Summer Activities That Actually Impress Colleges
(And the Ones That Surprisingly Don’t)
You’re finishing finals, turning in your textbooks, and getting ready for summer break. In middle school, that probably meant weeks upon weeks of sunshine, hanging out with friends, and staying up way too late. In high school… not so much. Ambitious students with their eyes on elite universities know it’s important to stay productive over the summer – after all, colleges will want to know how you spent your time off school. Plus, summer activities often make for excellent college application essays. So, how should you spend your time? We can’t tell you exactly what you should be doing, but we can give you a few ideas about what to seek out and what to avoid.
Things that impress colleges:
Doing something to work toward an academic or professional goal.
In other words, choose an activity that will really be helpful in the long run. If you’re interested in studying art history in college, an internship at an art institute would be great. If you are interested in medicine, working in some capacity at a hospital or doctor’s office would be a smart use of your time. In other words, don’t take an opportunity just for the sake of having something. Choose something that offers you connections or knowledge that could help you years down the road.
Summer activities that are inventive or resourceful.
Advertised internships and summer programs can be great, but what about forging your own path? College admissions counselors love to see high school students who put themselves out there and find productive ways to spend their time. For example, if you’re interested in going into criminal law, reach out to criminal lawyers and ask if you could intern with them. If you’re interested in politics, organize your own team of students to campaign for a candidate you support. You could even spend your summer designing an app! Just remember that you don’t have to follow in anyone’s footsteps.
Spending your summer doing what you need to do.
Designing an app or working on a political campaign sounds great, but not everyone has the luxury to dive headfirst into their passion like that. If you have to work two jobs to support yourself or help your family, that is just as impressive to colleges. Working 40 hours a week as a cashier every summer to save money or help out your parents is commendable. You can highlight your dependability, commitment, and dedication on your college applications.
Devoting a large chunk of your free time to your activity.
Interning for two days a week is probably not going to blow anyone’s mind. Admissions counselors are impressed with high schoolers who devote a lot of time to the activity they’ve chosen, whether it’s a job, an internship, volunteer work, or whatever. That may mean you should do a few different things! Use your best judgment to decide if you’re only giving half effort, because college counselors will be judging that too!
Spending your summer engaged in your passions.
Colleges want students that don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk. If you’re passionate about caring for the environment and you want to study environmental science in college, spend your summers doing something that relates to this passion. That might be research, a job, or volunteer work – anything that illustrates your genuine interest in the subject matter. Use your summer to really engage in the things that you spend your school year learning about.
Things that don’t impress colleges:
Summer activities that are fun (and nothing else).
Right now you’re probably thinking, “Duh.” However, many lucky high school students spend time off school traveling, and that usually falls into this category. Traveling is an excellent way to learn, and we aren’t saying you shouldn’t if you have the opportunity. However, it’s important that you do two things: 1) include activities that genuinely further your academic or professional goals and 2) acknowledge your privilege when highlighting this experience to colleges. Let’s say your family took an amazing trip to Europe, and something you experienced there is worthy of a college essay. You should acknowledge how fortunate you are to have that chance in the first place, and you must detail way(s) that that trip genuinely makes you a stronger applicant. “Travel for fun” essays will not catch the eye of admissions counselors at elite schools.
When students disguise vacations as charity work.
College admissions counselors have seen essay after essay of high school students who went to a tropical location to do some light charity work for one or two weeks of their summer. It’s not eye-catching and it’s not unique. Unless your trip is something that’s truly hard work and directly connected to something you’re passionate about, it’s probably not going to impress anyone. Playing with children in Mexico might impress your social media followers, but not universities.
Taking college classes just to take college classes.
When I was in high school, it seemed super impressive to be taking college courses over summer break. Honestly, most admissions counselors aren’t going to bat an eye at that. Colleges and universities are businesses, and summer programs are ways to generate revenue. Unless you were one of 20 students selected out of an applicant pool of 10,000, or awarded an impressive scholarship to take the classes, it’s probably not the best use of your time.
When you’re deciding how to spend your summer break, keep these things in mind. You might be jealous of your friend traveling to exotic locations or impressed by your friend taking classes at a local university, but it’s remember to look at everything from the viewpoint of the college. Plan carefully, use your time wisely, and… make sure you fit in a little bit of fun!