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Why Your Summer Matters: Tips from a Former Admissions Officer

By Scott, IvyWise Premier College Admissions Counselor

Summer is right around the corner, leaving many students to wonder how they should spend their time off from the rigors of high school. While students definitely deserve a break and should find some time for relaxation, summer is also a time to add some punch to college applications and get ahead with college prep.

Does it really matter how you spend your summers? In short: absolutely. Admissions officers want to see that you’re thoughtful about how you spend your summers and that you also take some time to yourself. Admissions officers are looking for students who are motivated and excited about their academic and extracurricular pursuits. When you say you love building things and have always wanted to be an engineer, it’s that much more believable when your admissions reader sees that you spend some of your free time tinkering, creating, and building your skills.

Demonstrating how much of a “doer” you are is a sure way to stand out in a competitive admissions pool. That said, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your summer break.

Boost Any Potential Weaknesses in Your Application
Application “weaknesses” can be anything from a lackluster activity list to too few classes that relate to your core interests. The summer is a great time to fill those holes in your applicant profile. For example, you may be going into your senior year and have only just discovered your love of journalism, so you don’t have much on your resume to demonstrate that interest. Use your summer to go to a journalism camp that will prepare you to join your school’s newspaper in the fall or start your own blog related to current events. Or you can take courses related to that new subject of interest. Using the journalism example above, find an Intro to Journalism or a journalistic writing course to take over the summer to deepen your knowledge. This could be anything from a MOOC (massive open online course) to an entry-level class at your local university or community college. Explore any open summer courses that may be available near your or online.

You can also use the summer to take courses that add to your credentials in an area of interest where your school can’t offer you more background. Maybe you’re really interested in computer science, but your high school doesn’t offer any higher-level coding classes. Or you love history and want to some more topic-specific history courses because your school only offers basic US history. Use the summer to explore those options – again either online or at a local university. Taking the initiative to continue learning outside of what’s immediately available at your school shows your dedication to that specialty and colleges will notice.

While I’d never advise a student to spend the entire summer on test prep, it can be a valuable activity when done in conjunction with other summer pursuits. If your SAT or ACT scores are not where they need to be, spend some time prepping – either on your own or with a tutor – so that come fall you’re ready to sit for the exam again and obtain your goal score.

Launch a New Project
Admissions officers notice when you spend your free time really exploring your interests, and summer is a great time to take on projects that you want to pursue during the school year, but you might need a little extra time to get it going.

Maybe your family takes a trip every summer to a place where you can do some good. You could start a service project there during the summer and work on fundraising and raising awareness with your peers from home during the school year. Or there’s a research topic you’re itching to get into in-depth or long-term lab experiment you want to get up and running. You can use your summer for the heavier research and setup work, and then even continue with it as an independent study in the school year with a teacher. Take some time to think of some independent projects that you’ve been putting off and get started on them this summer.

Read, Read, and Read Some More!
When you say you’re really interested in something you should be able to speak about it with sophistication and conviction. You can’t fake that and really building your knowledge will help you stand out. Reading is the best way to become an “expert” in a field you’re really passionate about. Read books, professional publications, magazines, blogs, and more to build up your knowledge. You can be certain that when your college interviewer asks you about your favorite topics they’ll ask you to elaborate and try to engage in you in conversation about them. You’ll want to be able to speak authoritatively and genuinely about the subject and knock their socks off with how much you know and how nuanced your knowledge is. Reading can help you do that! Besides, if you don’t love it enough to read about it in your spare time, that could be a sign you don’t want to major in it. Digging into these subjects should come pretty naturally.

While summers should be productive for students in order to prepare for college and avoid summer brain drain, don’t forget to find some time to rest. Everyone needs a break every now and then, and your main goal in life shouldn’t always be how to build your resume. But using your extra time this summer break to pursue things you love that also happen to build your resume is the kind of win-win you’re looking for.

This is a critical college prep time for rising juniors and seniors. Are you ready? Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services and to set up an Initial Consultation to help you get on track for the college admissions process!