Updated: Jun 24
Students, are you feeling a little itchy for summer sunshine yet? Ready to change your routine and try something different? For high school students who are interested in applying to a selective college, the right summer activities can provide a sizable boost to your application. If you are considering spending the summer lounging in your pool chair while posting selfies to social media, think again! Before the dog days arrive, plan to recharge for the school year by pursuing a few of these summer activities that will provide interesting learning experiences that can’t be duplicated in a classroom. You just might have some fun along the way!
Before the sunburn requires first-aid, give a few of these ideas a thought:
1. GET A JOB!
Paid employment, whether it is walking dogs in your neighborhood or serving burgers at your local lunch spot, is a great way to show initiative and learn new skills! But, you say, scooping ice-cream isn’t exactly a skill I will need later in life! You may be right, but scooping or burger flipping is not the key skill set here: how about customer service, self-advocacy, conflict resolution, communication, appropriate response to criticism, the ability to take direction, to name just a few soft skills that you will take with you. Trust me, soft skills are required for EVERY job you will ever have, from lifeguard to CEO to every job in between. Summer jobs are more than just resume’ fodder!
If you have an idea what you might like to major in, having a summer job that reinforces that idea is an added bonus. Interested in business? Ask your manager to let you help them with purchasing, accounting or merchandising. Is engineering in your future? Perhaps you can tutor younger students in math. Do you enjoy the arts or teaching? Try for a job at a local summer camp or children’s recreation program. It is a job-seeker’s market right now for these types of jobs, so get out there! You may even learn a bit of money management when deciding whether to spend or save your hard-earned paycheck!
2. TAKE A CLASS!
Long ago, summer classes were only for those who did not quite hit the mark during the school year. Not so for today’s college-bound students! Engaging in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Class) is an awesome way to learn more about a topic that interests you. There are tons of beginner-level classes out there that are perfectly reasonable for high-school students to explore. Choose courses that are low or no cost, such as those on Kahn Academy or Coursera.com. These may open your eyes to a possible major and will speak to your intellectual curiosity outside of the classroom. Worst case, you learn what you DON’T want to study in college, which is just as valuable.
Taking classes outside of school will show colleges that you are sincerely curious and can demonstrate a fit to major. A series of online classes can inform a research paper, blog post or capstone project as well.
3. SERVE YOUR COMMUNITY!
Volunteer and community service work are always a good idea, even if you aren’t applying to college, but dedication to a cause or issue can be a vital part of your high school education and therefore enhance your college application. What colleges like to see here is not necessarily that you have spent x number of hours volunteering, but that the work you did had longevity and impact. Find a cause you care about and look for ways to help! Cleanup a highway, volunteer at your local food bank and organize a drive in your neighborhood, inquire about opportunities at your community of faith. Ask school leadership if there is a project you can do to beautify your school in the summer months (painting? Landscaping? Cleaning?) and get your friends to join in.
4. LEARN A NEW SKILL!
From ukulele to unicycling, your imagination is the limit when it comes to what you can learn from online instructional videos! The sense of pride and accomplishment is amazing, and so is showing off to your friends and family! Take it a step further and blog or vlog about your learning experience! From the college prep perspective, highlighting something fun and unusual on your activities list will help an admissions officer understand the unique person you are!
When looking for things to learn, the internet doesn’t have to be your instructor. Consider family and friends as resources as well. Is your dad going to help Uncle Ted put a new roof on his house? Go help him! Is your neighbor building a doghouse, installing new lighting or restoring a car? Get in on the project! Does your neighborhood have a community garden? Get collaborating and create one! A little initiative sprinkled with leadership can get you using your skills to better your community.
5. VISIT COLLEGES!
Do you have some schools on your list that are a bit further away from home? Summer is one of the best times to take those longer road trips or plane trips and take a look. Be sure that you have done your research before you go, and if possible, do an organized tour or meet with an admissions officer. Eat in the cafeteria, talk to students, sit in on a class or attend a sporting event. If you have time, really immerse yourself in the campus and town as this is a place you will spend four years of your life and a bunch of your parent’s money.
You may consider trying a summer program at a school you are interested in as well, but be careful. These programs can be expensive and they won’t increase your chances of admissions at that school. That said, if there is a selective program that is very interesting to you, go ahead and apply!
6. TRY FOR AN INTERNSHIP!
Internships are a bit harder to come by than summer jobs, but they can be very rewarding and to be honest, look GREAT on any activities list. Usually, an internship places a student in a job (paid or unpaid) or industry that they want to someday pursue, often under the supervision of a mentor. The relationships and network a student can create are excellent. (This same advice applies to the college years as well.)
If you haven’t been able to locate an internship through a local company or your school, seek out businesses you are interested in learning from and approach them with an internship proposal! Offer to intern for no pay, and take an interest in learning everything you can during your experience. Again, the people you meet are the beginning of your PROFESSIONAL NETWORK. By proving yourself to be an asset in the workplace, doors may be open to a paid internship or even a job some day!
7. RISING SENIORS - WRITE YOUR COLLEGE ESSAY!
This one is specifically for my rising seniors, and it has everything to do with decreasing the stress of your senior year! Begin working on your main essay now, as this is the item that will take the most time on your college application. Excellent essays display craft, vulnerability, excellent storytelling and insight, so while your brain isn’t crowded with core subjects, get pen to paper (yes, pen to paper) and start writing. Crafting an excellent essay is a topic for another blog, but Access College America does have a free webinar on the topic (insert link here) if you want to learn more. Working on this time-consuming portion of your college application NOW will put you in a great position when applications open on or around August 1st. Common Application questions are the same as last season, and the prompts are incredibly broad (see #7 - topic of your choice)!
Since you probably have some challenging coursework selected for your senior year, get this essay, and some of the sections of the Common App completed now, and it will free you up for a little more social time in your senior year!
I know it seems strange to be thinking about your summer plans before we have even enjoyed spring break, but a little planning NOW will be to your advantage, especially when securing summer jobs, internships, or buying plane tickets to visit a campus! Of course there should be a little down-time and vacations, after all, it’s called a break for a reason. That said, finding growth opportunities such as these during the summer will teach you what you can’t learn in the classroom, and they will demonstrate to colleges that you are tenacious, curious and motivated.
Now, pass the sunscreen…