Use Your Summer Break to Explore an Interest, Learn, And Get a Head Start on College Applications
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.
While summer programs on college campuses can be a great experience if they’re a good fit, not every student can send 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!
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 helping them to advocate for admission.
Need help figuring out what to read this summer? Here's a list of books and publications to consider.
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 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.
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 in 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.
While we don’t recommend 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 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, writing, and editing will exercise the brain, while setting 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.
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!