Updated: Dec 13, 2019
Did you know summer activities can push your college application to the “yes” pile?
Colleges want to see that you are committed to extracurriculars throughout the school year, but they also love it when you are making the effort to expand and stretch yourself over summer vacation. What you do with your time can help you stand out from other applicants who have similar test scores and GPAs.
What Should High Schoolers Do Over the Summer?
Your summer vacation is the perfect time for college prep and to explore potential careers. All summers in high school important, especially the summers after sophomore and junior year. Check out these summer activity ideas that are fun, creative, and will make admissions officers take notice.
1. Participate in a specialized high school program
Specialized summer programs are held on college campuses all over the country. At MIT Launch, students start real companies. Students at UCLA’s Mock Trial Summer Institute train in public speaking and learn how attorneys prepare a case for trial. And the National Student Leadership Conference offers programs on campuses like Harvard Medical School and Georgia Tech, where students explore a future career, develop leadership skills, and get a taste of college life.
2. Take a college class
Many colleges offer summer programs where high school students come to campus to take courses and live in the dorms. Taught by real college professors, these classes are extremely competitive for high school students and require an application (with letters of recommendation). Start looking now!
3. Find a summer program at a local school or community college
Instead of living in the dorm, save money by living at home and attending college classes as a commuter student. Worried that summer college programs are too expensive? Don’t be afraid to ask if they offer financial aid!
4. Get involved with research
Experience in a lab as a high school student is really impressive to colleges. Cold call professors or ask your parents to talk to anyone they know who is connected with a university to see if you can work in their lab (even cleaning slides is useful experience!).
5. Create your own project
Turn your interests and talents into your own summer-long project. A few ideas: Form a garage band with some musically-inclined friends and practice with local gigs. Teach yourself how to program. Practice your creative writing and submit your work to journals that publish high school students.
6. Take a free online class
Sites like edX and Coursera offer free college courses that are taped or streamed from universities. With tons of subjects from robotics to American poetry, you get to participate in real-time or watch past lectures from professors at places like Stanford and Harvard.
7. Get a job
Colleges are impressed when students have jobs, whether they are working for family income or just for fun. Your work history demonstrates your initiative and responsibility. Take note: you may need a work permit, depending on your age.
Colleges love to see collaboration, so try to spend your summer working with others versus only on solo projects.
8. Be an entrepreneur
Start a business with friends that offers a service in your community. We’ve heard of students starting babysitters' clubs, walking dogs for the neighborhood, or even teaching Skype to the elderly.
9. Volunteer in your community
Colleges would rather see continuity and commitment to a community service activity instead of a bunch of one-offs. Start now, and volunteer two hours a week through your senior year. For example, you could visit residents at nursing homes a few days a week. Or, spend your Saturday mornings feeding animals at the animal shelter.
10. Apply for internships
An internship is a structured opportunity to work (usually unpaid) at a company, lab, or non-profit organization for a set amount of time. These can be very competitive for high school students, but opportunities are out there!
11. Find a job-shadowing opportunity
Job shadowing involves observing or doing small tasks in a professional setting to get an idea of what a particular field is like. Does your dad’s best friend work at an electrical engineering company? Ask if you can help with filing or sit in a planning meeting or two, all while soaking up the atmosphere.
12. Start your test prep
Summer is a great time to explore the ACT vs SAT, practice for the PSAT, or ramp up your study schedule. Pick up a prep book, take an online prep course, or find a test prep tutor to help you manage your time. Test prep keeps your brain active so you’re in tiptop shape to head back to school in the fall.
13. Make college visits
Now that you have some free time, plan your college visits! You could take a college road trip with your friends or family or even virtually visit some campuses on Youtube.
14. Use your imagination
The sky’s the limit! Start a summer art project with friends to beautify a rundown area of your community. Pick up trash in your local park every Sunday. Colleges love to see collaboration, so try to spend your summer working with others versus only on solo projects.