Summer Activities for College Applications
By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling

Summer is almost here. What  a welcome relief it’ll be–from the cold and, hopefully, from the difficulties of  this past year. Sunshine and daffodils blooming will brighten the day. But that also means it’s now time to start thinking about your summer! Close your eyes and envision it. The sun on your skin, longer days and warmer nights, a dip in the water to cool off, ice cream cones and some well-deserved and long-awaited downtime with friends. 

We’re all craving it–but it’s also important to carve out some ways to be productive. Consider further exploring one or more of your budding interests. This can be a job, a volunteer position, a team, or something else. Be creative in your pursuits! This is one of those rare times in your life when you have an extended, unstructured period of time, so be sure to take advantage of it.

Remember the cardinal rules with school-year activities:

  • Be real.
  • Do what you love.
  • Balance work and play.

The same rules apply to summer activities. Opportunities to extend yourself, opportunities (or we could say “experiences”) fall into five major categories:

  1. Work/Job
  2. Internship
  3. Community Service
  4. Programs (academic, outdoors, athletic, interest related- career or otherwise)
  5. Research

And even with Covid still in the picture, you can enjoy many of these activities either in-person (safely with social distancing and protections) or remotely. 

Summer of 2021, in many ways, will likely feel more old-fashioned. This is probably because travel opportunities are more limited, and there are fewer in-person programs running this year. But just because you’ve stowed your passport doesn’t mean there isn’t value in what you can do locally. This is especially true when it comes to volunteer experiences. One hot tip: don’t wait until the school year is wrapping up to think about your summer plans. Summer jobs, internships, academic programs, and even volunteer opportunities are usually filled in late spring. Don’t delay in casting your net! 

Let’s dive in a little deeper.

Jobs. Working is great, and it builds character. I always say, the grittier the better. Get dirty, use your hands, and learn what it’s like to do manual labor or work in food service. Deliver pizzas, pump gas, be a waiter or a lifeguard. These are life-informing experiences, colleges appreciate the hard work, and you make money along the way!

Internships. Internships can be valuable for students who want to gain exposure to a particular career field. Maybe you’re considering industrial design and want to get a taste for what these firms do. Don’t expect to be thrown into the middle of big projects, but be eager to help with even the most remedial tasks; this is how you’ll learn. Sometimes internship opportunities arise through family contacts–that’s okay, but it’s essential for you to pursue the opportunity after that initial introduction. Make the effort, reach out, be prepared, do the follow-up, and prove yourself. Also, don’t shy away from cold-calling companies or professionals you admire. You never know who might want an eager student to help out with a project. You could also consider contacting alumni of your high school to gain experience in a desired field.

Community Service. Volunteering is a great way to give back and engage in an issue you care about. Perhaps you’re interested in the environment and want to volunteer at a local sustainable farm. Or maybe you’re concerned about food insecurity and volunteer at your community food bank. Think about the issues you care about, and then find ways to pitch in. Now, more than ever, your community needs you!

Programs. Most academic summer programs are running remotely this summer, though there are a handful of exceptions that are in-person. Academically-based programs can be valuable for exposure to a particular major or career. Perhaps you want to explore engineering with a three-week summer immersion to better understand this field. Some camps and outdoor adventure programs do plan to run this year. These can be great ways to appreciate nature and challenge yourself physically. There are also athletic camps, debate camps, and endless other programs to explore your interests further. Make sure you do your homework, as some programs are better than others. You want to avoid programs that fall into the category of “pay to play.” Make sure you’re pursuing those with good reputations and quality programming to make your time and effort worth it. 

Research. Some students have a penchant for a particular academic subject or discipline. Consider helping a professor or researcher with their research project. This does not have to be limited to science–research is done in all fields. Professors or researchers sometimes welcome an enthusiastic student who wants to help and learn more about the subject and is willing to do the less-glamorous work. These positions can be difficult to land for high school students, but it is possible. Parents and other adult contacts might have some leads or suggestions, but again it’s up to you to take the lead and make it happen. Cold calling can even work here too. Show enthusiasm, interest, and knowledge of the subject matter–along with maturity–and you can do it!

In closing, don’t feel like you need to pick one thing and immerse your entire summer in it, or commit to 40-hour work weeks. You can do more than one thing! Consider looking at summer in chunks–doing one thing a month, for example. Or you could structure your summer to do different things on various days of the week. Maybe you work at Dunkin’ Donuts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, and then work in a lab on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sundays are your day off!

Now is the perfect time to make summer plans and find activities and outlets that genuinely show your character, your interests, and your drive. Colleges don’t officially track your summers; they’re looking at your overall activities and interests over four years of high school. Use this time wisely, and you can relax and enjoy summer while also setting the stage for your upcoming admissions process. Make room for downtime. Summer is a time to refuel. Relax, get your toes in the sand, read, and HAVE FUN!