Colleges want to admit students who are able to successfully balance their academics with other responsibilities. Summer work and volunteering demonstrate character and maturity. Because of this, these types of experiences always look great on a college application. That said, there are other summer programs for high schoolers that also look good on college applications.
If you want to stand out from your peers, push yourself in areas that interest you. Being involved in extracurricular activities conveys commitment and responsibility, especially if you are in a leadership position. Dedicating time to extracurriculars, your community, and to your job helps distinguish you as an applicant. This is why summer programs are important to keep in mind during your high school career.
In this article, we will review 25 summer activities that will impress colleges, including summer jobs for high schoolers, summer internships for high schoolers, and student passion project examples. Remember, pursuing meaningful summer experiences during high school can help bolster your college applications by setting you apart from your peers.
Understanding holistic college admission standards
High school GPA and standardized test scores are very important for your college applications. Thankfully, though, most colleges follow holistic college admissions standards. This means that college admissions officers are interested in who you are as a person, in addition to your capabilities as a student. In other words, academics are only one factor to consider. Part of being a good student is knowing how to prioritize different responsibilities and manage your time, and that’s what will impress colleges.
25 summer activities that look good on college applications
You do not need to score a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in order to stand out to admissions officers. Getting into prestigious and selective pre-college summer programs can go a long way, but there are a variety of summer activities that impress colleges.
Get a summer job
What should high schoolers do over the summer? One of the best ways to use your summers in high school is to get a job. Many students find part-time jobs for high schoolers during the school year and go full-time during the summer. Some of these jobs include working at grocery or convenience stores. Summer camps often look for high school-aged staff members as well. These can be some of the best summer jobs for high schoolers. That said, there are plenty of good summer jobs for high schoolers.
Regarding college admission, summer jobs help demonstrate your work ethic, maturity, and dedication. You may even consider asking your boss for a college letter of recommendation. Overall, summer jobs for high school students look great on your resume and can help you gain further employment opportunities in the future. When applying for summer jobs, consider some of the best entry-level jobs with useful work experience.
Complete an internship
But can high schoolers get internships? While most companies offer internships to college students, it is possible to gain internship experience as a high school student. Consider friends and family members who may have connections in your prospective field. Is there anyone you know that could help? If you can’t think of anyone, try emailing different companies. This is known as sending a cold email.
If you’re wondering, when should I start applying for summer internships?, you should start researching internships over winter break. If you need to submit a formal application, the application deadline will be listed. However, if you need to contact companies directly, you may want to begin reaching out in the spring.
Interning is a great way to get hands-on experience in a field you are interested in. Not only do applicants with internships gain valuable professional development experiences, but they also demonstrate their dedication to their preferred major. This is particularly important if you are interested in pursuing pre-med or other selective academic programs.
Attend a pre-college summer program
Like internships, pre-college programs are a great way to get hands-on experience and gain valuable skill sets. Pre-college programs that look good on college applications are often extremely selective. The good news is that most of the programs that impress colleges are free or low-cost.
That said, it’s worth noting that many summer camps for high schoolers, even popular ones, are not very selective. They are, however, very expensive. Due to this, these kinds of programs mean very little to a college application in terms of prestige. If you apply to pre-college summer programs for the sake of bolstering your application, make sure they are prestigious programs.
For more information on pre-college summer programs, review our article on breaking down pre-college summer programs. And remember, regardless of whether you are interested in summer programs for high school students online or journalism summer programs for high schoolers, there is likely a program well-suited to your needs.
Teach yourself a new skill
A good way to stay productive over the summer is to learn a new skill. Perhaps you can teach yourself how to code, how to use Photoshop, how to play an instrument (or even how to build your own instrument), or how to keep bees. Regardless of what skill you decide to pursue, learning a new skill shows initiative, self-direction, and motivation. It may even expose you to new career options!
Earn a certification
Earning a certification is a great way to bolster your high school resume and impress college admissions counselors. Some options include getting a certification in CPR, lifeguarding, wilderness first aid, scuba diving, yoga instruction, and graphic design. You could even become a Licensed Nursing Assistant. As you can see, the possibilities are endless!
Start a local fundraiser
Starting a fundraiser is a great way to work on your organizational and outreach skills. Not only are these great skills to have, but they also look great on your college applications and resume. Find a cause that’s important to you and brainstorm ways to raise money. This may include reaching out to local businesses, starting a raffle, and planning a fundraising event.
Take a summer class
In addition to your overall GPA, course rigor is an important admissions factor. Taking a summer class at a local college can be a great way to show that you are capable of succeeding in a collegiate environment. Depending on the college you attend, you might even be able to transfer these credits. Overall, this can be a great way to impress colleges while potentially saving money and completing core requirements.
Explore potential careers through job shadowing
Internships can be a great way to spend your summer if you have a clearly defined interest. But what if you have several ideas? Job shadowing can be a great way to explore different careers in a short amount of time. Reach out to businesses and nonprofits to ask about job shadowing opportunities.
Meet with our college admissions experts
Complete a reading list
Reading is always a worthwhile way to spend your time. Challenge yourself by designing a reading list for the summer that is reflective of your interests. For example, if you’re interested in studying philosophy, challenge yourself to read one major work from ten notable philosophers. If you’re interested in pursuing gender studies, seek out work by Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Judith Butler, Gloria Anzaldua, and others.
Go on an adventure!
Going on an adventure can be a great way to spend your summer and impress college admissions officers. Ride your bike across the country or hike the Appalachian Trail. Go on a whitewater rafting trip or spend your summer sailing down the east coast. If you plan to travel abroad, try to learn a language while you do so!
Visiting colleges is a great way to narrow down your college list and demonstrate an interest in a school. While you will not explicitly list this activity on your college application, it is a key step in the college application process. Overall, attending college campus tours will help you develop an understanding of the campus culture. This will be key in finding the right college for you. Additionally, these visits can be especially helpful for writing “why this college” essays.
Create an art portfolio
If you’re interested in attending art school, you’ll need to have an art portfolio. Use your summer to pursue different art projects and develop your skills. Practice drawing from observation. Experiment with new mediums. Spend 30 hours on an oil painting.
Engage in sports training
You might be wondering if sports look good on college applications. And they do — besides being another commitment, they reveal discipline, teamwork, and leadership.
If you do any extracurricular sports at your high school, your coaches may host more practices over the summer. In some cases, this training is optional for Junior Varsity athletes, but you should do it if you have time. It demonstrates a higher level of commitment and may allow you to improve to Varsity. Playing at a higher level will look better on an application.
Complete a passion project
First off, what is a passion project for students? A passion project is a project that high school students design and complete outside of school that explores something they are passionate about. There are lots of passion project ideas for students!
Ideally, these projects should be fairly ambitious and require extensive self-reflection and planning. Passion projects are a great way to learn new skills, gain confidence, and explore your interests more fully. For a passion project ideas list and passion project examples, review our article, the ultimate guide to passion projects for high schoolers.
Start a website
If you have a lot to say about your hobbies or interests, you may want to consider starting a blog or website. A website alone often isn’t enough to impress admissions officers. After all, anyone can create a website. The most important aspect of your website will be how much traction you are able to draw. You will want to keep track of numbers so you can showcase your ability to build and maintain an online platform.
Learn how to work with your hands by building something! Perhaps you’d like to build a boat, an instrument, or a tiny house. Find something that strikes your interest and start researching.
Participate in competitions
Regardless of whether you are a writer, an athlete, a musician, an actor, or anything else, there are lots of competitions you can participate in. Not only are these great opportunities to work hard and improve your skills, but competing in competitions looks great on your college applications.
Start a business or nonprofit
Starting a business or nonprofit is one of the best ways to differentiate yourself from the competition in the college application process. It takes a lot of discipline and self-motivation. If you are able to successfully build a client base or raise money for a cause, admissions officers will be very impressed.
Right now, when you think of a business, you may think of something huge like Target or Apple. But you can start small. Consider babysitting on a regular basis, teaching music lessons, buying items wholesale and reselling them, vending at art markets, or cutting people’s lawns. Similarly, if you’re interested in starting a nonprofit, review our article on how to start a nonprofit in high school.
Volunteer with a nonprofit
One of the best ways to display leadership and character is by showing that you care for your community. Volunteers take time out of their day to help those in need and expect nothing in return. What could be more selfless and kinder than that?
If there is a cause you care about, consider volunteering for organizations that promote it. Of course, only do this if this is something you are truly passionate about and will stand for. Admissions officers will make assumptions about your passions — make sure they are making the right assumptions. For example, if you have never left the country and don’t really understand foreign politics, it wouldn’t make sense to volunteer at Amnesty International.
You should also consider local organizations, such as food pantries, animal hospitals, nursing homes, animal shelters, etc. Typically, the organization’s website will tell you how to volunteer. If not, you can always email a volunteer coordinator directly.
Volunteer for public services
Public libraries, museums, and other local government-funded services may also be open to volunteering. These volunteering opportunities may be more in line with your academic interests, so they are a good way to demonstrate your passions to admissions officers.
Organize a community project
Giving back to your community is a great way to spend your summer, and organizing a community project will help you strengthen your leadership and organizational skills. Depending on your interests, you might want to start a community garden, design a mural, organize an art market, or start a local farmers market. Again, the possibilities here are endless!
Publications are a great way to stand out on your college applications. If you are interested in creative writing, submit your poems and short stories to literary magazines. If you’re interested in politics or journalism, approach your local newspaper with an opinion piece. Depending on the newspaper, they may even be interested in publishing a student column.
Creative projects are a great way to impress colleges. Start a band and write music together. Find places to perform. Record your songs.
Participate in a play
Participating in a play demonstrates commitment, creativity, and discipline. It also fosters community and places value on teamwork and leadership abilities. Theater is also a great way to gain confidence and practice public speaking.
While it’s important to be productive during the summer, it’s equally important to have fun! Do your best to balance hanging out with friends and family with your other responsibilities. Summer is a great time to decompress and relax after a stressful school year. Take time to recuperate.
Key takeaways and moving forward
Regardless of how you decide to spend your summer, the most important thing is that you are productive. This is especially important if you are interested in attending a highly-selection school, such as an Ivy League college. In fact, summer internships, jobs, and passion projects are often what help students stand out and gain admission into Ivy League colleges.
Summer activities for high schoolers are important because your academic competence is only one aspect of your college application. What sets you apart from your peers is showing that you are passionate, motivated, and multifaceted. Remember, these are key attributes that college admissions officers look for in an applicant. If you feel like you could benefit from having a mentor, reach out to learn more about our services.