Seniors: Get a head start on your college apps this summer!

Summer Activities for High School Students

Wednesday, May 8, 2024


IvyWise On-Demand: It’s Not Too Late to Make the Most of Summer 2024

Summer is just around the corner, but it’s not too late to plan for a productive break! Join IvyWise college admissions counselors and a member of the Summer Discovery team as they explain the importance of having a productive summer and share suggestions to identify the best activities, courses, and programs for your interests and goals.

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

Summer Activities for High School Students: Table of Contents

  1. What Should High Schoolers Do Over the Summer to Impress Colleges? 
  2. How Do Summer Activities Impact Your Admissions Chances? 
  3. Summer Activity Ideas for High School Students
  4. Summer College Prep Checklist for All Grades
  5. 5 Summer College Prep Tips You Can’t Afford to Ignore 

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

The best way to impress colleges is to get involved in productive summer activities that align with your interests and goals. 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. However, colleges value quality over quantity — admissions officers are interested in seeing meaningful engagement and genuine passion rather than a long list of activities.  

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 prep 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.

How Do Summer Activities Impact Your Admissions Chances? 

Participating in productive summer activities related to your academic interests or intended major can show colleges that you are genuinely interested in pursuing your chosen field. Activities such as internships, research programs, and community service projects can help you develop valuable skills and demonstrate your commitment to personal and academic growth. Choose summer activities that align with your interests and goals and use them as opportunities to showcase your strengths and values. 

Summer Activity Ideas for High School Students 

While summer programs on college campuses can give you a taste of college life, these programs may be out of reach for some students. Fortunately, you can find plenty of opportunities that can help enhance your college applicant profile.  


An internship is a great learning experience that enhances your resume, helps you learn new skills, and gives you an inside view into potential future careers. Numerous internship opportunities 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 opportunities in the wider community that align with your academic and extracurricular interests. 

Extracurricular Activities

Summer break can also be an excellent time to take your extracurricular activities to the next level, whether you want to dedicate more time to an organization you’re involved with or to a sport you 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

It’s important to explore your interests through reading — we can’t stress this 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 passionate about a certain activity or interest and how they can 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. 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.  

Summer Courses

Another way to continue learning, strengthen your knowledge in a topic of interest, and boost your applicant profile is to take one or two college classes 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. Plus, you get a taste of what it’s like to be a college student.

Read more about different summer programs:


Can’t take a class at a college? Check out some massive open online courses (MOOCs). While many can’t be used for college credit, it’s another way to stay engaged and show colleges that you’re spending your summer exploring and learning. Many colleges offer MOOCs on fun and interesting topics. Check out Coursera and edX to see a list of MOOCs offered this summer. 

Test Prep

While we don’t recommend that high school students only spend their summer prepping for the ACT or SAT, it’s something that you 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. 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, 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 you up for a smooth senior year since the bulk of your 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. 

Learn a New Skill or Discover a New Interest 

While we highly encourage you to pursue your current interests during your summer break, this is also a great time to discover a new interest or learn a new skill. Maybe you want to take up fossil hunting or explore how to learn a new language in the quickest way possible. Who knows? It can end up becoming something for which you develop a true passion.   

Practice Leadership or Work Toward Personal Growth 

While you’re participating in your summer activities, look for opportunities to develop leadership skills and demonstrate your ability to work effectively with others. Initiating projects, taking on additional responsibilities, and providing peer support are some ways you can practice leadership if you don’t have an official leadership role. Additionally, you’ll improve your time management, organization, and communication skills. 

You might decide to focus on personal growth by developing practical life skills such as cooking and balancing a budget. Take on a challenge that’s out of your comfort zone. You can also take some time for self-reflection and journaling, which can help develop your writing voice.  


Travel can be a valuable experience, and when approached thoughtfully, it can enhance your college application in several ways. If you travel abroad, for example, you are exposed to different cultures, languages, and ways of life, which enhances your cultural awareness and global perspective. Even if you travel domestically, you can find opportunities to learn and experience something new. Not only will you develop important life skills while traveling, but you may also discover rich material for a compelling college essay.   

Volunteer or Do Community Service 

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. Volunteering for a couple of hours at a food pantry isn’t something you will ultimately include on the activities list you submit with your college application. However, organizing community service projects or volunteering with an organization long-term can show an admissions committee what you can contribute to the campus community. There are countless service opportunities, so look for ways to get involved that align with your interests.   

Summer College Prep Checklist for All Grades

The school year may be ending, but the college admissions process is just revving up for rising high school seniors. While 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 Ninth Graders 

  • 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. 
  • Connect with some current high school students to gain insight into the ins and outs of your high school. 
  • Complete any summer reading or other summer homework assignments before the semester starts. 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. 
  • Continue involvement with one or two core activities that you enjoy, 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 an independent project or service ideas for the fall.  
  • Start putting together — or update — your activities list for college. 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. 
  • Try to visit a college during your summer vacation 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. 
  • 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. 

The Common Application essay prompts have been released for the upcoming admissions season, and many colleges will release their school-specific essay prompts 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 season. 

  • 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 as comprehensive and detailed as possible! 
  • Narrow down your college list — include a combination of 12-15 reach, target, and likely schools. 
  • Make note of all deadlines for each of the colleges on your list. Keep 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 revise the entire 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, check out our full College Planning Checklists for additional planning tips to help you through the entire school year. 

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

With all the unavoidable summer distractions, it’s sometimes hard to stay on track so you can continue building a competitive profile for college. We present to you these five tips.

1. 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 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 in one ear and out the other. But don’t let your brain turn to mush, either. Spend 20 minutes every night reviewing, 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 school reading list. 

2. 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.

3. 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 — many high school students, for example, spend their summer as camp counselors. The important thing is to take advantage of the opportunities available to you and use your talents to make the activity your own. Do this, and you’re sure to impress. 

4. 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. You can research a college effectively 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. Once you research a college thoroughly, make plans for a campus visit. 

5. 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 challenging, if not impossible, to visit all the schools on your list 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 them. This is the perfect way to get thoughtful responses to your questions from the person who will eventually be evaluating your application. 

Finally, it’s okay to take some time to relax and recharge, but don’t waste too much of this valuable time! It’s important to know how to end your summer break on a positive note so you can feel prepared and confident as you enter a new school year.  

At IvyWise, we help students identify summer activities and opportunities that help them build a strong applicant profile for college admissions. Schedule an Initial Consultation today to see how we can help you with every aspect of your college admissions journey.  


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