Have a Cool Last Summer

Tips for making the most of your final few months before starting college.

Illustration by Camille

Illustration by Camille

I graduated high school one May not too long ago, but my Amazing Life-Change wasn’t scheduled until the following August: That was when I would turn 18, move to Los Angeles, and begin art school. There was nothing bigger nor more blissfully consuming than the prospect of a new city with new opportunities and all that dream-come-true stuff. But the gap between graduation day and My Future was enormous and unoccupied. I was unemployed and bored in my hometown, where all the same people were doing all the same things. I treated those summer months like so much time to kill as I counted down to moving day.

In retrospect, I realize that this made me completely miserable. There was so much I could have accomplished and enjoyed during my last summer living at home with my mom and my dog, Sammy, when all of my friends were still in one place. It could’ve been so meaningful and fun, and yet I just waited for what came next.

Regardless of what you’ve got going on come the fall, I want YOU to have the summer I deprived myself of! Yes, the end of the school year, and especially graduation, is exhausting. The first few days of vacation should be used to recover from the onslaught of exams, college applications, family visits, pinched cheeks, and parties. Loaf around, because you deserve it. But then promise me you won’t make a habit out of it, because if you want to get truly sentimental here, this is probably the last summer of your childhood, goddammit, and you’ve gotta make it count. As you might expect, I have some ideas to help you with this:

  • Document your summer. I’m starting a memory project right now where I will record things worth remembering on a (hopefully) daily basis. I’m not chronicling whole days, just moments, in a few words, in a book, with a satisfyingly inky pen. I wish I could look back and know exactly what I was thinking right before I started my new life. You might never feel this exact way again, and it’s kind of amazing to have evidence of it. (Emma D. has some awesome suggestions for all sorts of journaling.)
  • Learn something new. Ask your friends to teach you one of their talents, whether it’s skateboarding or screen-printing or DJing. Pick a skill that you always thought would be useful and/or fun, and give it a go: Learn how to sew and tackle one of Marlena’s DIYs. Sign up for Rosetta Stone and learn Spanish. Figure out how to use power tools (with some help and supervision, please). If nothing else, the “Single Ladies” dance is always there, just waiting for you to master it, like I never did.
  • Make a summer reading list. Or just make lists in general. I know, we Rookies are always telling you to do this, but that’s only because you’re way more likely to follow through when you’ve committed your goals to paper/tablet/phone/whatever. Write down all the books that you think you should have read by now but didn’t (To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye were on mine), or come up with a list of books that feature college (try The Secret History or The Group for starters). Think of movies that you’ve heard people reference but you’ve never seen (I didn’t watch This Is Spinal Tap until I was 19). Remember all those things you said you wanted to get around to during the school year, before you got too busy? Make a list of those, too, so you can finally practice the piano/organize your art portfolio/clean up your hard drive/start your blog.
  • Leave the house before noon. Even if it’s only to walk a few blocks to grab an Otter Pop from the corner store (great breakfast choice) or see an early matinee, it’s good to get out of the house before you’ve had enough time to think of your pajamas as an outfit. My favorite way to get up early is to make breakfast plans. Meet a friend at your favorite diner at 10 AM. Go for a jog or a leisurely bike ride. Set an alarm if you have to. It makes all the difference when it comes to busting boredom.
  • Plan slumber parties. Heading to a friend’s house to watch a movie and crash for the night breaks your routine, but what’s most fun is a legitimate throwback party, fourth-grade style, with snacks and candy and cheap nail polish and your favorite movies from way back when. Slumber parties never get old, man.
  • Don’t party so much that it’s not fun anymore. Let’s be real: Bonfires, basement shows, backyard barbeques, and house parties help make the summer rad. But if you’re drinking or whatever all the time, it can take a toll. Believe me, alcohol is a depressant. In my experience, even if it’s not a hangover, there’s a very particular feeling the next morning that makes you feel blah and totally lethargic. Partying isn’t the only way to shred and have a blast with your buddies! Go on day trips to nearby towns to check out weird diners, find a place to swim, hit local flea markets, set up a makeshift projector in your backyard for a nighttime movie marathon, organize a scavenger hunt—mix it up, and it’ll make the wild nights even more special.
  • Even if you can’t get a job, WORK. You need money to furnish your new digs or buy late-night pizzas. If you’re able to find a job as a waitress or a lifeguard or a paid intern or a camp counselor or a salesperson, that’s great. Otherwise, when you’re 17 and armed with a scant-to-nonexistent résumé, it can be challenging. Reach out to family, friends, and former teachers to let them know that you’re looking for work, and mention your skills. If you’re good with kids or animals, see if anybody needs a babysitter or a dog-walker. If you’re a whiz with computers, I guarantee your parents have friends who need some help in that department. If you did well in math or French, offer to tutor. Mow lawns, clean houses, give tennis lessons, help a local business design a better website—there’s money to be made somewhere.
  • Use a calendar. Believe me, half the things you want to do will never happen if you don’t set a date and time. You have months ahead of you, so let yourself have some nights to hang at home, and whole days with friends, but jot down between two to four things to do every day, big or small. Using a cute day planner is my secret weapon. I totally depend on these ones from Little Otsu. Studies based on interviews with Dylan show there’s a 100% chance that you will actually get more stuff done with a schedule.
  • Make some quick cash. If you’re moving out soon, you’re most likely going to be asked by your parents to go through the 17 years of belongings that you’ve accumulated anyway. This can be another way to earn some dough (though if you don’t need it, just donate). Clean out your closet and sell any clothes or accessories that are in good condition to consignment shops like Crossroads or Buffalo Exchange, or put them on eBay. Get rid of old bikes and sports equipment on Craigslist (beware of randos, though, and have a parent home if someone comes by to pick anything up).
  • Donate your time. Websites like VolunteerMatch are a good place to start to find organizations in your area where your interests can dovetail with some goodwill. And you can often volunteer at galleries or theaters or all-ages music venues in exchange for admission, which is a nice way to ~stay cultured~ on a budget. I used to hang posters around Seattle for Barsuk Records, and in exchange I got free tickets to tons of shows.
  • Get away from home. I only admit this because my mom knows I love her: By the time I was 17, I was REALLY sick of living with her. Maybe you don’t feel that way—maybe you’re dreading the impending separation. Either way, it’s good to get a little distance, whether for sanity or practice. You might have a new roommate soon, and you’ll have to negotiate a shared space, so it’s helpful to see what life is like outside the privacy of your own home. I did my internet surfing at cafés instead of on my couch, and read in parks instead of in my room.
  • Start researching your new digs! How stoked are you to be going off to college and/or moving to a new city? Part of the fun of this particular summer is hyping your rad new life. Get a hold of the course guide and search for cool electives. Read about the hot spots around campus, figure out where you want to eat, shop, or order takeout at midnight. Look up city guides, like ones from Design*Sponge or Not For Tourists, and start finding the insider stuff. I used these resources to make lists of bakeries in my neighborhood, and later did tours of them with my new, sugar-loving friends. Figure out where the music venues/record stores/museums/movie theaters are, and take a look at the local weekly so that you can start looking forward to upcoming events, because soon, you can do whatever you want without a curfew, WOOHOO.
  • Cherish your free time. One cool thing about college is that you’ll hardly ever be bored. Between the course load and the extracurriculars and the internships and the socializing, you’ll be pulling a few all-nighters each semester. The bummer is you might find it hard to find time to just relax and think. Enjoy the leisurely pace of the summer. I’ve been going on about how you shouldn’t waste time, but don’t think that every hour has to be accounted for.
  • If you’re leaving home, say goodbye. Do a tour of all your favorite spots—or even the ordinary spots where you just happen to have some special memories. Walk past the temporarily empty high school listening to a favorite album on headphones, and hold on to that fleeting feeling of doneness. Maybe write little letters to friends and family and tell them how much they mean to you. Have a couple of “last” meals with everybody. Hug your friends a lot and wish them luck, because what’s coming is bizarre and challenging and exhilarating.

Even if you’re not going to college in the fall, everything starts to change after you finish high school. This is the last summer that the world will still (kinda, sorta) allow you to be a kid. From now on, every time you return to the place where you grew up, you’ll probably see that something’s new or something’s gone. It’s cool. Things change, and so will you. There’s every reason to be excited about what’s ahead, just don’t miss out on right now. ♦


  • Tyknos93 June 3rd, 2013 7:11 PM

    Yes. I’ll be utilizing as many of these tips as possible. As always, I have so much energy at the start of summer and then a week into the vacation I end up just becoming a part of the furniture. Not this summer I say!

  • KatGirl June 3rd, 2013 7:13 PM

    this makes me wish my school ended earlier….

  • Jennifer June 3rd, 2013 7:21 PM

    I’m a fresh out of university grad who is unemployed and I can’t agree more to all of these things. Whether you’re 17-18 or just out of college this is the time of your life you don’t want to be wasting. Yes, unemployment can be a downer, but there are so many free things to do and only so many jobs to apply for, you have to take advantage of your free time.
    Currently I am doing some career-related/improving online courses (from codeacademy) and reading, pleasure reading that I didn’t get to do during university, and walking a lot. Not being able to pay of my loans yet and moving back in with my parents sucks but I won’t have this amount of free time again until I am old and retired so I am taking advantage of it and trying to enjoy it.

  • Ella June 3rd, 2013 8:43 PM

    Aaah! This made me so excited for summer!

  • June 3rd, 2013 8:58 PM

    I would add to try to do something different for your last summer at home than you did the last few summers. My summer before college was pretty much identical to the last two summers of high school (swim team, lifeguarding, lots of movies). Now they all kind of blend together in my memory. You don’t have to do everything differently, but an effort to do something special to make this summer stand out is well worth it.

  • spudzine June 3rd, 2013 9:02 PM

    I love lists so much, and I am most definitely sure that I shall be using this one. I SHALL!

  • Cassie N June 3rd, 2013 9:03 PM

    thanks so much. now i know what i’ll do this summer!

  • flapperhatgirl June 3rd, 2013 9:11 PM

    This is awesome :)
    Even though I’m not graduating just yet, these are great tips for any summer.

  • Eryn June 3rd, 2013 9:30 PM

    bookmarked this.
    Thanks Dylan, this is actually so great.
    I’m going to try and make a schedule/make goals for ~creating~ this summer, like painting, doodling, filling sketchbooks, making short films, crafting in general. In order to make use of my summer. Wish me luck! <33

  • jasmineraena June 3rd, 2013 10:41 PM

    This was really helpful and at perfect timing. I just graduated from high school yesterday and I’m moving to Chicago in August for school. Definitely going to make the most of this summer

  • amandajane June 3rd, 2013 10:44 PM

    These are pretty great rules for life.

  • Thecardigankid June 3rd, 2013 11:54 PM

    I’m trying to make sure I don’t waste my summer by doing one of those “wreck this journal” things :3 I wasn’t sure about having a guided journal thing but this is actually super inspirational and doing a page or two a day is really going to make my summer :)

  • elliecp June 4th, 2013 12:24 AM

    This is so inspiring. I recently felt like I was wasting my life doing nothing, and so far have kept my resolution to make this year a very active and memorable one. Keeping a journal helps- I only document things I want to remember, so it’s like a little highlight reel of my life.

  • flocha June 4th, 2013 3:11 AM

    This is so brilliant. This summer I am actually going to try and do something, rather than just sitting at home watching the apprentice on tv.

  • Toilets June 4th, 2013 4:23 AM

    13 days until my last exam and then I am sinking my teeth into summer!! :)

  • alienbabe June 4th, 2013 5:21 AM

    totally bookmarking this for when it’s my last summer :’)

  • MaryFairy June 4th, 2013 5:39 AM

    The last thing : Catch up on all of the Rookiemag posts you may have missed due to exams/applying to colleges/parties/family visits/getting cheeks pinched

    My exams are finished in 9 days and my GOD am I going to have a Rookiemag/Adventure Time binge as soon as I get home.

    And after that..definitely using this list! Now, with replenished morale, must go study…:/

  • MaryFairy June 4th, 2013 5:41 AM

    Oh and the illustration for the article is beauiful! Fits so perfectly with the article.

  • Sophie ❤ June 4th, 2013 7:00 AM

    Very good, and really useful…

  • sissiLOL June 4th, 2013 8:29 AM

    Good tipps! But I am in the 7 grade. :-) (germany)
    Write this tipps in 5 year here! :-)

  • AidaA June 4th, 2013 8:35 AM

    Documenting the summer is such a good idea. I started my journal at the beginning of this year so I can’t wait to collage and write about the summer. Great tips Dylan!

  • moonflower June 4th, 2013 8:51 AM

    I love these summer lists. Another summer thing to do could be start a band! I did that, its the best thing I’ve done, now we’re playing gigs all summer!

  • wallflower152 June 4th, 2013 9:47 AM

    This is a great list, wish I would’ve done this my “last” summer. This is my second summer of not having a summer at all due to work and it makes me nostalgic. Even when I did have the whole summer and I would try to get things accomplished like absorbing music and making crafts I would always end up getting the lazys. When I graduated high school my cool uncle told me “welcome to the perpetual summmer” I’ve been trying to keep that mindset throughout college and into work. Just have fun to have fun, have tv marathons, explore nature and the city, etc.

  • sherry June 4th, 2013 11:03 AM

    I want my summer break NOW!!! Great inspiration for what to do during summer!

  • Tara June 4th, 2013 11:51 AM

    Obviously I am not going into college but this is such a great list! It is really inspiring and motivating. It is the sort of summer I dream of.
    Thanks for being YOU and writing this.

  • lauraunicorns June 4th, 2013 7:09 PM

    This article has some great suggestions! I’m in the middle of this right now, and I’m trying to hold on to that weird feeling of nostalgia for all that Americana high school stuff… If anyone else is into those kind of vibes, I highly suggest watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower on repeat. That’s how I’ve been trying to cope!

  • Hailey Mah June 4th, 2013 8:01 PM

    This list is super useful– I always find myself lounging around all summer, lacking the motivation to make plans. Hopefully I’ll remember to refer back to this list and invigorate my summer laziness this year.

  • thelilacparadox June 5th, 2013 11:33 AM

    Thanks for this awesome article, Dylan. It’s like you read my mind! I already have massive lists for movies and books, and I plan on finally learning to play that guitar that’s been sitting in my closet since 8th grade. I also started a blog following graduation, but I turn 18 tomorrow, so I guess my Amazing Life-Change can OFFICIALLY begin.

    This is my blog’s URL if anyone wants to check it out!

  • EmilyJn June 6th, 2013 2:50 PM

    I just turned 18 two days ago and finished all my last exams today so my Last Summer starts right about now. Perfect timing. I already have a job ready – I start this weekend – but i’ll refer back to this list! Thx

  • artobsessed June 7th, 2013 8:58 AM

    perfect. thank you so much, rooks.

  • Cactus Woman June 9th, 2013 1:53 PM

    I haven’t graduated yet (2 more weeks still! ARRRRGH), but this is super relevant (including the going off to art school across the country bit). Thank you so much for writing this, Dylan!

  • Melissa @ WildFlowerChild June 12th, 2013 11:30 AM

    Even though I just graduated college last month, these tips are so great for anyone looking to enjoy their summer! I’m probably going to be starting a career in August, so I’m definitely planning on enjoying my summer while I can.