The Education of Relaxation

Luxuriating by my grandmother’s pool or giddily roaming the silent, empty streets of New York City with a good friend or two: these are the dreams that I used to live out during the summers of my younger years. Of late however, those three, responsibility-free months of paradise that I loved so dearly have been replaced with competitive, demanding internships; trips to far-away places; and of course, SAT prep. With summer presenting yet another opportunity for high school students to show off their independence and unique abilities to colleges, many of us find ourselves without any vacation at all. The expectation is that we will throw away time with friends and family in favor of pursuing college classes at Harvard, publishing papers with an MIT lab, or toiling away in some dusty local politician’s office. It is easy to say that we should enjoy our youth rather than submitting to these relatively new summer standards. Unfortunately, the choice is not that black and white. Colleges do care what you do with your summer, and because so many of us here care about college, we play right into the ideal of the 24/7 student, not daring to challenge the system lest we jeopardize our own admittance to the school of our choosing. According to the “Summer Opportunities” page of the Phillips Academy website, Andover offers resources and opportunities for students seeking to participate in academic, service, travel, wilderness, research, language, and arts programs, in addition to students seeking jobs and internships. Of the programs in the Summer Opportunities Office’s complete listing, 103 explicitly describe themselves as “academic.” I am not about to say that all this hard work and summer academia is necessarily a bad thing. For the bulk of my summer, I played not with sand, but with cells and chemicals in an immunology lab, finding respite from the city’s heat in the gratuitous air-conditioning. I enjoyed it immensely, and I learned a lot in six weeks, more than I ever did in my 9th grade biology class. Yet a part of me regrets living this lifestyle, in which it seems reasonable for a high school student to spend her summer working alongside PhDs who barely sleep instead of pulling all-nighters at slumber parties with friends. How will I ever experience life if I continuously transition between competitive internships and elite schools? In not using this summer to explore the world around me, or work a typical teenage job, I feel as though I lost another kind of summer opportunity, one in which I personally grow and change, not just on my résumé. Looking beyond the nostalgia, the worst part of all this is that so many choose their summer programs and internships based on what they think will appeal to college admissions officers. We should spend our summers pursuing academics and earning prestigious internships because they present opportunities to explore fields that truly stimulate us, and because they fulfill our passions for learning. To quote the Yale College Admissions website, “Our advice is to pursue what you love and tell us about that. Be yourself.” From one aspiring collegiate student to another, let’s spend our summers actually enjoying ourselves, whether that entails working at the Hadron Collider, helping out at a local homeless shelter, or taking a nap in our grassy backyards. Let’s revolt against the standards to which we now hold ourselves and each other, and against the idea that college admissions officers have taken control over our summers, the final frontier against academic pressure.