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Articles / Applying to College / What to Do with Your Summers

April 22, 2014

What to Do with Your Summers

High school students who are targeting getting into highly competitive colleges, such as the Ivy League and other so-called “elite" schools, often wonder about what to do during their summers. There is a strong temptation to fritter away those lazy, hazy, crazy days because school is out. When I think back to my summers while I was in high school, my predominant memories consist of playing tennis, hanging with my friends, dating, and discovering the freedom that a car can provide. Yes, I did have some part-time jobs, but the gravity of having a good time doing what I wanted to do was a powerful, distracting force.

Today's young people have an almost unlimited menu of options before them. The one factor that stands out to me is their ability and desire to travel almost anywhere in search of both adventure and helping others. Service to others is an honorable initiative and sometimes administering that service can take us to far away places.


I did some research about some of these more exotic summer service programs for high school students and discovered a few very interesting possibilities. I thought that I would share them here, in case you are a high school student looking to have a meaningful summer experience. You also may be a parent thinking about a way to keep your high schooler from hanging at the mall too much this summer. So, for what they're worth, here are some suggestions.

I guess you could file these ideas under “meaningful summer volunteer programs for teenagers." Volunteers can choose from a wide variety of high school special projects in Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. These programs are offered by an organization called Projects Abroad. According to their Web site:

Projects Abroad is one of the largest volunteer abroad organizations in the world. Founded in 1992, we send 10,000 people abroad each year on a variety of service projects and internships overseas. All participants receive unparalleled in-country support from our full-time, professional staff to ensure that the experience is safe, worthwhile and fun.

Volunteer or intern abroad in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, or Latin America. We offer overseas voluntary work placements including teaching, care, conservation & environment, medicine & healthcare, journalism, law & human rights, international development, business, and more.

Apparently, each summer, Projects Abroad (PA) sends hundreds of teenage volunteers overseas to participate in what they refer to as “High School Specials." High School Specials are group service trips designed specifically for teenagers to participate in worthwhile volunteer work for two or four weeks over the summer. PA has a wide variety of projects available in a number of developing countries. High schoolers can get involved in environmental conservation work, public health campaigns, child and animal care, human rights initiatives, and other types of projects.

Each High School Special follows a schedule of learning sessions and practical and observational service work. The volunteers also enjoy evening activities and weekend excursions that give them the opportunity to get to know volunteers their own age from different countries and cultures. The structure is ideal for first-time travelers who want to broaden their horizons and make a difference.

This year PA is adding two new High School Special projects: Public Health in Tanzania and Care and Panda Protection in China. They have also introduced new dates for their highly popular project, Medicine in Ghana. I used a picture from this project to highlight my article here.

If any of these adventures sound appealing to you, here are some further details about them that may inspire you to dig deeper into PA:

Medicine in Ghana

Medicine in Ghana is one of the most popular projects for high school volunteers. In order to welcome more volunteers this summer. Projects Abroad has added new dates. Medicine in Ghana gives volunteers the opportunity to enhance their medical knowledge by observing qualified medical staff in hospitals and clinics, and gain some practical experience by working on a community outreach program. Under the guidance of doctors or nurses, volunteers can get involved in dressing wounds, carrying out health checks, giving malaria tests, and making presentations on common health issues. The new dates are June 22nd – July 5th and August 10th – August 23rd.

Public Health in Tanzania

For volunteers interested in the community outreach aspects of our Medicine & Healthcare programs, Projects Abroad offers a specialized Public Health project. Volunteers support rural communities by conducting basic health checks, leading educational health campaigns, and helping doctors diagnose and treat patients. For many people in Tanzania, medical treatment is extremely limited. These medical outreach programs are vital when it comes to ensuring that people receive the treatment and medical attention that they need.

Care & Panda Protection in China

Volunteers in the rapidly changing country of China devote their time to caring for children in care centers and working with an endangered species. During this two-week program, the first week is spent at a busy care center in the thriving city of Chengdu, and the other week at the Bifengxia Panda Base. At the care center, volunteers play games with the children, help with basic education, and share your culture and new ideas with staff and children. At the Bifengxia Panda Base, volunteers help with preparing food for pandas, cleaning out enclosures, and observing panda behavior.

If you care about making a difference beyond your immediate neighborhood or community, PA may be the way to do it. Obviously, you'll need a passport and have the motivation and fortitude to step outside of your comfort zone for a while.

In a sense, these projects offer high school students a glimpse of the world beyond shopping malls, computers, and iPhones. When I was researching and reading descriptions of the types of foreign-country projects that are available to high school students, I couldn't help but recall my time in the military. I was in the Navy and, to paraphrase their old marketing slogan, “I joined the Navy and saw the world."

Witnessing the conditions and struggles faced by people in developing nations changed my thinking about my personal world. Ultimately, it defused what had been my jaded attitude toward what I enjoyed as a lifestyle here in America, which, up to my ventures abroad, I had taken largely for granted.

So, perhaps spending some time over the summer helping those in other countries can help you to not only stretch your experiential profile but also do some highly practical good. Try it. You might like it.

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Don't forget to check out all my admissions-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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