“But, Hailey hasn’t cured cancer or built a school abroad!”
At this point, the parent (usually the father) would laugh a little bit at their own joke. Not that this was terribly original–as a college counselor, I heard this a few times a year.
For some reason, there was this pervasive idea that students needed to do something superhuman to stand out as an applicant (this typically included participating in cancer research or volunteering abroad over the summer).
As I told this parent and am about to tell you: no, you do not have have to do that!
In fact, there are many, easily accessible activities that will help you not only learn and grow, but also help you out in the admissions process.
Before we get into that, let’s talk about what exactly colleges want to see students do over the summer. After all, it is important to understand where the admissions officers are coming from before we dive into suggestions. There are really two things they want:
- Students to be productive and spend their time well (no, sleeping until noon and playing Fortnight does not count).
- Students should ideally be learning something or doing something that aligns with their interests (or needs). For instance, if you are passionate about chemistry or data science–go ahead and explore those areas. At the same time, if you need to have a part time job to earn money or take care of family members, that’s fine too.
That is really it.
Colleges know that you can do incredibly meaningful things right in your town or city, so there is no need to travel extensively or spend a lot of money.
Here are some suggestions for accessible and free activities you can pursue:
For the student who loves coding and computer programming:
Build something cool! Whether you want to build a website or the next awesome app, there are plenty of resources online to get you started. Best of all, many of these resources are free! We recommend Code Academy as it is project-based so you are learning, but building things along the way. Code Academy will allow you to try your hand at a variety of programming languages including HTML, CSS, Pythod, Java Script, Java, SQL, and Ruby.
For the student with a green thumb
Whether you live in a city, near the ocean, or in a rural place, there are plenty of ways to get involved and keep your community green. Sponsor a local cleanup at a beach or river, volunteer at a local organic farm (check out WWOOF for a farm year you), or work with a non-profit that supports environmental initiatives like the Sierra Club.
For the novelist
Dedicate a few hours a day to write. Additionally, you should consider joining a writing workshop group (online or in-person) to help keep you accountable and on track. The month of November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), so you can keep the chapters coming!
For the student who truly does not know what they want to do
Get a job! It doesn’t have to be a fancy job–that is not the point. In fact, retail and food service-type jobs can teach you a lot about the world, having responsibility, and working with lots of different types of people. Plus, you get a paycheck at the end of the week! A summer job is one of the most underrated things a student can do (and also impressive in the eyes of admissions officers).
For the student who wants to earn college credit
This can be a great idea! Why not get a jump start on earning college credit (which can shave a semester or two off of your timeline, as well as a bunch of money). There are multiple options, including your local community college. Students should also check out Arizona State’s Global Freshman Academy for a n online, low-cost option.
Remember, you can do more than one thing
Remember, you have a good chunk of time, so you could certainly try multiple summer activities! Take advantage of this time to explore!
Lastly, if you haven’t already done so, check out our summer checklist for rising high school seniors.
Enjoy your summer!