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Summer Activity Planning: How to Make the Most of Your Break

You may be thinking that summertime is perfect for relaxing in the sun, hanging out with friends, and taking a break from school, but when it comes to college admissions, summer vacation is a crucial time for planning and working on application materials. Furthermore, summertime is an excellent opportunity to explore personal interests that can be emphasized on college applications.

Here are some of IvyWise’s suggestions for spending your summer vacation in a wise, productive, and fun way with some tips on how to get started!

Summer College for High School Students

Many colleges and universities across the country offer summer programs for high school students. These intensive academic programs allow high school students to take college-level courses, experience living on campus, meet students with the same interests from around the country, and often earn college credit.

Specialty programs in the arts, languages, and athletics can also serve as valuable ways to spend summer vacation for dedicated students, and you can commemorate your experience by blogging or keeping a journal during your time in the program. Focus on programs that are at least four weeks to demonstrate your depth of interest. IvyWise offers comprehensive research services to help students and families find the best-fit summer programs that have the most impact on an applicant’s profile by conducting in-depth research of offerings that match individual student interests.

To find a program, meet with your school or independent counselor for a brainstorming session. Talk about your academic interests and which programs may best supplement what you’re already involved in or learning about in school.

Register for a MOOC

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have made a splash in the world of higher education, and some are even being recommended to carry college course credit. Sites like Coursera, edX, and Academic Earth offer free or low-fee courses on topics such as biology, business, technology, law, history, and physics. Lectures, quizzes, and tests are available online for students to complete at their own pace.

How to get started!

Visit MOOC sites, like the ones listed above, and browse their course offerings. Write down a few that interest you, and create a schedule for yourself to take them over the summer. Ask teachers, counselors, or an IvyWise expert for their advice on which courses and subject matter may be the best for you to pursue given your core interests.


Internships are an excellent way to gain hands-on experience in a field you may want to pursue in college. Opportunities at labs and local colleges can give high school students research experience that will help them identify academic interests and stand out in college applications. Whether a student is interested in medicine or journalism, reaching out to an organization for an internship opportunity can open doors in many professional industries.

How to get started!

Finalize your resume and write a cover letter expressing your interest in that field as well as your goals, strengths, and availability so that organizations can see how serious and dedicated you are from the moment you reach out. Have a teacher, counselor, or trusted contact in the field review your application before you submit it to give you valuable feedback!

Standardized Test Prep

If your summer vacation begins in May, and you are preparing for the June 1st SAT test date or the June 8th ACT test date, make sure you use your free time during the early summer season to take practice exams, meet with a tutor, and stay mentally prepared for testing. The best way to maximize your ACT and SAT scores is with test prep, and now is the time to get started with a tutor for help with preparation and developing a test-taking strategy. This month, IvyWise is offering a special for families who sign up for tutoring before April 30.

If you’re planning on taking your standardized test in September (ACT) or October (SAT), IvyWise recommends getting a head start the month before school starts so that students can brush up on material and start the semester strong.

How to get started!

Formulate a study plan, set goals, and commit time to studying every week. If you plan on taking your standardized tests in the fall, summer vacation is a great time to become familiar with the format, types of questions, and timing of these tests. You may wish to meet with a tutor to formulate a strategic plan for earning your goal score. But remember, you won’t put test preparation on your activity list for your college applications, so hopefully you will also engage deeply in one of your core interests during the summer.

Community Service

Use your summer vacation to spend more time on a meaningful community service project to which you may not have the time to sustain consistent commitment during the school year. Colleges and universities look favorably on applicants who have committed their time to one organization over a long period of time, and who have helped that organization grow, so expand your commitment and deepen your involvement during summer vacation.

How to get started!

Brainstorm with a parent, counselor, or service group coordinator about how you can make an impact over the summer. If you have raised money and supplies for schools abroad, deliver those resources in person and volunteer in the local community. If you help build houses for Habitat for Humanity once a week during the school year, volunteer everyday during the summer and initiate community outreach projects to raise more funds. By committing your summer to community service, you can help an organization close to your heart and use your summer wisely.

College Applications

The summer before senior year can be used to get a jumpstart on college applications and essays. Instead of trying to balance your senior year course load with all of the work that goes into completing applications, plan ahead and get started early. By the time fall rolls around, you can finalize your personal statement and application supplements, compile recommendations, and submit your applications with plenty of time to spare.

How to get started!

Work with your school or independent counselor to make a summer to-do list. Research schools that interested you online and record which materials are needed for each application. Work with your counselor to finalize your college list and start working on application essays.

Planning for summer can take a lot of thoughtful preparation, outreach, and applications, but using this time to commit to new projects will certainly help in the long run. If you need help planning a productive summer, our expert counselors can help you figure out the programs and projects that are right for you. Remember, summer vacation provides you with time to explore your interests, so choose activities, programs, or other pursuits at which you will excel and enjoy!

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