to do something related to your field of interest this summer, scope out volunteer opportunities in your community. Often hospitals don’t have paid positions for high school students, but they welcome volunteers to play games with kids, greet patients at the welcome desk, or even shadow a physician.

If you’re feeling really inspired, start a volunteer initiative of your own. A group of students at my university befriended elderly people in assisted living communities by taking them to the movies, and a student of mine has begun collecting wasted food from grocery stores and delivering it to people in need.

Make your own bread, clothes, homebrew coffee — the sky’s the limit!

As you’ve no doubt noticed on Instagram, amature, hand-made products are all the rage these days. Officially known as the Maker Movement, this impulse to return to our roots extends from the farm-to-table slow food movement, to Etsy shops, to musicians who favor live recordings over production.

In addition to the positive psychological effects of slowing down, learning a new skill, savoring experiences, and taking pride in your product, the Maker Movement, by definition, extends to any and all curious amateurs. So plant a garden, build a side table, or channel your creativity in whatever fashion inspires you most.

Experience your city.

Sometimes staycations can be as exciting and rewarding as faraway travels. Take time before summer to research the history and happenings of your city, or hometown, and plan outings for you, your friends, and family. Who knows what you’ll learn or where your plans might lead? Last year my neighbor started taking friends on walks through Atlanta’s oldest neighborhoods for fun, and now he runs an tourism side hustle on the weekends.

Perhaps most importantly eating local food, exploring a nearby art museum, or even mapping out a long leisurely walk will give you a richer sense of where you’re from and who you are before you leave high school to make your way in the great big world.

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