Summer activities that can help you get into college

Student working at flower shop over summer

No matter which of these options you choose, if you focus on being productive this summer you’ll find yourself in a better position come time for college admissions.

Use this summer to take advantage of your down time and find fun, productive activities that can help you get into college. You have many options—here are a few of the more effective ones.

Getting a job

College admission boards look for students who show initiative and commitment. One way to display both—while also earning some extra cash—is to land a summer job. Whether you’re pitching in for household costs or saving up for college, the money you earn is a good reminder of why you’re going to college in the first place: to start a career and be successful when you graduate. Plus, a summer job looks great on your resume and college applications.

Finding work that aligns with your passions and interests turns an ordinary job into a real opportunity—so does the way you approach it. Use this time to develop solid relationships with your boss and coworkers. Talk to them and let them know why you’re working during the summer. Fill them in on your collegiate goals. Doing so can open up doors for a position next summer, a part-time job during college, or even a paid internship down the road.

Plus, having a boss you’re on good terms with gives you a go-to college recommendation—or even a job recommendation—when the time comes. This isn’t just a summer job, it’s the beginning of a long-term investment in your future. Take the job seriously, especially if you’re lucky enough to get hired by a company that shares your passions. Who knows—you could be an executive there one day.

Volunteering in your community

While it doesn’t have the paid benefits of employment, volunteering is rewarding in many other ways. First, it’s a great way to follow your passions and interests, something college boards really like to see. Second, you’ll feel good about yourself by giving back to the community and helping others. Third, your high school may offer academic credits for volunteering, so be sure to check with your school counselor for any suggestions they might have.

But more than that, volunteer work builds character and skill sets that you will use in college and beyond. Leadership, compassion, drive—these are all verifiable traits volunteers can list in their college application essays. Look for opportunities with organizations and causes that you feel passionate about, maybe even enough to make your career one day. You can also use this time to practice a foreign language or develop people skills, depending on where you choose to lend your time. And the people you work with? You guessed it—great college recommendation opportunities.

Attending summer learning programs

College prep courses—commonly called summer learning programs—are traditionally offered for high school juniors and seniors with GPAs of 2.0 or higher, though different colleges might have additional requirements. These programs can give you a taste of the college experience, and some will even offer college credits upon completion.

Summer learning programs can range anywhere from one week to two months, and some offer on-campus housing options. There are summer learning programs for a wide variety of concentrations—from art to zoology—so this is the good way to get a feel for whatever major you’ve been contemplating.

Some programs can be a bit expensive, but financial aid and scholarships may be available, and there are also federally funded summer learning programs that are typically more affordable or even free. Check to see if your state is one of the 21 to offer Governor’s School programs, or—if you are the first in your family to attend college or meet certain income requirements—Upward Bound may be a good option.

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