Summer is just around the corner and high school students are busy trying to find a meaningful activity that will help them in the college process. Oftentimes students believe that they need to do something to impress the colleges during the summer. This leads many to do things that are not much fun or more academically focused. But the reality is that what a student does during the summertime should be meaningful to themselves most of all.
Summer Academic Programs
Over the last decade, summer academic programs on college campuses have sprung up faster than a tulip in spring. There is typically an application process to get admitted for these programs.
But here’s a key piece of advice: Getting into these summer programs is a lot different than getting into the colleges that host them on their campus.
These summer programs are not run by the college’s admissions office. In fact, most of these programs are run by outside vendors who have nothing to do with the university’s admissions process.
"Wondering what to do this #summer? It's not what you think!" TWEET THIS
Attending a summer academic program can run anywhere from a few days to several weeks long. Students generally live on campus in the dorms and may have some limited interaction with college staff and faculty.
These programs can give a student a sense of what it’s like to live on a college campus and a get a feel for an academic area they may want to pursue. But because these programs are costly and the admissions process is not through the college’s admissions office, they do not generally enhance a student’s chances of getting admitted to that college.
Summer College Courses
If a student is set on doing something academic, they can take a summer college course at a local community college or university. While taking the course might not have special field trips attached to it and teenage social events to attend in the evenings, it is actually the best way to experience a taste of college.
A college course for a grade can serve a couple of purposes:
- First, it will give a student a sense of what to expect from a real college course.
- And, second, if the students receives an A or an A- in the course and they plan to major in that area in college, they can have a transcript of the grade sent to the colleges they end applying to. There is nothing more reassuring to a college admissions office than seeing an A in a course from the academic area the student hopes to pursue.
Summer research is another common pursuit for high school students. “Common” is the key word here. There are thousands of students volunteering at hospitals or working in science laboratories during the summer. Doing research can be enlightening for the student, but they need to understand that this, in and of itself, does not make them stand out as there are so many other students doing a similar activity.
An alternative to science research in a lab is to pursue a research project of their own design. It takes an enormous amount of initiative and discipline for a student to create their own project, seek out experts and mentors on their own, and see a project through to its completion or possibly extend it through the following school year for even bigger results.
TIP: Extending your research into the school year can help you make the most of your extracurriculars.
Don’t be fooled, though. Colleges are not expecting students to finish up their school year and dive right into more academic work during the summer.
There are so many other options for the summer:
- Get a summer job. Earning money, keeping to a schedule, and gaining real life skills are hugely beneficial to a student. Colleges are just as impressed with summer jobs as they are with anything else one chooses to do.
- Pursue that one thing that you don’t have time to do during the summer. Students who want to train hard for their sport, write the book they’ve been wanting to write, or devote considerable time to a project usually yields the most meaningful results for the students. But it can also translate into a powerful piece of the student’s story in college applications. Think about it. If a student devotes their whole summer to doing something they love, the results will never be disappointing.
BONUS: How important are Summer jobs for college applications?
- Hang out with friends, go on vacation with family, and recharge. If a student spends their entire summer on the go, they will be exhausted before the school year even begins. Take time to enjoy being a regular teenager. While a student doesn’t list “going to the beach” as an extracurricular activity on their applications, it is important to have some carefree moments after a long and stressful school year.
- Study for standardized tests. There is no better time to study for the ACTs, SATs, or Subject Tests than the summertime. During the school year, it is extremely difficult to add a test prep course onto a busy schedule or take four hours out of a day to take a practice test. But set aside time to do this. Students who devote considerable time to test prep over the summer see better results on standardized tests in the fall.
- Visit colleges. While summer is generally quieter on college campuses, there is still plenty to get out of a summer visit. Sign up in advance for tours, information sessions, and interviews if they are available.
- And, take some time to start working on college applications. Common App has a rollover tool that allows students to begin filling out their applications well before the start of their senior year. The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success will also be unveiling a new application platform this July. In the meantime, students can start storing college materials in the Coalition’s online locker starting in April of 2016.
In the end, summer is not necessarily for saving the world or discovering a cure for a disease. Students should go into the summer months considering the things that are going to help them get where they need to be mentally, physically, and financially. For some students, a summer job is a necessity to make money for their family. For others, working out every day to get recruited to play a sport in college or prepping for the ACT is the way to go.
But no matter what, students should focus some time, even if it’s short-lived, on getting their minds and hearts in the best shape possible to recharge. Starting the school year strong is actually more important to getting into college than anything else they can do.