What should you do with your break?

Most of this is for seniors in the midst of their college applications. But don't worry, underclassmen, there's advice for you in here, too. Most high schools give you a break for a few weeks around the holidays, and most students are good at procrastination. These combine to produce way too much to do over your break. Here's some advice for handle it.

Don't do any more college stuff than you absolutely have to. As contrary as it may sound, you really should use your time as a true break and not college-planning time. If you put things off with the idea that you'd do them over break, that's perfectly normal. But get them done first and with focus. You're not going to send out good applications if you're finishing them a little bit at a time while you also finish gift shopping and meet with friends. Make a plan to finish your college to-do list as quickly as possible into the break. If you have December 15th or January 1st deadlines, get those things sent out first and with focus. There's no good reason to wait until the 14th or 31st to send those out. This is the first and last time you have to make college applications a priority, but do it and do it well.

Don't expect other people to work over the break just because you do. Virtually every year of my time teaching high school I got at least one over-the-break plea from a student. They wanted one last look at an essay, or a last-minute recommendation sent, or help getting their English grade up a little but before the final grades were turned in. How I responded depended on the nature of the request and the student doing the requesting. Sometimes it really was an unexpected opportunity for a really great student, and if so I happily did what was asked. Sometimes I put forth a minimal amount of effort to just get along--usually for students who put forth a minimal effort in the fall. Often I just said no. But please remember that sending other people things to do over the break feels about as crappy and unfair to them as it would to you if they gave sudden unexpected homework over the weekend. Don't do it.

Rest. This sounds obvious--of course you're going to rest. You have several weeks with no school! But for lots of students--and adults--it never quite seems to work this way. You stay up too late, thinking you'll sleep in, and then you have to get up earlier than you expected. Or you spend too much time in bed or on the couch, and you feel sluggish and dumpy. You can only get good rest from your break if you decide that you're actually going to get good rest...and schedule for it. Decide that you're going to get 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, and then plan accordingly. The time you spend awake will go much better if you do.

Spend quality time with people. Now is a great time to catch up with friends and family, but, like good sleep, quality time with people is also elusive. You go to parties and gatherings, you have text or Snapchat conversations, you spend a little time with people...and then you realize that you didn't really have any good conversations. Quality Time is usually thought of as time you spend with another person giving them your undivided attention. Schedule some time for this with a few good friends and/or family members. It helps to let them know ahead of time that you're looking for quality time, not just to be one of a bunch of people hanging out.

Re-assess. Now is a great time for reflection and regrouping. Here are several exercises to try to keep that conversation with yourself productive and useful.

Highs and lows. Like a lot of families, at our dinner table we often go around and share our high and low moment of the day with each other. It's a better conversation starter with school-aged kids than "how was your day?" and it reinforces that every day has both the good and the bad. Take some time thinking about--and sharing with someone else--your high and low points over the fall semester and your college quest. What worked? What didn't? What felt good? What felt bad? Consider it all.

Time machine. If you could go back in time two days and do something differently, what it would it be. Why? What if you could go back two weeks? Two months? Two years? You obviously can't really do it, but it's a good way to think about "lessons learned."

Restate your dreams and aspirations. I'm a pretty big fan of mission statements. They're more specific, more thoughtful, and more attainable than most New Year's Resolutions. Even if you've already sent of your college applications, it's not too late to revisit your college mission statement. You may need to make changes before you make your final decision about where to go. You may just need to remind yourself what's important. If you're not a senior, then it may be a good time to write a first draft of a college mission statement. Mission statements can be used for personal goals, too, not just college. If you really like more traditional resolutions instead of the formal-sounding mission statement, try the "last-year test" method of thinking about New Year's Resolutions

Read. It's really tempting to read nothing--or nothing of merit--over the break. You've read so much over the past few months, why do it on vacation? The answer is simple: now you get to choose what to read, and you can make engaging your intellect fun for yourself. Besides, if you're ready to concede that the only reason you read or learn is because you're assigned to by authorities, than you may want to re-think the whole college thing. Take back control of your mind by reading something. It doesn't have to be Important Literature if that's not what you like, just choose not to be a mental slacker.

Whatever you do, whatever your age, whatever your plans for your break, please hear this advice: Don't go on any outing or adventure that begins with the words "It would be really crazy if we...." And don't take part in any activity that begins with the words "Colleges will be really impressed if you...." 

Happy Holidays to you and yours. Please share this post with someone who would like to read it. Really, share it. You can follow Apply with Sanity on the web, on Facebook, and on Twitter. They say it's better to give than receive, but whatever--you can sign up for Apply with Sanity to come directly to you once a month!


***This is a repost, with edits and additions, of a post from last year. 


Photo by Angela Elisabeth Portraits

Photo by Angela Elisabeth Portraits