Quarantine and social distancing have drastically changed many students’ summer plans. The inability to meet in-person for coursework, internships, travel, camp, or work may leave you asking yourself, “What do I do now?” We hope this blog will give you some worthwhile ideas for how to create meaningful experiences this summer during this unprecedented situation.

Virtual coursework

If you were planning on completing summer coursework at a university, your program might have gone online, or you might be searching for a new opportunity. Many colleges, such as Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, Harvard, and Stanford, are offering virtual coursework to high school and college students for the summer.

You can also browse university-level courses offered online at websites like Coursera, edX, MITx, or Udacity. These “massive open online courses” (or MOOCs) have been gaining in popularity over the past several years, and offer exciting classes in areas like astronomy or computer science beyond what may be offered at your high school.  Students can often audit the courses for free or pay a subscription fee to receive credit or specializations. Berklee offers an assortment of musical summer programs, including an electronic music production and sound design workshop. The New York Times Summer Academy Online offers courses in journalism. Another interesting option is Masterclass, which allows you to learn expertise from top professionals in an array of fields.

Research programs

Research is an incredibly valuable way to spend a summer and will increase your ability to problem-solve and follow through on complex projects. This year, however, many universities and labs are no longer offering in-person opportunities, and many students have had their projects cancelled. That said, you still can create your own independent summer research project with guidance from sites like Zooniverse, or pursue an online research opportunity. The Pioneer Research Program provides undergraduate research projects to students from around the world. Students work one-on-one with U.S. university professors on a research topic of interest in STEM, social sciences, or humanities disciplines and the program culminates in a research paper. Summer STEM Institute offers a boot camp, lecture series, and research project.

Learn new computer skills

Perhaps there is a computer skill that you have always wanted to explore—now you have the time to do it! There are several opportunities to learn new computer programs in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). For example, AI Scholars offers a 10-week online course taught by Stanford alumni and graduate students. There are also lots of free, online options to learn coding, data analysis, programming foundations, and how to use Microsoft Office programs, such as Excel and PowerPoint.

Community service and leadership

There are so many ways to help out in your community right now, either through in-person experiences at your comfort level or online opportunities. Consider organizing an online food drive to raise funds or a food drop-off location to compile supplies for those in need locally. Think of your genuine interests – such as art, children, or animals – and try to develop unique ways to reach out virtually to provide a service.

There are plenty of ways to get creative and help out. Organizations like DoSomething.org may inspire you or provide opportunities for leadership and activism. There also are virtual opportunities to tutor children from underserved communities through TeensGive and Upchieve. If you already know how to code, you can volunteer to help non-profit organizations through Code for Social Good. Consider donating blood, volunteering to help the Red Cross, or even delivering groceries or meals to the elderly through organizations like Caring Connections or Meals on Wheels. Points of Light also has a comprehensive list of virtual volunteering opportunities that include short and long-term tasks.

Get involved in politics and election campaigns

Find an organization that interests you and get involved in shaping the future path of our government. There are national and local online platforms that encourage youth to share their opinions and work for change. Some examples are YACU (Young Americans Coalition for Unity), Coalition Z, and JSA (Junior State of America). You can volunteer virtually for a local political campaign or practice your debate skills online through programs like Capitol Debate Virtual Summer Camp or Debate Camp Online.

Start an online business

If you have entrepreneurial ambitions, the summer is also a great opportunity to create your own business and gain valuable experience in the process. Think about how you can meet a need online and turn it into a summer job! Opportunities can range from online tutoring to teaching music lessons to creating websites. Endevvr and LaunchX offer young entrepreneurs summer programs that provide resources and networks to help high school students start real companies.

Sharpen your writing and editing skills

Developing strong writing skills is crucial to your success—in writing admissions essays, in your future college courses and, eventually, throughout your career. To that end, consider how you might be able to hone your writing skills this summer. Many institutions are offering writers workshops, including the 92nd Street Y, or writing classes like the Writers Studio. Additionally, American University faculty will teach online summer sessions focused on the World of Communication, including script-writing, film, and public speaking skills.

If you are a rising high school junior or senior, this is also an excellent time to research national and local college scholarships, understand the requirements, and write any necessary scholarship application essays.

Read books for pleasure and related to professional interests

Reading is an amazing way to escape the confines of our current moment—to explore other worlds and unfamiliar stories, and enlarge your frame of reference. Choose a topic and become an expert, or make a broad list of contemporary and classic books to read over the summer. If you are looking for book lists to inspire you, there are resources like Fastweb, Goodreads, or The New York Times Best Sellers list. Your local library also has an extensive list of free e-books for you to borrow and read on an iPad or Kindle.

Stay healthy and positive: how to maximize this time for personal growth

In the midst of uncertainty and the unknown, take this time to learn how to cope and grow. Turn negative “I can’t” statements into positive “I can” mantras. Focus on the opportunities that are open to you, instead of dwelling on the frustrations of what you have missed out on. Exercise, meditate, and eat healthy foods. Learn how to cook, do laundry, vacuum, and clean the bathroom. Take time to paint, learn to draw, make origami, garden, or play cards.

Be with your family, and make sure to carve out pockets of personal time as well. You are stronger than you know, and looking back on your experiences now will give you the courage to face new challenges in the future. Know that you can change and adapt to whatever comes your way.

Here at Collegiate Gateway, we are always seeking innovative ways to support you in your life goals. Please feel free to contact us!