In today’s competitive college admissions market, a student is faced with the task of setting him or herself apart from other applicants. Colleges look for students who dedicate themselves to activities and projects to build a well-rounded incoming freshman class. Admission officers look for students who demonstrate interesting and diverse qualities, not just those who spend 100% of their time studying. Colleges need and want students who are committed to activities that they are passionate about.
The summer creates opportunities for students to demonstrate this quality. The last thing you want to communicate is that you are lazy, spending your summers on the couch watching television and playing video games. Colleges don’t offer admission to unmotivated students. They offer admission to students who are well-rounded, and demonstrate a commitment to activities outside the classroom.
Summer is the best time to show colleges that you are more than your GPA or your SAT score.
Which of the next 10 summer activities interest you?
There are all kinds of volunteer opportunities in your community from an animal shelter, to the public library, to reading to children in a hospital, to working with others on beach cleanup. Since there are so many activities available, choose the one that interests you and will communicate your passion to colleges. It’s better to pick one activity that lasts the entire summer than multiple activities. This will show admissions your willingness to commit to a project and see it through.
A unique idea is to go to your school principal and ask if there is something you can do to improve the school: Paint a classroom, clean the lockers in preparation for the new school year, or refurbish benches on the athletic fields.
[Get inspired to volunteer with these 50 ideas!]
2. Start a business
Summer is an excellent time to start your own business: Become a teenage entrepreneur. Just something as simple as mowing lawns or babysitting is a good place to start. You might also demonstrate your creative side by selling art on Etsy. If you are good with computers, you can start a computer repair business. If you enjoy writing, consider freelance paid writing jobs. Starting a business will communicate your strong work ethic and your desire to be enthusiastic about the things you love.
3. Take classes
Summer school might be the last thing you want to do over the summer, but going to summer school to further your education will impress colleges. You can take summer courses at your high school or even at your local community college. This is a great way to advance your math or language skills. It’s also possible to take credit-bearing summer courses offered to juniors and seniors at the local community college. Look at the classes that meet general education requirements in a variety of introductory subjects. Most colleges will accept these basic credits and you will be able to enter college with a few credits under your belt.
4. Attend college programs for high school students
Colleges offer summer learning programs—pre-college options—for juniors and seniors in high school. Some programs, like the one Harvard offers, last six to eight weeks and are rigorous academically. Many colleges also host programs to explore such areas as medicine, engineering, communications, business, and any number of academic directions, some of which are more interdisciplinary, others more pre-professional or experiential. Other programs are geared toward your specific area of interest.
[Check out our favorite pre-college programs!]
If you are interested in exploring the world of sharks while taking steps to help the environment, there is a summer program available. There are summer programs available for a variety of interests. Search for a program that not only keeps your interest, but also adds to your knowledge and experience. If you’re not sure where to start, look at the summer options at the schools on your preliminary college list.
5. Spend the summer abroad
A summer abroad can break you out of your comfort zone and expand your horizons while also experiencing other cultures. There are programs offered in the area of service, adventure, skill training, and academics. Many programs also offer scholarships to cover the cost.
You can also consider working while you travel abroad and visit multiple countries. The opportunities are endless. One high school senior chose a program that specialized in language and cultural immersion experiences. At the end of the program, she said, “My experience abroad inspired me to want to major in international relations. It helped me focus on which college classes were right for me.”
Studying at foreign universities or similar study abroad programs is a good way to perfect a second or third language. Seek out immersive programs that are at least six weeks long, or better yet, the entire summer.
[Search for summer programs overseas.]
Paid and unpaid internships offer you a chance to gain valuable hands-on experience within a career or field you may want to pursue. Contact local companies, office managers, and human resources offices to inquire about their intern hiring policy. Start-up companies love hiring interns because they are inexpensive or unpaid and fit into the company’s tight budget constraints. Internships are also a way to begin collecting a network of business contacts that can help you after graduation from college.
6. Get a local job
Working during the summer is a good way to not only save for college, but impress admissions with your work ethic. Consider getting a job in fields that you are thinking about and apply accordingly. If you’re interested in hotel/motel management, working in a restaurant is an excellent way to learn hospitality and restaurant management skills. If retail merchandizing interests you, search for jobs that give you experience in merchandizing. Work at a job that allows you to learn valuable skills from your employer.
7. Work on a charity project
Be imaginative and start a charity project. There are groups and organizations in need of help raising funds or gathering materials. One student, whose brother was ill during his childhood, saw the need to help the Ronald McDonald house by collecting gently used toys. Another realized that his test prep books would go to waste, so he created a charity that collected these books and donated them to schools and libraries so students could use them without having to purchase them. Not only will you be helping others but you will communicate to colleges that you value community.
8. Work at a summer camp
There are many summer camp jobs available to students: YMCA camps, religious affiliated camps, academic camps, Boy Scout camps, and others. Summer camp jobs offer skill-building, leadership, training, and enrichment opportunities. Camp experiences allow you to learn and develop skills that enhance your marketability to colleges and future employers. Not only will you be earning a paycheck to supplement your college expenses but you will be impressing admissions officers. An added benefit is that business executives often say that experience as a camp counselor translates into good management and personnel skills.
[Search for traditional summer camps.]
9. Make college connections
Visit some of the colleges on your list and make connections with the staff. Since most college offices remain open during the summer, you can pay an informal visit or meet someone in admissions for an interview. How will this impress them? Colleges look for students who are genuinely interested in attending. They actually keep track of who visits and who meets with them. Get a card or an email address and connect after the visit. When application time rolls around, you’ll have a leg up on other applicants who didn’t find the time to visit.
[An independent college advisor can guide you in the application process!]
10. Create an online presence
Spend your summer creating a significant online presence. The key word here is “significant”. This doesn’t mean you should live on Facebook or Twitter. An online presence that showcases your strengths and abilities will give colleges a picture of you that they won’t see by looking at transcripts or test scores. Start a blog and post often. Communicate with colleges using social media. Create a detailed LinkedIn profile that highlights your extracurricular activities, your honors and awards, and your work experience. Spend some time cleaning up your social media accounts as well—colleges are using social media when they want to learn more about an applicant. A strong online presence could make the difference between an offer of admission and being deferred or wait-listed.
Whatever you do, don’t waste your summer. Use the time to find summer activities or programs that will enhance your knowledge, your education, your career interests, and turn the heads of admissions.