Planning High School Summers with an Eye toward College Admissions

When you're thinking about applying to college, what you do in the summer is important. But different people (or even whole families) have different priorities.

Some students and their families believe that summer is a time for fun and that students need time off from school and responsibilities, other students may think that summer should be spent attending a camp or various workshops. Still other students (or their families) find that the summer is an opportunity to do something different that can be added to their resume and make them more appealing to prospective colleges.

In an ideal situation, each student can find a way to both have fun and engage in challenging and enriching activities.

Some colleges place a heavy emphasis on summer experiences, and others do not. Working during the year or during the summer is a good way to earn money for college, to get your feet wet in the "real world," and to build vital life skills, such as working with others. Colleges typically view work experience positively as long as it doesn't interfere in your school work and your grades don't drop as a result.

If you love to go to camp or to travel during the summer, go to camp or travel the summer after ninth grade and possibly after tenth grade. Save the summer after eleventh grade for an experience that will pique the interest of the colleges you like.

This doesn't have to cost a lot of money. For example, you don't have to attend a pre-college academic program or travel to Central America to work in an orphanage. It's great if you can do that, but these programs can cost several thousand dollars. And they are not always viewed so positively because they can be expensive, so it's unfair to those who can't afford to participate.

If money is a concern, ask yourself, what are some worthwhile summer opportunities that are close to home (and free)? Talk to your guidance counselor, family members, and friends to brainstorm for worthwhile summer activities.

An internship (usually unpaid for high school students) is a great way to learn about a field of interest. Paid internships and formal internships are very hard to come by for high school students. You may want to investigate an informal internship, set up by contacting people you or family members know, or people in your local community. If you are interested in interior design, for example, call a local interior designer and ask if you can shadow him or her for a month or even during the school year. If you're interested in becoming a teacher, ask if you can work in an after-school program or become a teacher's helper during the summer.

Here are a few places you can find rewarding, character-building opportunities in the summer (or during the year). Activities like these are pretty sure to gain the attention of college admissions counselors who review your application:

  • Volunteer in a local hospital
  • Volunteer in an animal shelter
  • Work in a soup kitchen
  • Volunteer in a library reading program
  • Assist a teacher who is teaching English as a Second Language
  • Build homes for Habitat for Humanity
  • Assist in environmental cleanups and/or park beautification programs
  • Work with special needs children
  • Become a Big Brother/Big Sister
  • Shadow an engineer, architect, doctor, fashion designer, or anyone in any field that you may be interested in studying.

You can check national or local Web sites for internships or places to volunteer. A Better Community, sponsored by ABC and "Extreme Home Makeover" is one national Web site to watch for opportunities. Other Web sites include and the federal government's A good general rule is that you should devote at least one summer during high school to a challenging experience of your choice. These opportunities can also provide you with an interesting college essay.

The following Web sites also offer tons of useful information to students looking for work:

  • Here, you can create a free membership, which lets you search for jobs, apply to jobs online, and read helpful articles about writing a resume, understanding the qualities an employer is likely to want, and more.
  • This Web site contains helpful articles, offers tips and advice on getting a job, teaches you how to write a cover letter, and provides a list of some employers.