7 Summer Activities to Boost Your College Admission Chances

Monday, May 22, 2023


Summer break is here for many students, but that doesn’t mean all learning has to stop! It’s important for college-bound students to spend their summers wisely, but they don’t have to participate in a fancy college summer program to do it.

Colleges want to know what students are doing in their spare time, and that includes the few months that students have off during the summer. A productive summer can help you better explore your interests and ultimately strengthen your applicant profile when it comes time to apply to college. Spending your summer wisely is an important college prep strategy and can go a long way toward helping you achieve your college admission goals.

What Should High Schoolers Do Over the Summer to Impress Colleges?

The best way to impress colleges over the summer is to get involved with activities outside of school. These activities will give you something to talk about in your application essay, which is one of the most important components of your college application.

If you were thinking about applying to college this fall, now would be a good time to start planning. Many schools require applications by October 1, so if you haven’t started yet, summer will be the perfect time to do so.

Set the Right Goals for a Productive Summer Break

The best way to set yourself up for a productive summer break is to create some goals that outline what you’re hoping to accomplish over the next few months. For most students, these objectives will be closely tied to college prep goals, such as achieving a specific score on the SAT or writing a first draft of your personal statement. Ideally, students should create a list of 3-5 goals they wish to accomplish during their summer vacation that relate to the college admissions process. 

Take Advantage of Recommended Resources

Summer break is an excellent time to reflect on the progress you’ve made in your college admissions process and the steps you’ll need to take next. If you’re looking for guidance about what you should prioritize, don’t be afraid to do your research. There are plenty of resources designed to help high school students navigate the college application process, including guides that break down what students should be doing during each year of high school to set themselves up for success.

7 Things to Do Over the Summer for High School Students 

While summer programs on college campuses can be a great experience if they’re a good fit, not every student can spend the summer doing research at Stanford or taking business courses at Penn. You don’t have to spend your summer at a college to have a productive summer.

Here are some simple activities that will help you continue learning and lend to your college prep over the summer.


Internships are an exciting opportunity to enhance your resume, learn new skills, and get an inside view into a career path that interests you. There are a multitude of different internship opportunities that are available to high school students each year. If you’re wondering how to apply for summer internships, don’t hesitate to reach out to a teacher or school counselor for guidance. They can help you identify local opportunities that align with the school subjects and extracurricular activities that interest you most. 

In addition to in-person opportunities, students can also gain valuable professional skills through virtual experiences. If you choose to go this route, make sure to read some advice on how to make the most of a remote internship to ensure you’re learning as much as you can from this experience. 

Extracurricular Activities

Summer break can also be an excellent time to take your extracurricular activities to the next level. Some students may choose to pursue volunteer work, such as restoring a local park, tutoring elementary school children, or working at a nearby soup kitchen. Others may wish to dedicate time to a sport they play during the school year. Since balancing athletic and academic commitments can be challenging, student athletes aspiring to play a sport in college may wish to spend their summer practicing so they can give this pursuit their all. 

Outside Reading

We can’t stress the importance of outside reading enough. For many students, outside reading is the first step to exploring an interest and becoming an expert in a certain topic. Reading books, blogs, magazines, and other interest-specific publications can help students determine if they’re really passionate about a certain activity or interest and what they can do to get more involved. A specialty is important when setting yourself apart in the college admissions process, and outside reading can help you develop one.

Many colleges also have questions on their applications about what students are reading in their spare time, and sometimes this question can come up in admissions interviews, too. Some examples of outside reading questions on college applications:

  • Boston College: Many human beings throughout history have found inspiration and joy in literature and works of art. Is there a book, play, poem, movie, painting, music selection, or photograph that has been especially meaningful for you?
  • University of Chicago: Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own. (Optional)
  • Wake Forest University: List five books you have read (with authors) that piqued your curiosity. Discuss an idea from one of these works that influenced you.
  • University of Southern California: Favorite book?


Asking what students are reading outside of class is just another way for colleges to get to know you, and while not doing outside reading won’t send you to the ‘no’ pile, it won’t help admissions officers to learn more about you – which is important to help them to advocate for admission.

See how you can explore your interests through reading.

Summer Courses

Another way to continue learning, strengthen your knowledge in a topic of interest, and boost your applicant profile is to take a college course or two over the summer at a local community college or university. Not only can this help you gain college credit while in high school – a great way to help cut college costs – it also keeps you engaged. Students can learn and show that they’re pursuing their academic interests even when school is out. But don’t just take a class to “look good” to colleges. Take a course you’re genuinely interested in and where you will learn something.

Read more about different summer programs


Can’t take a class at a college? Check out some MOOCs. While many can’t be used for college credit, it’s another thing you do to stay engaged and show colleges that you’re spending your summer exploring and learning. Many colleges offer MOOCs on fun and interesting topics that can be exciting to keep up with throughout the summer. Check out Coursera and edX to see a list of MOOCs offered this summer.

Test Prep

While we don’t recommend school students only spend their summer prepping for the ACT or SAT, it’s something that students can do in conjunction with other summer activities. Using your free time to take practice tests, work on areas of weakness, or meet with a tutor can help you reach your goal score – which is important to gaining admission to your to-choice colleges. Preparing for the ACT or SAT over the summer can also help you fight the summer brain drain, as you will be reviewing concepts that you may have learned during the school year – keeping the information and strategies fresh for the fall.

Work on College Application Essays

For rising high school seniors, the summer is the perfect time to get a head start on college applications and essay writing. Brainstorming, academic writing, and editing will exercise the brain while setting school students up for a smooth senior year since the bulk of their applications will be completed before the fall. Again, you don’t want to spend your whole summer on just applications, but it’s a good thing to get started on while exploring other summer activities.

Summer College Prep Checklist for All Grades

The school year may be coming to a close, but the college admissions process is just revving up for next semester’s high school seniors. While the summer is a good time to recharge, it’s also a great time to get on track for the college admissions process, no matter what grade you’re in.

When it comes to college preparation, the earlier families start, the better. Colleges consider all four years of a student’s high school transcript, activities, and more, so delaying the college prep process until the end of junior year or the beginning of the senior year really puts school students at a disadvantage. This summer, get a head start and stay on track for a successful fall semester and college admissions season by checking these tasks off your college prep list!

Rising Freshmen

  • Start thinking about some of the clubs, sports, or other organizations at your high school that you’ll want to join. If you can get involved this summer, do it!
  • Spend some time exploring interests you think you might want to be more involved with. Do some outside reading so you can learn more about those interests.
  • High school is an exciting and life-changing experience. Connect with some upperclassmen to gain insight into the ins and outs of your particular high school.
  • Make sure to complete any summer reading or other summer homework assignments prior to the start of the semester. You don’t want to start your first year of high school already behind.

Rising Sophomores

  • Take some time to reflect on your extracurriculars. Are you enjoying your activities outside of class and do they align with your interests? If not, now’s the time to consider other extracurricular activities you might want to pursue.
  • If you enjoy your current extracurriculars, continue involvement with one or two core activities, and consider whether you might be able to take on leadership positions. School may be out, but you can still make plans and come up with a project or service ideas for the fall.
  • If your school doesn’t offer a club or activity associated with a particular interest of yours, then create your own student club! Spend the summer drafting a proposal for a new club and find out what you need to do in order to have it approved by your school’s administration.
  • Start putting together — or update — your activities list. You’ll want to continue updating this throughout the school year with any new activities, accomplishments, and more.
  • Continue building your outside reading list. Read at least one or two books, or other publications, this summer.
  • If you go on vacation, try to visit a college nearby to get a feel for different campus types and locations.

Rising Juniors

  • Continue building your outside reading list.
  • Before the school year is out, schedule a meeting with your counselor to go over your test prep schedule and test-taking strategies.
  • If you haven’t already, start preparing for the SAT or ACT. Use your downtime this summer to brush up on skills and concepts that you may struggle with.
  • How are you spending your summer? Be sure to participate in activities that align with your interests or deepen your involvement in certain organizations.
  • Go on one or two summer campus tours at local colleges. It’ll give you a taste of what to expect when visiting colleges in the fall.
  • Get organized! Update your activities list and start building your balanced college list. Use the time this summer to research colleges, learn about different institutions, and determine what qualities of a college are the best fit for your needs and goals.

Rising Seniors

Summer break provides college-bound seniors with the perfect opportunity to get a head start on their college applications and continue their college prep so they’re prepared for the admissions season come fall. With activities, vacations, and other summer plans, it can be difficult to stay on top of everything that students need to accomplish while school is out. At IvyWise we aim to make getting ahead easier by providing students with comprehensive college planning checklists.

This admissions season, rising high school seniors will have a couple of different college applications to choose from — most of which have already announced their essay prompts for the latest admissions season. The Common Application has released essay prompts, and many colleges have or will release their school-specific essay prompts well before the new school year. This is a critical time for seniors to get organized, form a plan of action for college applications, and get ahead!

Here’s what seniors need to focus on this summer to prepare for a successful college application process.

  • Create a final draft of your activities list that includes your summer activities and new or continued club/team activities. Colleges want to know how you spend your spare time, so be sure to be as comprehensive and detailed as possible!
  • Narrow down your college list — include a combination of reach, target, and likely schools.
  • Make note of all deadlines for each of the colleges on your list. Get organized by keeping detailed checklists, spreadsheets, and more.
  • Begin working on your college essays and have them checked for content and grammar. Start by brainstorming, then create a first draft and keep revising throughout the summer.
  • Continue your test prep over the summer so you’re prepared for the exams this fall.
  • Develop a college application strategy and make sure you know how and when to work with your college counselor this summer and during the application process.
  • Continue your outside reading! Many colleges will ask what you read in your spare time, so don’t slack on your outside reading over the summer.


Also, be sure to check out our full College Planning Checklists for additional planning tips to help you through the entire school year.

5 Summer College Prep Realities You Can’t Afford to Ignore

With all of the unavoidable summer distractions and widespread mixed messages, it’s sometimes hard to separate fiction from fact. How is anyone supposed to know what’s actually expected of a competitive student over the summer? You’re informed enough to realize that television (and the characters and personalities therein) is neither a wealth of reliable knowledge nor does it produce an excess of shining role models. But that doesn’t make it any easier to gauge the gap between the right, the wrong, and the horribly wrong.

Case in point: Did no one on Gossip Girl study for the SATs ahead of time? Are we really expected to believe that lounging in the Hamptons all summer will get any of these folks into Dartmouth, regardless of their sensationalized connections? With universities reporting their lowest acceptance rates ever and some schools claiming single digits, wasting the summer away is not an option for anyone — fictional or otherwise. Without further ado, I present to you the insider’s top five summer checklists.

Avoid Hardcore Studying

There is no one right way to prepare for the SAT or ACT. But there is a wrong way. It’s called cramming.

Studying new vocabulary words, common math equations, and basic literary themes does help, but only if done over a sustained period of time during the school year. Like training for a marathon, preparing for standardized tests only improves with time and effort. Intense summer test prep is not encouraged because it tends to go through one ear and out the next. But don’t let your brain turn to mush, either. Spend twenty minutes every night reviewing the subject the ACT or SAT will test you on but don’t worry about meeting with standardized test tutors.

It’s always better to learn in context, so bring a book to the beach and get a head start on your English class’s senior year reading list.

Do What You Love — But Do It in a College-Level Class

Think about the academic subjects and extracurricular activities that interest you most and take them to the next level – the college level. Not only will taking college-level classes over the summer save you money in the long run, but the extra courses could help you place into an AP class in your senior year. If your school doesn’t offer an AP course, there might be an opportunity for you to take courses at your local community college. There are also summer programs on college campuses. Study abroad programs (many are designed for language and cultural immersion) may also fit this bill, although you ought to make sure any program you choose lasts at least six weeks to demonstrate your commitment and to really make an impact.

Work It — Paid or Otherwise

A summer job may help you confirm your career aspirations, discover new interests and gain firsthand experience. If you can explore your interests, it’s unlikely that you’ll dread going to work. And if you do dread it, you’re one step closer to knowing what you absolutely do not want to waste a semester studying in college.

But it’s not just about earning money — it’s about getting hands-on experience. Often, the importance of activity is not in the activity itself, but rather in the learning, growth, and meaning you take from the commitment.

Devote significant time to your summer job or volunteer position each week. You’ll make more of an impact when you commit at least 20 hours a week throughout the summer. Find a way to make the experience interesting for you and valuable for others. Don’t just show up. Your summer job or community service needn’t be particularly unusual or impressive sounding; very few can explore the moon’s surface with NASA. Take advantage of the opportunities available to you and be sure to use your particular talents to make the activity your own. Do this, and you’re sure to impress.

Do a Little Research Now and Save on Gas Money Later

Start your research early — as in, right now. Use guidebooks (e.g, Fiske Guide to Colleges), websites, and local college fairs to find overlap schools. Once you’ve read a bit about a college, you can do more research about it online by taking virtual tours and reading about professors, course offerings, clubs and organizations, community service, internships, and study abroad. After a while, you will really start to get a feel for what it would be like to go there. Only after researching a college thoroughly should you then decide to visit the campus.

Go on a College Visit

Nothing can replace the experience of visiting school campuses during the academic year. But let’s be realistic. Busy schedules, physical distances, and limited budgets can make it extremely challenging, if not impossible, to visit all of the schools on your list (we recommend 8-12) while they’re still in session. With that in mind, summer is a fine time to schedule some campus visits. Take advantage of your flexible schedule. When you visit, attend both the information session and the campus tour, allowing for two different points of view. Generally, an admissions representative leads the information session, while a current student leads the tour.

It is also a great idea to make contacts while you are on campus. Find out who will be reading applications from your area, and start an email dialogue with this individual. This is the perfect way to get thoughtful responses to your questions from the person who will eventually be evaluating your application.

Summer Planning in Times of Pandemic

Although it has been years since the pandemic began, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about coronavirus and college admissions. Back in 2020, the pandemic massively disrupted every element of the college admission process, from dwindling motivation and social distancing to rescheduled SAT exams and canceled activities. For many students, this summer may feel like the first opportunity to return to in-person experiences such as internships and college courses held on campus. However, there are also plenty of summer learning opportunities that are hybrid or virtual for students who feel more comfortable with these options. 

The summer is a great time for students to learn, explore, and get ready for the college admissions process! It’s okay for students to take some time to relax and recharge, too, but don’t waste too much of this valuable time! For more information on guidance on selecting and applying to summer programs, learn more about our college counseling services.


Related Topics

College Prep, Outside Reading, Summer Planning
Sign Up for the IvyWise Newsletter
 简体中文 »
close wechat qr code