Looking back on my carefree freshman summer as academic intensity starts to rise

June 3, 2023 — by Andy Zhu
Photo by Andy Zhu
While I spent my freshman summer relaxing at Yellowstone National Park, I’m planning on learning at Harvard this upcoming summer.
My summer experiences have intensified as I advance in high school.

I wish I could relive my life as a child with barely any cares in the world, especially during the summer. Even one year back would be alright, as long as I receive a light, relaxed summer. The summer of freshman year was full of vacations and recreational projects. However, my plans for the upcoming summer break couldn’t be more different — most of the time I reserved last year for fun activities with my family and friends is now going toward studying for the SAT and attending intensive academic summer programs.

Last summer’s Yellowstone adventure

Freshman summer kicked off in a serene fashion, as my family and I headed to Yellowstone National Park. 

It was pretty appealing to my parents, but the “no internet” part of it had me tepid about our upcoming trip. The trip to Yellowstone itself was nothing special; yes, we saw a variety of wild animals like moose, deer, bears and bison, which were interesting, but the lack of internet might as well have killed me. There was zero reception, which meant no way to pass time whenever it got boring on the trip, which was quite often.

If watching bison eating dry grass for a week wasn’t enough, my family returned home to suffer even more with an unexpected souvenir — COVID-19 symptoms. Although it wasn’t surprising — the family we had spent close quarters with were coughing the entire time — it was still devastating to fall ill during the summer.

My family and I spent the week recovering while taking extra precautions with physical proximity. Fortunately, I only experienced a mild sore throat; my dad, however, described it as if someone was performing surgery on his throat without any anesthesia, leaving him in sleepless agony.

At this time the pandemic was still raging, so I immediately felt a wave of panic when my family became sick with COVID. Luckily, we recovered fully, but it cast a shadow on the memorable time.

Developing the BELT Program

Aside from vacations, I also created and managed the BELT (Business Entrepreneurship Leadership Training) Program, a business program to assist middle and high school students explore their business-related interests. This felt like a natural step since I’ve always been interested in business and have taken a lot of courses in it.  

The program focused on fostering entrepreneurship — teams of three or four would build a product and formulate their own business plans that could be pitched to hypothetical investors. It included aspects of product design, marketing, sales and operations, financials and a final presentation. 

The program was surprisingly successful, as I had a great time working with 40 students and giving feedback for their business plans — some of which included a company named “MallNation,” an in-person e-commerce navigation app specifically tailored to large stores and malls, “Fitting Room,” an app that uses 3D-modeling to try on clothes without going to the actual store and many more ideas.

This program helped me with different aspects of personal growth as it was my first time running a real business and being in charge of the finances. I ran marketing activities such as developing a website, creating flyers and promoting the program to different local schools. 

Running a profitable business also motivated me in a completely different way from school. I even got to learn valuable hands-on experience of book-keeping. Compared to this upcoming summer where I expect to endure multiple daily lectures, I was able to manage a program with rewarding returns and positive impact to the community. Sharing my interests by developing BELT provided me with a sense of accomplishment through my otherwise carefree summer. (The program is running again this summer, but I won’t be quite as involved.)

The long-awaited ability to drive

As July 12 passed, I reached exactly 15 and a half, so, not wanting to wait a moment longer, I scheduled my permit test for that exact day.

During this time, driving monopolized my thoughts. I went into the DMV with a few practice tests as prior preparation and, luckily, passed the test with only five incorrect questions.

My dad suggested that I become a food delivery driver for Uber Eats (they paid better than DoorDash) to gain experience driving on all different types of roads. I liked the idea a lot, so I followed his advice and earned some pocket money on the side from my deliveries.

Every week, I would go out with my dad for two hours a day to deliver food for people. I racked up my 50 required hours within one and a half months. At this point, I’ve experienced every road there is — freeways, expressways, residence areas, narrow roads, busy plazas, apartments and more.

I was undoubtedly looking forward to the soon-to-be freedom of commuting alone.

A completely different summer

Time passed quickly, and before I knew it, sophomore year started. It wasn’t even January of 2023 yet, but I was already overwhelmed with paperwork from the ridiculous number of summer programs that I was planning to apply to, compared to freshman year where I only had to worry about sparse school work and the BELT Program.

Despite the pressure, I was incentivized to apply to programs to seek out new experiences living away from home. Five summer program applications were lined up for me to complete over winter break and February Break: Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS), Wharton Data Science Academy, Wharton Essentials of Finance, Berkeley HAAS B-Bay and Harvard Constitutional Law.

After program results came out, I began planning my summer schedule. My upcoming summer now looks something like this: Harvard Constitutional Law and Berkeley B-Bay, with a slim chance of making it off the waitlist for YYGS. Disregarding YYGS, I have a month of summer left over after the first two programs. It doesn’t leave much room for proper vacationing.

Additionally, after getting a disappointing PSAT score from earlier this year, I also plan to spend the rest of my summer studying for the SAT. Spending hours a day bent over books is tedious and boring, and the opposite of driving around delivering food and earning money along the way.

As I am comparing my freshman summer experiences and my sophomore summer plans, there are obvious differences. Looking ahead, this summer will be a lot of intensive learning and studying for the SAT, while the majority of my previous summer was for relaxing and doing whatever I wanted. 

While I do miss the stress-free summers of simply watching TV, I realize I need to begin focusing on my path for the future. I’m taking this as a sign that my school breaks will only get harder as I move up the grades and continue preparing for college.

Tags: summer
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