Several years ago I was meeting with a student and his parents, and I asked him what he was going to do for the summer and his response was “surf and watch Netflix.”
I explained to him that he could certainly surf and watch Netflix, but it was also important for him to find an activity that might prove to be meaningful for him over the summer.
Colleges and universities want to see what kids choose to do when they have a substantial amount of free time. They want to enroll students who will engage in their academic experience and be involved participants in their classrooms and campus communities. Needless to say, this student ended up having some productive experiences that summer (and still had plenty of time to surf!).
As the college application process continues to evolve and get more competitive, I encourage all rising 8th through 12th-grade students to make this summer meaningful, explore things they’re passionate about, and also dabble in some new experiences.
In this blog, we will explore ten summer activities to impress colleges and ensure their future college applications will stand out. Or if you’d prefer, you can watch our recent workshop on this topic:
1. Rising seniors can finalize their college list and start on essays and supplemental questions
The summer is an excellent time for rising seniors to focus on the college application process, especially for those who wish to avoid added stress in the fall.
It’s important for rising seniors to finalize their college list over the summer so they are prepared for the application process and can map out all of the deadlines and requirements for each school.
The summer also provides a time to brainstorm, reflect, and spend time writing the college essay. Students have more time over the summer, without the demands of school and extracurricular activities.
Supplemental questions can also be written in the summer. Many schools will ask students 3-4 supplemental questions and this can be incredibly time-consuming. One of the most commonly asked supplemental essay questions is, “Why do you think you would be a good fit at our university?” During summer break, students have more time to research colleges to be able to thoroughly answer some of those supplemental questions.
Need help with your applications and essays? That’s what our college counselors are here for.
2. Start researching and visiting colleges this summer
It’s never too early to start researching colleges for rising 8th through 11th-grade students. Whether you check them out online, talk with alumni, take a self-tour, or an official tour— the more colleges you see and read about, the more educated a student will become on what they like and don’t like. Taking schools off a student’s list becomes as important as putting them on the list. Understanding college entrance requirements can also help in the process.
Whether it is a local college you can tour in a day, or if you go on a trip somewhere, schedule a time to visit the school. All you need to do is call the admissions offices or book your tour online.
I often tell students that summer is not the ideal time to take college tours because you may not be able to see students or talk with professors. But if this is the only time you can carve out on your schedule, take your tours in the summer! During most campus visits, students can talk with admissions officers, see the campus, and hear about academic programs and student life. These tours can help a student finalize their college list and determine if they’ll apply early action, early decision, or regular decision.
3. Start working on SAT/ACT Prep
This can be as simple as signing up to receive a question of the day through email or an app, studying with a test prep book, scheduling weekly group study sessions, or signing up for one-on-one test prep tutoring.
One of the first steps to prepare for the ACT or SAT is to see where you stand. You can easily do this by taking a mock test.
Educational Connections offers proctored, virtual SAT and ACT mock tests on Saturdays at 9 AM ET. You can look at our schedule and register HERE. After you take a mock test, you will get a customized score report breaking down the areas you did well in and the areas where you should focus on improving.
Next, put testing and registration dates on your calendar to help you feel more organized and to ensure you won’t miss those SAT or ACT registration deadlines.
4. Create or update your high school resume
Your resume should highlight your most significant achievements and experiences during your high school career. In creating a high school resume, you can develop a thematic approach to your applications.
Colleges look for consistency over the four years of high school. If the resume lists a multitude of activities, a spattering of extracurriculars, or a few hours of community service here and there— you aren’t communicating consistency.
Instead, try to focus on the activities that you have had consistent involvement throughout high school. It’s not about the numbers, but rather the level of involvement that matters.
For example, Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts have multiple years associated with them and can illustrate a student’s leadership and achievements. Other consistent activities include sports, volunteering at the same shelter each summer, and even working at the same ice cream shop every summer.
5. Take a summer class and explore an area of intended study
You can take high school courses online or register for a community college course. Not only could these courses help you academically and prepare you for high school honors or AP courses, but they might help you improve your overall GPA. This can help you to show colleges that you are dedicated to learning new things or improving your academic resume.
I work one-on-one with a student who is interested in studying horticulture in college. This summer, he is planning to take a college-level class and work at a nursery.
A summer class can help to determine if you’re going in the right direction, as far as your intended major is concerned.
6. Find a summer job or create your own
Any type of work experience, whether it is scooping ice cream or working as a camp counselor, shows commitment and dedication and can put some money in your pocket.
If you don’t have a job, you could try to find an internship in the field of study you’re interested in. Or do some job shadows. Ask your parents/friends if you can talk with them about their job and how they got it. This might help you understand the level of education you will need and other opportunities that might be out there, rather than only the traditional ones.
Interested in business? How about creating your own small business? I have a student who loves to fly fish and is now selling his own handmade fly lures. He designs, creates, and sells them. This is a great example of taking something you’re passionate about and turning it into an entrepreneurial experience that you can highlight on your college application.
If all else fails this summer, find some time to volunteer for a cause that you’re interested in. If you’re passionate about the cause, the volunteer work will be easy and you’ll be more likely to make an impression.
7. Enroll in an on-campus summer program
Many colleges offer pre-college, summer camps, or summer programs. They present a perfect opportunity to explore your field of interest in greater depth, develop relevant skills, meet like-minded students, and give you a feel for life on a college campus. Many of these programs have academic classes during the day and social events at night.
Most competitive colleges offer at least one pre-college program in which students can interact with faculty and potentially earn college credit.
While it’s probably too late to enroll in one of these on-campus programs this summer, now is the time for younger students to start researching opportunities for next summer.
8. Spend ample time reading
Every student should have a summer reading list. Just because you are not in school during the break, doesn’t mean your brain should go to sleep. Reading will help you retain knowledge, build your vocabulary, and improve your speed.
Reading over the summer can also help limit the summer slide.
It helps build your writing skills, which is important for SAT/ACT testing, college essays, and supplemental questions.
Reading a variety of books over the summer can also help in college applications/interviews as students are often asked, “what are you reading and why?”
9. Try something new this summer
Finding a new hobby or interest can be life-changing! Don’t be afraid to try new things this summer break.
Explore your city, do something cultural, play a new instrument, start a blog about something you’re passionate about… step outside the box. It might lead to an amazing, life-altering experience.
10. Clean up social media
College admissions officials can easily look at your public social media accounts. Your digital presence can give admissions officers another window into your personal life. Colleges want high-character teens. If your social media indicates otherwise, it could ruin your chances at admission.
In 2017, Harvard University rescinded admission offers to ten incoming first-year students after finding out they were sharing hateful memes in a private Facebook group chat. Two years later, Harvard retracted its admission offer to a noteworthy student who had previously made racist remarks in private chats and Google Docs.
Think about it this way, if you wouldn’t say something to an admissions officer in person, then don’t put it on your public social media. This summer, take some time to scan through all of your social media accounts to ensure there are no risqué posts, inappropriate memes, alcohol, or comments that could be interpreted as controversial.
Not sure where to start?
A lot of thought should go into the college application process and it should start well before your senior year of high school. If you want to get a head start this summer, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or like you waited too long to get started on your journey to college, our college consulting team can help!
You can schedule a free consultation with our College Consulting Program Manager here and explore our one-on-one programs by clicking the button below:
Lisa Gastaldi, M.A. is a College Consultant at Educational Connections. She has 20 years of experience as a college counselor and school counselor (National Board Certified). She has a master’s in Counseling Psychology and is a member of NACAC, SACAC, and HECA. Lisa has visited 500+ U.S. college campuses and has helped more than 4,000 students successfully navigate the college application process.