In a typical year, by the end of April I would be deep in conversations with sophomores and juniors about the summer programs where they had submitted applications, the jobs they had lined up for July and August and the volunteer work that had begun through school and would become full-time during vacation.

But this is anything but a typical year.

High school students have seen their school experience disrupted in unprecedented ways. The move to distance learning did more than turn living rooms and bedrooms into classrooms. It brought with it the wholesale cancellation of school sports and other activities. It made students unable to continue with the part-time jobs that let them do everything from building experience to helping support their families. They lost access to their teachers and counselors, to school lunches and to feeling like things were normal.  They lost their traditions — signing days, proms, graduations — and also the ability to be together through these losses. 

And now, summer. The open space in the calendar where student had choices. Study, work or volunteer? Visit colleges? Visit family? Many spent months researching and choosing and now…what? College campuses, already empty of students and most faculty and staff have cancelled summer programming or moved it online. Businesses in many states will remain closed, and even if they open, adults may fill the jobs usually held by teens, as was the case in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

What will students do?

Some colleges are suggesting that students get creative about Summer 2020, building an experience rather than finding one. Are you an avid volunteer? Many organizations like Feeding America, the American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross all have adapted their volunteer options to include virtual options. Looking to learn? Check out the offerings at, find talks that interest and inspire you at or take free courses at sites like,, or Carnegie Mellon Open Learning ( Job-seeker? Think non-traditional and visit sites like and Self-starter with an idea? Design an app, start a blog, or…? You decide. 

And while you’re at it, go ahead and meet with admissions representatives and visit those college campuses, but do it virtually. Check college websites for online offerings and use sites like, and It’s the next best thing to being there.

There’s no doubt that this will be a summer like no other, but students can still make it their own.