Many people think of summer vacation as exactly that: a vacation. However, if you’re a high school student who hopes to attend a selective or highly selective college, your summer needs to involve more than sitting by the pool, hanging out with your friends, or playing video games. Just as colleges are interested in the activities you do during the school year, they also want to know how you spend your summers. With spring break coming up soon, now is a great time to start making summer plans.
As a high school student, there are many ways you could spend your summer, such as:
- volunteering or participating in a community service program
- getting a job or internship
- taking college classes or attending an academic program on a college campus
- playing organized sports or going to a sports camp
- traveling abroad or participating in a travel or adventure program
- participating in performing arts (i.e., community theater) or attending an arts or music camp
- taking a test prep course
When deciding how to spend your summer, you should identify opportunities that truly interest you, not just ones that you think will look good on a college application. Ask yourself the following questions: What do I enjoy doing? What would be personally meaningful for me? What do I want to learn, gain, or achieve? Additionally, keep in mind that summer may offer you a chance to pursue interests that you aren’t able to engage in during the school year.
You also need to think about what you/your parents can afford. Many summer programs that cost thousands of dollars, but you do not have to spend a fortune to have a fun and productive summer. And if you need to work during the summer, remember that having a job demonstrates commitment, responsibility, and maturity — all things that college admissions officers like to see.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Location: Where is the program located, and will it be convenient—or even possible—for you to participate?
- Dates and Duration: Is the program an appropriate length of time, given your interests and goals? Does it fit in with other summer plans you/your family have?
- Cost: Is the program fee reasonable, considering what is included? Will you have to spend additional money on transportation? Are scholarships available?
- Academic or Intellectual Rigor: Will the program be academically challenging, perhaps in a new or different way than what you’ve experienced in school?
- Impact: What sort of impact would this program have on you and/or on the community in which it is located?
- Tourism vs. Travel: Does the program simply involve seeing tourist attractions, or will it enable to you to really become familiar with the culture of the people and places you visit?
- Reputation of the Organization: Is the company or organization one that you can trust?
If you’re unsure about what you want to do this summer and are looking for resources to help you find out what’s available, try the following websites:
- Teen Ink (programs in a variety of areas; includes reviews from past participants)
- Career Cornerstone Center (academic programs in STEM and healthcare)
- VolunteerMatch.org (search for volunteer opportunities by interest and location)
You also can do a Google search for “high school summer programs”. If you’re looking for a specific type of program — for example, one in business — you can add that word to your search.
Good luck with your plans, and have a great summer!