High School Students: Use Your Summers Wisely


Rising Seniors

Hopefully, you’ve got something interesting planned that is helping you explore your academic and or extracurricular interests, and that will help you put the finishing touches on your college apps. If not, there is still time to put something in place. It might be too late for a formal summer program, college course, linking up with a local faculty member to engage in research or work in their lab, but it is not too late to get a job and design an independent mini-project or community engagement activity. If you’ve planned ahead and do have a formal program in place, hopefully, it is one that is considered selective and not a pay-to-play program. Those should be saved for earlier in high school where it is okay to be in the exploratory phase; these programs are appropriate for students in that phase/age group, not upperclassmen who are looking at selective schools.

You will also want to plan to spend time on your application materials, so don’t feel like you need to fill your summer with a laundry list of activities for college app (that approach is not always best anyway). It is best to do one or two things that are well-thought out and meaningful, and leave time for app work and some fun. But really, don’t procrastinate on the app work. Start now on your personal statement and Common App and or Coalition data; you can, and there is really no reason not to if you want to make this process as efficient and low stress as possible.

Rising Juniors

Hopefully, you’ve also got something interesting planned that is helping you explore your academic and or extracurricular interests. If you spent time reflecting on your interests in grades 9 and 10, and have a clear idea what your apps will emphasize, you should have something planned for this summer that is in line with those interests and that focus. If you’ve attended pre-college programs in the past (those that are a mix of light academics + fun stuff like Summer Discovery or a “teen tour”), try something else this summer like an internship or a college level class. There’s nothing wrong with these programs after 9th and 10th grade, but they are typically more fun than anything else. Same goes for international “service” trips via programs like Rustic Pathways. If you must go on one of those trips, make sure to add something else to the mix that summer that is more academic. Paying jobs are also nice to see on applications, and more importantly, a learning experience to have before college.

Another big ticket item is starting to prepare for standardized tests (SAT, ACT, Subject Tests). Take an ACT and SAT diagnostic and meet with a tutor to determine which test might be best for you, and then put a formal plan and timeline in place for preparing for that test. You’ll likely take it more than one time.

Rising Sophomores and Freshmen

Summers are for exploring. You could attend a pre-college program on a college campus, get a job, and of course, volunteer. The key is to do something, or preferably, a few things! Get out there and get some experience; make sure to write it all down and start your resume at this time.

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