Planning Summer Break: Activities that Look Best on College Applications

It’s February, and schoolwork, clubs, and winter sports probably dominate your freshman, sophomore, or junior’s daily thoughts and routine.  Consequently, summer break may seem like a long way off. The fact is, however, summer activity opportunities are currently becoming available, and the rosters for these activities are already filling up.  In other words, now is the time to plan ahead while summer prospects that expand your student’s passions and look great on college applications are still available. What activities do both? Read on for specific advice about the best summer activities for your high school student from a college admissions perspective.

Courses at College Campuses

Admissions committees do not want students who work tirelessly for that “A” in Chemistry or Pre-Calculus only to forget everything they learn over a listless summer break.  They want students who possess an intellectual vitality that extends beyond the confines of the classroom. Taking a college course or two, even at a community college, during the summer is a great way to demonstrate this sought-after quality.  Furthermore, through this opportunity, students can display their interest in higher education as well as show off their academic abilities. This is also true for the many academic camps that colleges host for bright and talented students every summer such as Stanford’s EPGY perspective.

Summer Work

One of the best ways to demonstrate independence and responsibility on a college application is to get a summer job.  Of course, prestigious internships and research opportunities look great on an application, but hard labor like construction, or even working at Wendy’s, also shows the real character in an applicant.  Students should avoid working at a parent’s firm as it diminishes the aforementioned qualities in an application. However, if your family is well-connected, your student should pursue these networks as they can be invaluable in attaining positions that are impressive and intellectually inspiring.  Above all, it is critical that your student commits a significant amount of time to whatever job that he or she lands as dedication and work ethic are primary factors in the way colleges assess summer work experience.

Community Service

Many schools, churches, and community groups sponsor 1 to 2 weeklong community service trips abroad every summer.  Do not sign up.  Admissions officers know what these tips boil down to a glorified vacation where students from middle and upper-class families get a glimpse of another culture and experience a warm, fuzzy feeling about helping others in need.  Similarly, creating non-profit organizations that are financed by wealthy parents will not impress admissions officers. Instead, students should engage in community service that directly corresponds to their passions. For example, a talented guitarist could give free lessons to underprivileged children.  Or a science-loving student could spearhead an environmentally friendly initiative. In short, whether local or abroad, community service work that demonstrates ingenuity, independence, commitment, and passion is always the most compelling.

Independent Reading and Writing

Summer reading can improve SAT and ACT scores.

No matter what year of high school your student is in, it is critical that he or she catches up on some independent reading and writing over the summer.  Well before the end of the school year, students should ask teachers, tutors, or counselors to assist them in compiling an appropriate summer reading list that will improve their reading comprehension and vocabulary.  These factors will play a significant role in determining how a student will score on the critical reading section on the SAT and ACT. In terms of writing, even something as simple as keeping a daily journal will help students to hone their composition skills, which are most often sorely below collegiate standards.  Finally, a journal can act as an instrumental source of information when your student is required to write statements about life experiences in the college application essay writing process.

In short, summer activities can be a great opportunity for your student to expand upon his or her passions.  It is important to recognize that some activities are far more compelling than others on a college application.  Summer activities that will both inspire your student and impress college admissions committees are vast and varied.  If you do not have the time to wade through the myriad opportunities available, consider seeking out a college admissions consultant as their personalized, expert advice can eliminate the stress of what should be a season of fun and inspiration.  It is summer break after all!

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