The summer before senior year of high school marks the home stretch in the college admissions process. By this time, you have researched schools and narrowed down your list of where to apply. This summer is your time to prepare for the application and interview process, during which you will likely be asked the age-old question, “How did you spend your summer?" Schools are looking to gauge your interests and see how you use your personal time to learn or work toward a goal.
If you’ve chosen your summer activities well, you may gain a major advantage in the admissions process and, perhaps, a strong topic for your college essay. If you’ve chosen poorly, you could damage your chances at attending your top school. The following are a few popular options my students at York Prep have chosen for their senior summer:
If you choose this route, you must do well in your studies because your prospective universities will look at how well you perform at the college level. Try, if summer programs are offered and the school is nearby, to take a college course at one of your top-choice schools.
Some universities that offer courses to high school students include Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Indiana University, and RISD.
If attending a university for the summer is financially unfeasible, see if your high school has any additional courses you can take that would broaden your horizons and show your commitment to education.
If you go abroad, endeavor to participate in an activity with educational value. For instance, consider learning a language by living with a host family, or studying the ecology of a country by working with wildlife and environmental programs. You can volunteer or work with an overseas company. This experience can be incredibly fun and offer a valuable learning experience. Spending time abroad may also show that you’re adaptable, independent, and open to learning in a new setting and culture.
A constructive way to spend your summer is to work. Try to find work with a company or in an industry that interests you and that lines up with your career aspirations. If your passion is journalism, for example, pursue an internship or part-time position at a local newspaper. This type of work will show colleges that you are ready to pursue your interests professionally, and that you are driven and motivated to go after your goals. That said, even if you find a job that does not directly align with your career aspirations, work experience will demonstrate that you are diligent, responsible, and ready to be independent.
Colleges want to attract students who have demonstrated good character and who are socially engaged. Work with disenfranchised youth, offer time at an animal shelter or a nursing home — whatever your passion may be, find a way to give back. A description of one student’s experience running errands for an infirm senior citizen was one of the most touching accounts I’ve ever read by a high school student. Colleges desire philanthropic students, and through the experience you will gain satisfaction knowing that you helped your community in some small way.
Senior year is also a time for celebration. Graduating from high school is no small feat and should be treated as an accomplishment. It is important to remember during this thrilling time, however, that college is just around the corner — so tailor your spare time to bolster your post–high school success as much as possible.