What did you do over your summer vacation? Aside from being an age-old prompt for those “back to school” essays, this question is one that every high school student should be asking themselves! Why? Because colleges want to know what you did with all that free time.
Summer is the perfect time to try something new or work on a project or skill that really interests you. If you are applying to a selective college, that summer job or experience might be just the thing that helps you jump off the page and stand out to the admissions staff. So get up off the couch and find something to do! Your summer experience doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. In fact, many of those “pay to play” programs (think $5,000 mission trip to Costa Rica or fancy bike trip through Switzerland) carry no weight with admissions offices precisely because they are available only to a fortunate few. Working at the local ice cream shop or pizza parlor is fine, but try to supplement your summer job with something that is fun and interesting to you. It could be anything from working as a research assistant at a local college to shadowing a physician or entrepreneur for a day or two. If your career goals have you heading towards law or medical school, then summer is the time to rack up those "contact" hours by volunteering at a local legal aid or health clinic. Just be sure that your activities line up with your interests or passions. Quality is always better than quantity!
What else can you be doing? Summer is a great time to get in some SAT or ACT prep. Find a good tutor or online program and really focus on your trouble spots. If you are a rising senior you can also use the summer to start on your application essays. Most schools have their applications updated by August 1st, and the Common Application essays questions will be the same in 2014-15 as they were last year. Taking a family vacation? Take a few hours and visit some college campuses. Although campuses can be quiet during the summer months, a summer visit is better than no visit at all; and you can at least get a feel for what type of campus will fit you best. If you find that you fall in love with a certain school, you can always come back and visit it again when classes are in session. Don’t forget to check in with the admissions office whenever you are on a college campus. Many schools track your “demonstrated interest”, and a campus visit is high on that list.
Finally, take time over the summer to relax, refresh and recharge! Get lots of sleep, load up on those healthy fruits and veggies, and get ready to hit the ground running when school starts in the fall.