You’ve just finished your finals. You get home, plop yourself down on the couch with a pint of ice cream and turn on the TV. Fast forward a week (or longer, depending on your school) and you find yourself having not left this position and now you have to go back to school. Does this sound familiar? This is the reality that millions of students around the world face when they go on break between fall and spring semesters. Summer is easier — there are camps, internships, summer schools, jobs, and many other opportunities to occupy your time. But during winter break, it can be difficult for students to know the best way to spend their sudden influx of time. In this post, I’ll outline a few specific recommendations we have for making sure your February break doesn’t go to waste (if your school had an earlier break, you’ll just have to try these next year).
Don’t just read: Read with intention. Choose a book and finish it. Since it can be difficult to parse dense nonfiction during the school week, when you expend so much mental energy on homework, vacation is the perfect time to tackle that book you’ve been putting off. Not only that, a book that might normally take you a month to read (reading a little each night) can be finished in one day (or two) over break. Generally we suggest nonfiction over fiction (though we do love a good fiction book!) for high schoolers because it helps to build the type of analytical reading skills used in standardized tests and, later, in college. Here are a couple of nonfiction books we highly recommend all of our students read.
Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner — Dives into the hidden economics found in surprising places like sumo wrestling, crime, and parenting.
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries — Discusses the principles behind successful startups and entrepreneurs. Coined terms used across Silicon Valley today like “minimum viable product.”
Grit by Angela Duckworth — Examines the importance of perseverance in all things and why passion and purpose are so critical to success.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg — Breaks down the barriers women face to success in the modern business world and gives recommendations for how women and men alike can work together to build a better tech ecosystem.
Try to finish one of these this break (or all of them!). If you’ve already read these, check out our Reading List for other recommendations.
Plan your summer
It may feel early, but summer is fast approaching. Deadlines for many summer pre-college programs are in February, so if you’re thinking about applying to one (or three, as we recommend) you’ll want to start immediately. Check out this post and this post to learn more about making the most of your summer vacation. Some of the advice in those posts applies to winter break as well, so I’d doubly recommend reading them if you haven’t (or refreshing your memory if you have).
Start a blog or pursue a mini-project
Now is the perfect time to do that thing that you’ve been meaning to for a while for haven’t had the energy to do! Learn to play an instrument! Record a podcast! Or, one of our favorite things: start a blog! We recommend that all students start blogs both to develop their writing skills and to develop an online presence before their college applications. Blogs require a type of introspective writing that high school English classes rarely ask of students. Winter break is the perfect time to begin doing this. When I was in my freshman year of college, I wrote a blog post every day, which ensured that I developed my writing skills while also preserving the memories of one of the most important transitions of my life. High school is an important period of time, and when caught up in the whirlwind of tests, essays, and projects it can be hard to take a moment to step back and reflect on your experiences. However, colleges love students who are able to take that step back, and a blog is a great way to do it. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Document the process of learning something new. Try learning or doing something you have no experience with it. Write about how it feels to be trying it out, and what it’s like to fail and succeed in different aspects of it.
- Outline a few of your favorite things. Go through your favorite foods, movies, books, and music and discuss why they’re meaningful to you.
- Write about your personal experience of the world. What does it mean to be a high schooler today? What do you wish adults understood about your generation?
If not a blog, you might consider another creative project, like starting a podcast, creating a niche Instagram account, or designing a personal website.
What not to do
Many students’ (and parents’) instinct is to spend the entire break doing test prep. While test prep is valuable, unoccupied free time is far too precious to be wasted cramming for tests. In general, we also recommend a more interval-based approach to studying for standardized tests, with short periods of time during a normal day devoted to specific problem points and concepts, as opposed to the hours-long cram-sessions that many parents feel break should be used for. Keep an eye out for a future post about how much studying is too much.
Above all, the most important thing about your break is to spend time becoming you. Work on things you care about and can’t wait to learn more about. What ideas keep you up at night? What do you daydream about while sitting through a boring lecture? (Don’t worry, we all do it.) Whatever those things are, break is your chance. You have the time now — what you need, in the words of the Nike slogan, is to just do it.