Use Free Time Wisely During the Holidays

By Robert McClory

As Bing Crosby might start to croon, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere we go…” Make no mistake, students do not need regular announcements to know the holiday season is upon us. The holiday season means sales to shoppers. It means flight reservations for those far from home. It means busy days and long lines for the USPS workers, but to students and their families, it all too often means vacations and rest.

Students always have the best of intentions on how to use those “free” hours, but as the adage goes, nothing is life is truly “free.” That is especially true for any calendar day in the life of a high school senior planning the transition to college. Stressful for all its demands to finish K-12 school while attempting to plant the seeds for one’s future, senior year is just plain busy. To expect otherwise may be unrealistic at best, and a contributing factor resulting in missed find opportunities of a lifetime at worst.

During senior year each passing day means another deadline has passed whether an application was submitted or not. For students behind in school, credit recovery options can or should fill those “free” moments the holidays offer. For seniors planning Early Action Applications to colleges, Thanksgiving break means for those offering Nov. 30 deadlines, there is still a last gasp of hope to make the cutoff.

For those seeking consideration for the many Nov. 1 or Nov. 15 Early Action deadlines, it’s a chance to commiserate over missed deadlines. On the bright side of that dark cloud can sometimes be found the urgency to insure the next set of timelines and completed applications will find their mark.

But for those who need reminders and prompts, they should add a calendar and organizer to their Christmas Wish List. Even though the holidays may feel like a much-needed respite from school and work, they should consider resisting the temptation to travel unless it’s to visit a school under consideration. This is the last gasp of opportunity to get ahead on applications for college applications and get a good start on scholarship applications.

It is worth noting that January and February are the last major holdouts for applications for many prominent schools that may offer significant scholarships to offset high tuition costs. Those applications need to be finished over the holidays or at least reviewed and polished in hopes of submitting one’s best effort for applications needing completion and submission. Those applications will serve as the difference between acceptance, rejection or further consideration. That compares with a restful vacation that may be the difference between feeling well rested upon return to the last of one’s senior year or not.

That said, the rest may feel good for a short time. An admission offer and improved scholarship opportunity may offer a tangible benefit that will live much longer than the short-lived naps, visits and rests that the holiday season could offer. Long term rewards or short term. It’s like those diets that make holiday feasting such an enticement to be weighed against the shorter belt, narrower waist size, or European fit shirt that many may seek down the road. It’s a conundrum separating the two opposing temptations.

The problem may lie in how families view senior year. Seniors and families often approach each holiday with thoughts that this is the last opportunity for family visits. The tendency may be to view senior year as the last chance they’ll connect, share and enjoy time together. Rather than view each holiday as a final time together, the coin needs to be flipped to see this year as the start of a new phase in life. Working together to identify and face tasks needing completion allows that time to be spent planning and tackling tasks that will offer long term stress relief found in completing instead of postponing, avoiding or ignoring deadlines.

Once seniors see their entire senior year as an opportunity to open doors for school, training or programs, it becomes much easier to stop grieving about senior year as an end and start generating the energy that accompanies a new beginning. Parents need not grieve over the prospects of the “empty nest” as a precursor to grand travels that absorb all moments of the last gasp of time to get ahead on applications. Consider approaching this as a new phase of life that offers just as many opportunities — just ones that differ from childhood issues and child-rearing rewards that mark the K-12 experience.

As a parent whose children have left for college, I have come to believe that the “empty nest” may be the real fallacy. The empty rooms quickly fill. The memories still remain. The children normally return. Some studies report that nearly half of college graduates return home after commencement for at least some period of time. Furthermore, they return with new hopes, dreams and opportunities that were the rewards of a busy senior year that may not have enjoyed as many holiday travels and visits, but were rich with checklists that were finished or furthered in an effort to plan for life after high school.

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  1. While I am intrigued by Mr. McClory’s input in this article, I am troubled by the lack of balance created. As a high school counselor, I wish each of my students a mental and emotional break from the busyness of their daily lives.

    To offer that they don’t travel and instead focus on college applications and scholarships seems to be quite a continuation of life on the treadmill. There needs to be a balance struck – time with family at Christmas cannot be recovered, and it may indeed be the last opportunity for students to slow down, think about what’s most important, and be thankful for what they have. This is lost today amidst all the deadlines and ramped up requirements.

    Can a balance be struck to not simply take all fourteen days off, but to also take a break from the madness?

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