College admissions officers love it when you make the effort to expand your horizons and challenge yourself over summer vacation. What you do with your free time can help you stand out from other applicants who have similar academic profiles.
Your summer vacation is the perfect time for college prep and to explore potential career interests. Every summer in high school is important, especially the summers after sophomore and junior year. Check out these summer activity ideas that are fun, creative and will make admissions officers take notice.
Specialized summer programs are held on college campuses all over the country. You'll have the opportunity to live on campus and immerse yourself in a particular area of study or interest. Attending a summer program at the college in which you are most interested will communicate your enthusiasm to admissions officers, but if you're not sure where you want to apply yet, look for a program that excites you. At MIT Launch, students start real companies. Students at UCLA's Mock Trial Summer Institute train in public speaking and learn how attorneys prepare a case for trial. And the National Student Leadership Conference offers programs on campuses like Harvard Medical School and Georgia Tech, where students explore a future career, develop leadership skills and get a taste of college life.
Instead of living in the dorm, save money by living at home and attending college classes as a commuter student. Worried that summer college programs are too expensive? Don't be afraid to ask if they offer financial aid!
Experience in a lab as a high school student is really impressive to colleges (and will help set you up well for competitive grad school applications if you are considering further study in the future). Try cold-calling professors or asking your parents to talk to anyone they know who is connected with a university to see if you can volunteer in their lab or do a short externship (even cleaning slides is useful experience!).
Turn your interests and talents into your own summer-long project. A few ideas: Form a garage band with some musically-inclined friends and practice at local gigs. Teach yourself how to code (there are TONS of free resources online!) Practice your creative writing and submit your work to journals that publish high school students.
Sites like edX and Coursera offer free college courses that are taped or streamed from universities. These are called massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and you may encounter them in college as well. With tons of subjects from robotics to American poetry, you get to participate in real time or watch past lectures from professors at places like Stanford and Harvard.
Colleges are impressed when students have jobs, whether they are working for family income or just for fun. Your work history demonstrates your initiative and responsibility. Take note: You may need a work permit, depending on your age.
Start a business with friends that offers a service in your community. We've heard of students starting babysitters' clubs, walking dogs for the neighborhood or even teaching Skype to assisted-living residents.
Colleges would rather see continuity and commitment to a community service activity instead of a bunch of one-offs. Start now, and volunteer two hours a week through your senior year. For example, you could visit residents at nursing homes a few days a week. Or, spend your Saturday mornings feeding animals at the animal shelter.
An internship is a structured opportunity to work (usually unpaid) at a company, lab or non-profit organization for a set amount of time. These can be very competitive for high school students, but opportunities are out there!
Job shadowing, or externships, involve observing or doing small tasks in a professional setting to get an idea of what a particular field is like. Does your dad's best friend work at an electrical engineering company? Ask if you can help with filing or sit in a planning meeting or two, all while soaking up the atmosphere.
Summer is a great time to explore theACT vs SAT, practice for the PSAT or ramp up your study schedule. Pick up a prep book, take an online prep course or find a test prep tutor to help you manage your time. Test prep keeps your brain active so you're in tip-top shape to head back to school in the fall.
Now that you have some free time, plan your college visits! You could take a college road trip with your friends or family or even virtually visit some campuses online. Visiting campuses in the summer has pros and cons -- read more here.
The sky's the limit! Start a summer art project with friends to beautify a run-down area of your community. Pick up trash in your local park every Sunday. Colleges love to see collaboration, so try to spend your summer working with others versus only on solo projects.
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