High school can be tough—especially when you combine extracurricular activities, tough classes, SAT or ACT prep, and something resembling a social life. So it’s no surprise that most high school students anticipate the unstructured days of summer break with a thirst equal to that of a man crossing a desert. While every student deserves a break now and then, high school students have at least one concern that should motivate them to keep busy during summer break: college admissions. For most students, summer is the time to get a head start on college admissions. It’s the one time of year when they have the freedom to chart their own paths. What you choose to do when you have this freedom says a lot about who you are as a student and as a person, so college admissions officers pay attention to what you do during summer break.
When it comes to summer vacation, it’s not what you do that really matters—it’s that you do something. Colleges want to see that you like to put your free time to good use. That doesn’t mean that you can’t while away a few afternoons by the pool, as long as you use the rest of your afternoons to accomplish something. Here are some ideas for how to use your summer break to boost your chances of college admission.
Since you’re out of school, you have a bit more freedom to travel, so you may be able to visit the campuses of some of the colleges you’re interested in applying to. If the colleges you really want to attend are just too far away for a visit, consider visiting some local colleges that you’re not particularly interested in. Such visits can give you a better feel for the difference between, say, an urban and a suburban campus or a public and a private college. And you never know: You just might find that a local school that you’ve overlooked has everything you want in a college.
Some related posts on college visits
Admittedly, test prep is not the most fun way to spend your summer days—but summer test prep is hugely advantageous. It’s tough to balance SAT or ACT prep with the demands of the school year; summer break lets you focus on test prep without worrying about that upcoming physics project or the lit paper you haven’t yet started.
With summer test dates, you might be able to get your college admissions testing out of the way entirely—prep and test all in one break. Check out Four Reasons to Take the Summer SAT or ACT to see if the July or August test dates might work for you.
Throw yourself into your interests. Don’t worry so much about “what colleges look for” because what they look for is people who have genuine passions and who take the time to pursue those passions. Love baseball? Go to a baseball camp, start a baseball blog, or join a community baseball team. Love knitting? Take a class, teach a class, knit blankets/scarves/hats and donate them to a worthy cause, or start your own knitting business. Love animals? Volunteer at the shelter, see if you can shadow a vet, take a dog training class, or start an animal charity.
Whatever your interest might be, use your free time in the summer to explore them more fully. Show colleges that you’re a three-dimensional person, not just a GPA and some test scores (and, incidentally, get some great stories to share in your college application essays).
Among the thousands of reasons to volunteer your time in the service of others, gaining an edge in the college admissions race is pretty minor. That said, many high schools set community service requirements that can be met during the summer, and most colleges seek students who are engaged within their communities, so volunteering during the summer offers both intrinsic and extrinsic benefits.
Many students worry that their volunteer efforts might be somehow subpar – that mucking out kennels at the local shelter simply can’t compare to building wells in Sub-Saharan Africa. In truth, what matters most is that you actually care about what you’re doing. If you care about animals, volunteer at the local shelter. If you care about quality healthcare, volunteer at the local hospital. No college admission officer is going to deem your volunteer work unworthy just because it doesn’t seem profound enough.
If you don’t already have volunteer projects lined up, check out Lion’s Heart, an organization that helps members identify local volunteer opportunities and track service hours.
Some students need summer school to recover credits they failed to earn during the school year; others use summer school as an opportunity to get certain classes out of the way so that they can enroll in additional electives during the school year. If you want to earn extra credits during the summer, contact your local C2 Education center to ask about credit-bearing summer classes* with K12, the nation’s largest provider of online learning programs.
*Credit transfer policies vary from school district to school district. Whether and how online credits transfer will depend on your school’s policies.