Summer “Break”

Students and faculty discuss the extent to which the pressures of résumé-building impact the way they spend their summers.


Illustration by Sophia Evans

Averie Perrin, Assistant Features Editor

Students discuss the work they have done over the summer for college

Sarah Brown ’24 spent her last Sunday like any other during her summer engineering internship at the University of Southern California: using her free day to teach kindergarteners basic math at the Math Circle. When Brown was not researching traffic patterns in relation to COVID-19 for her internship or scribbling on a chalkboard, she held a job at Fred’s Bakery & Deli and also volunteered at her local food bank, packing kits of food for unhoused people.

Like many other students, Brown said she spent her summer almost like her school year, balancing numerous different activities. She said the school environment made her feel obligated to résumé-build during summer.

“I definitely felt a little bit of pressure for this summer because everyone says that the summers before your junior and senior year are super important,” Brown said.

Brown said that while she was looking for summer opportunities, she considered the impact of highly regarded programs on college applications.

“I applied to another program that I wasn’t as interested in, [which] was a more prestigious program,” Brown said. “I thought it would look better for colleges and it would be more interesting to them if I was doing [that] program, even if it was something I was less interested in.”

Brown said her summer was very busy, and despite enjoying baking, volunteering and her research, she was upset at the little amount of time for relaxation her schedule allowed her.

“I wish I had more time to relax,” Brown said. “It would have been nice to be able to go to the beach or do other things for myself. I had time to watch some TV, but I did not have a real day to go to Six Flags or a trip like that.”

Head Prefect Simon Lee ’23 spent his summer doing an internship at the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office in the Conviction Integrity Unit. He said he was not especially motivated by pressure from the school environment, though he knows others who are. Lee said he doesn’t think the pressure students feel comes from the administration or deans, but rather from students’ parents.

“Sometimes I think it’d be nice if the school just said summer’s for relaxing, but I think that always leads me to the same point, which is that the main source of pressure, especially during summer, isn’t the school — it’s the parents,” Lee said. “There were definitely parents who still tried to get us to do extra stuff, to résumé-build or to get started on [college application] essays, which really underlines how the competitive, results-based culture at [the school] comes a lot more from the parents than it does from the school.”

Similar to Lee, Brown said she felt some pressure from her parents this summer, but also from the school environment, herself and other students.

“Every single day or every other day, my parents also wanted me to watch [virtual] college tours or do stuff related to what I want to do in college, like researching majors,” Brown said. “It took up a lot of time and it was stressful because I was thinking about my future, which is definitely not the most fun thing to do.”

Others took less academically-focused approaches to their summers

Annabelle Mass ’24 said she had a different approach to her summer break. Mass said she prefers to participate in activities not motivated by college acceptance but for her own personal enjoyment.

Mass attended Camp Agawak for Girls for her ninth and final summer as a camper. She said despite her love for the camp, she felt anxious that she did not have an internship her junior summer because many other people she knew did.

“The pressure to do something like an internship this summer was very overwhelming,” Mass said. “All my friends were doing internships, and I knew that I was supposed to be doing one because that was what my siblings also did. I felt bad because I wanted to go somewhere and have fun one last time.”

Mass said she ultimately did not regret returning to camp because she had a fulfilling and fun summer break.

“I think a big difference from my working friends is that I got to be a kid again and they had to work harder,” Mass said. “I got to have fun, enjoy my last summer and relax while my other friends were stressed and overwhelmed while actually doing work.”

Sophomore Prefect Ellie Boris ’25 said he obtained a work permit from school and worked at Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill this summer. Boris said he didn’t feel pressure to engage in résumé-building activities and wanted to relax during a schoolwork-free period.

“[Working at Sharky’s] wasn’t for college,” Boris said. “I just wanted a job for the experience and for the money. College is never a worry to me. I just kind of pursue my interests in practice.”

Boris said he wants to enjoy his time in high school and does not want to focus excessively on competitive college admissions.

“Some people treat [the school] like it’s a drive-thru,” Boris said. “They just go through and grab their diploma and try to go to an Ivy League [college]. I’m not like that. I feel like I can be successful wherever I go.”

Varsity boys basketball player Robert Hinton ’24 said student-athletes face different challenges during their summers. He said during the recruiting process, incoming juniors and seniors must demonstrate their skills to recruiters in a series of games and practices.

Hinton , who recently received an offer to play for Harvard University’s basketball team, said he felt more pressure earlier in the year when he hadn’t yet heard from his top schools.

“Before summer, I’d say that there was still a lot of pressure because there were still my dream schools that hadn’t offered [anything to] me at that time,” Hinton said. “So I felt like I had to prove to everyone that I was as good as I thought I was. I definitely felt the pressure, but I have a lot of confidence in myself and my skills, and I already had a few offers.”

Hinton said he has been very busy working out and training two or three times a day, but he said after hearing from Harvard, he was able to enjoy his summer.

“Harvard was always a dream school of mine, so after finally getting the offer, there’s a lot of accomplishment that I feel,” Hinton said. “When I’m not working out, I feel like I’ve had a lot of time to actually relax because there’s not much schoolwork for us. I’ve even been able to get some of my Driver’s Education done.”

Upper School Dean Sara Miranda reflects on her view

Upper School Dean Sara Miranda said she believes many students feel pressure to spend their summers résumé-building because they want to stand out from their peers in college admissions. Miranda said students should use their summer to take time for themselves and not overload their schedules with extracurricular activities just for college applications.

“I guess what I would always suggest is that a student do something in the summer because it is meaningful to them and stop obsessing over what colleges think,” Miranda said. “Start doing things that bring you joy, that pique your interest and that spark intellectual curiosity, and do it so that you can learn more about the things that you think you might like to study in college or the things that you might like to do professionally.”

Miranda said she wishes there could be less fixation on the college process and comparison between students. She said she suggests using the summer to recharge and spend time pursuing activities that students cannot typically do during the school year.

“If the one opportunity that we have to recharge is in the summer [at] this fast-paced school, then I think you’ve got to capitalize on it.” Miranda said. “Because once classes start, it’s fast and furious the whole way through. So I think you’ve got to find time to free yourself, not because of what colleges think, not because of what your friends think or how it’s going to look on paper, but just because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s good for your soul.”