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How to spend your summer to improve college applications

The school year has ended and parents and students alike can finally breathe. That is, until you hear that students should have a plethora of summer activities that will enhance their college applications and you have not planned anything yet! There is no shortage of camps or programs that students can attend, but they are expensive and the enrollment deadlines have long passed. So what options are left? Never fear, there are many things that students can do that will impress admissions officers at colleges.

I worked as an Application Reader at a selective private research university on the East Coast, helping them to build their Freshman class for Fall of 2023. I read about thousands of activities that applicants participated in during the Summer, many of which are considered “pay to play”, meaning that a student can attend an amazing camp to learn about any variety of subjects, IF they have several thousands of dollars to spend. The truth is that these experiences are far less impressive and impactful than the ones that students can create for themselves.

Here are some no cost ideas that can be started anytime and will help colleges get to know about a student’s interests.

Shadowing or internships - Spending some time following along with a professional to see what the career is really like is a great way to show admissions officers your seriousness in a particular field. For example, if you want to be a physical therapist or vet, contact local businesses in these professions and ask if you can spend some time over the summer observing the day to day activities for this career. Sometimes, this experience has the added benefit of realizing that this is not a career that a student would truly enjoy.

Community service - Most community service organizations are always happy to have additional volunteers, even after the summer has started. Community service is highly valued on college applications, especially in an area that aligns with a student’s future career or major, or a personal passion. Consistency is key, however, as Admissions Officers can see right through students doing an activity just to fluff up their applications.

Help with the family business - Students can be an asset to their family business. Avoid just showing up and doing whatever task Mom or Dad asks you to do. Instead, find a way to use your skills or interests that align with your intended college major or personal interests. For example, create a social media campaign for the business, but be prepared to show on your college application the results of your efforts in a quantifiable manner. Another example is to look for ways to improve processes within the business, also in quantifiable ways.

Passion Project - Think that the town needs another green space or that your neighborhood needs a Little Free Library? Maybe a street could use another stop sign or speed bumps? These are all projects that a student can take on by researching the process and then working through the steps to make things happen. Even if you cannot make the change happen, the lessons learned along the way can

Start a business - Have a skill that could benefit others? Can you create a tangible item that can be sold? Want to expand from watering your neighbors plants while they are away to the entire neighborhood? Use these ideas to create a business. You will learn many skills that can be demonstrated in your college application. One example is a student who started a pet waste pick up service for his neighborhood which ended up expanding to other areas in town and taught skills like marketing and managing the employees he hired. Application readers loved this.

Self study - Do you have an interest that you did not have time for during the school year? Even if you cannot find a class, there are many options to do self study. Anything from languages, musical instruments, or even skills that are taught through online courses that provide certification can be both fun and helpful for college applications.

Helping family - Don’t discount the importance of helping family. If you are caring for siblings or having to manage household meals while parents work, these types of activities demonstrate desirable character traits that colleges seek in their applicants. As with all of the summer activities listed, it is important to be specific about what you do to help the family.

Summer should be a time for students to recharge their batteries and have some fun. These activities can add value not only to your personal life but also your college applications, without the need to have signed up months ago or paid a lot of money. The sky is the limit when it comes to creating opportunities for yourself!

I would love to help you plan summer activities! Text or Call me today at 925-788-3227.


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