The best possible summer for a high school student may be one in which he explores a direction for the future. And one place to look for that head start is in a college or university.
Charles Donnelly, a concerned math teacher at Georgetown High School in Massachusetts, brought seniors Marty Weinstein and Jennifer Dullea and recent Georgetown graduates, Brett Roberts, John Fortin, and Jim Shepherd to Boston during their Christmas break. They are among some 40 Georgetown students who have attended summer programs for high school students at the University of Iowa with Mr. Donnelly's encouragement and help.
Yes, the program did affect their university and career choices, they agreed. And yes, it did broaden their knowledge of another part of the United States. And yes, they did make some lasting friendships with other participants and with their instructors. The three Georgetown High graduates are now attending Brandeis University, the University of Maine at Orono, and McGill University in Montreal.
Georgetown, a small school that graduates about 100 students a year, leads every high school in the US in sending students to the Iowa summer program.
The University of Iowa has provided enrichment experiences in science for over 3,500 high school students during the past 22 years. It is open to students who have completed 10th grade, who have at least a ''B'' average, and who have demonstrated high ability or motivation in science, social science, and-or mathematics.
Using the Badlands, Black Hills, Bighorns, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone as a ''living laboratory,'' one group of students, including Jennifer and Marty, carried out field investigations in biology, ecology, geology, and conservation practices.
Another group chose backpacking and canoeing in the north woods of Canada and the US for studies of nature in an undisturbed state.
Iowa's Rocky Mountain program enabled students to learn about life at various elevations; they were able to investigate various mountain ecologies.
The most ambitious program last year was the Alaska expedition, which included visits to Juneau, Anchorage, and Fairbanks for study of Indian and Eskimo culture, arts and crafts, and history, as well as extended backpacking in the Tongass National Forest, the Chugach Mountains, and the Denali National Park and Preserve for field investigations in ecology, marine biology, glaciation, geology, and environmental relations.
The research program provides firsthand experience in laboratories under the guidance of Iowa science professors.
Iowa offers a shorter two-week course called Creative Problem Solving-Career Exploration, which helps students design a research proposal that they can carry on at home or in school.
There are also three course-centered programs - physics-astronomy, computer science, molecular and cellular biology - for summer scholars and a Florida ecology program in late December and early January.
The Georgetown students conveyed their enthusiasm for the Iowa programs they had attended, and they agreed that it was a good use of their summer vacation time.
Financial support for travel, tuition, room, and board has been contributed by United Foam Plastics Corporation and the Greater Georgetown Jaycees and Jaycee Women. Mr. Donnelly ''discovered'' the program in 1972-73 and has worked hard to raise funds so science- and math-oriented students from Georgetown could participate in it.
Iowa is not alone in providing such programs, and any high school student might well look into what's available at a college or university this summer. Some of these campus programs provide credit for work completed; at Iowa it is possible to earn up to eight hours of university credit in one summer.
Similarly, a student from a Midwestern high school attended a special mathematics program at Harvard between her junior and senior years of high school; she is now a sophomore at Northwestern University in Evanston; another who studied anthropology at the University of Arizona got his school to accept his summer work for social-studies credit toward high school graduation. When he graduated, he enrolled at the University of Chicago.
Both students felt their university summer programs were exciting and useful and helped them look forward to college
At the end of her freshman year, Rainey Otjen, a Milwaukee student went off to Paris to study at the American College of Paris. She found both high school and college students mostly from the US.
Although the program was a disappointment to her due to academic work being inadequate and ''horrendous'' living conditions, she feels that she learned a lot about the European way of life and about herself that summer. She is now a sophomore at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and she thinks on her next trip to Europe she will go with a group and make more specific advance plans.
And it is about this time of year that school guidance counselors' offices are beginning to receive attractive brochures for adventuresome summer programs for students of high school and college age. The time to consider choices and begin making applications is now.
In the long run, the value of testing your academic skills in an environment of higher education may exceed the amount you could earn in a typical summer job.
For more information on the Iowa program, write to the University of Iowa, SSTP, Science Education, 455 Van Allen Hall, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.