The telltale signs of summer are approaching; it is right around the corner. Many students are looking forward to dropping their pens and books and picking up the remote control, but this can create a problem for them when they head back to school in the Fall.

Most students work hard to get good grades throughout the school year, but now they face a long vacation that could mean that over 20% of what they learned during the year could vanish if their brains are left idle over the summer. “Let me say it a different way,” says Timothy Parros, Founder of Parros College Planning LLC, “each summer adds another two months of lost learning which, if ignored, can leave students ill prepared to excel in the impending wave of college entrance exams, application essays, and ultimately college acceptance. Lost time, adding together summer after summer, well you can do the math and realize that it does all add up.”

Parros feels that it is important for parents to address this with their children and he stresses not to let your children fall behind, “many students are assigned summer reading and this is a good place to start, but there’s so much more you can do to keep that brain working over the summer.”

Here are five ways to get ahead this summer:

Academically Enriching Camps – For many students, summer camps provide time with friends away from home and school as well as peace of mind to working parents. The vast array of summer camps of all lengths, kinds, and specialties available to the camp go-er makes it easy to find one that is fun and also enriching. Summer camps are a great opportunity to sharpen your second language, work on the ACT/SAT, or improve your writing skills as a part of a camp routine. There are also in person and online ACT/SAT prep camps, which can put you ahead of the game and ease the challenge of having to balance regular coursework with ACT/SAT prep work during the school year.

In addition to these programs, camps can also be useful in helping you carve your career path. If you think you may want to be a lawyer, engineer, musician, or even if you’re not sure, finding a summer camp that offers these types of career oriented programs can help you figure out if it might be a right fit. Familiarizing yourself with career options will save you time, money, and headache in the long run.

Reading – Even for the bookworm, it’s not enough that you read; what’s more important is what you read. A great way to get ahead is by seeking out authors who improve your English and vocabulary in addition to entertaining you. Make sure you mix these kinds of books into your summer reading pile. While your interest may lie with popular best sellers, the effort you put into more challenging books will reward you by making you a stronger reader and more articulate.

If you encounter words or sentences that you don’t understand, spend a little time breaking them down to see if you can deduce the meaning from the context or surrounding text. Keep a pocket dictionary or even a dictionary app close at hand and look up any words that you don’t know. Getting into this practice will grow your vocabulary and expose you to words commonly found in ACT/SAT vocabulary questions. Works by Brian Aldiss, Kim Stanley Robinson, Vladimir Nabokov and K.W. Jeter are great examples of these types of books.

College Visits – Whether it’s across the country or a 45 minute trip to the beach, you’re probably going to do a bit of traveling this summer. Use these trips as opportunities to go on college visits. Instead of just taking trips directly to the beach, stop by as many colleges as you can along the way. Going on a scheduled tour or even just spending an afternoon walking around the campus can give you a general feel for the campus; this will be an important factor in the application and decision-making processes.

You can learn a great deal of information about an institution’s caliber, course offerings, and ranking online, but nothing beats seeing the actual buildings and atmosphere and trying to picture yourself there. What better time to see a campus than during the sunny summer, especially in Michigan, and if you can picture yourself maneuvering those grounds as a student, then you can start preparing to be the kind of student that they will accept.

Writing Practice – Take a little time this summer to swap out that laptop, controller, paintbrush, or tennis racquet for a good old fashioned #2 pencil. If you plan on taking the SAT Essay you’re going to have to write it using pen and paper, without the help of a word processor or auto-correct. This means that not only spelling counts, but also handwriting. So work on writing a few pages every day so that your handwriting is neat and presentable, even when you’re writing at top speed, without your fingers cramping or your writing going awry.

It is crucial to learn how to use intelligent quotations in your essay, understand how to split it into paragraphs, and most important of all, know how to organize your thoughts and put them down in a cohesive format, one that flows from beginning to end and makes sense. If you get in the habit of writing on a daily basis early on, you’ll see noticeable improvement by the end of the summer and be ready to meet the demands of your class assignments as well as the SAT.

Community Service – A great way to fill your time this summer is to participate in community service. “I’ve found that it is more important to take a leadership role in one community service area than to help 10 different activities,” Tim stresses, “it is also great to stay with that area, starting young and continuing throughout college.” Community service experience will also be important if you are in or are planning on applying for your high school’s National Honor Society chapter. Volunteering is a great way to set yourself apart and help the community this summer no matter what grade you are going into.

In addition to preventing learning loss, summer is a crucial time to start thinking about how your college applications will stand out against the sea of applicants. What you do with your summer can heighten your chances of being accepted into your dream school, so rather than hiding from the next year’s responsibilities, it’s best to face them head on with preparation.

“It doesn’t matter if you are in 8th grade or 10th grade,” says Parros, “with everyone moving up a grade, it’s time to start seriously thinking about your next move. Families can try to do this on their own, but our team of professionals has a thorough step by step process that works to prepare students to get into the college of their choice.”

Parros College Planning offers test prep, essay critique, and in depth counseling sessions. “I invite families at any stage of the process to come sit down with me for a complimentary Initial College Planning Consultation during their free time this summer,” says Parros.

It’s never too early to start forming good habits. Now is your opportunity to push back against that two month learning loss no matter where you are in your education.