Spring is fast approaching…which means it’s time to think ahead to summer!  For high school students, summer represents a break from an intense academic schedule, and the opportunity to engage in a new world. You have an array of options –whether it’s immersing yourself in the culture of another country, taking courses on topics not available at your school, conducting research in a lab, participating in internships, or performing community service.  Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a great fit for your interests and future goals.  Here are a variety of objectives you can fulfill through your summer activities.

Do Your Summer Experiences Really Matter?

From the perspective of college admissions, your choice of summer activity – and what you gain from the experience – can communicate volumes about your potential to enhance the college campus.  But keep in mind that there does not exist one “right” choice of summer activity; the “best” choice for you depends on a variety of factors, based on your interests, needs and goals.

Goals for Your Summer Activities

In planning your summer, it’s best to begin by identifying what you want to accomplish. Would you like to use your time to further develop an existing passion, find a new one, or take time to recharge? Here’s an overview of several different ways to approach these decisions.

Deepen an existing interest

As you make your summer plans, consider the activities you have pursued during your high school academic years and summers.  Have you enjoyed these activities? Would you like to further your involvement? Many students find that the summer enables them to continue to explore an existing interest, deepen their knowledge, and confirm their dedication to this activity.


Natalie conducted science research in organic chemistry at Columbia University, and won a variety of awards at regional science competitions.   Carrying out this extensive research, taking summer science courses at Columbia, and shadowing doctors confirmed her interest in pursuing medicine as a career.  She became a pre-med major at Cornell University, and currently attends New York University School of Medicine.

Students can also use the summer to test out academic interests as possible career paths.


Michael loved the business courses he took in sophomore and junior year, especially those in accounting.  During the following summer, he worked at a men’s retail business in London, arranged through the Summer Discovery Program.  His budgeting work confirmed his desire to pursue business, and he is now at Lehigh University’s College of Business and Economics.

It may also be possible to combine a few goals during the summer.


Amanda was passionate about her art.  Her goal was to attend a top art program at a university.  She also wanted to earn spending money for college.  During the summer, she worked at an ice cream shop, took art classes, and created art in a variety of genres to submit as an Art Portfolio with her college applications.  She is now attending the Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan.

Explore a new interest

Other students, however, use the summer in the opposite, though equally valid, way: they pursue a new interest in order to explore this field as a potential major, minor, or even career.


Adam especially enjoyed his classes in math and drawing, and wondered if architecture could be a way to combine these passions.  He decided to test this out by taking an intensive six-week “Introduction to Architecture” course at Cornell University.  He found that both the subject matter and the intensity of the all-night work sessions appealed to him. He enrolled in the Architecture School at Washington University in St. Louis and won awards for sustainability projects that incorporated his architectural knowledge.

Some students use the summer to plunge into a totally new area.


Steven had excelled in a traditional academic curriculum in high school dominated by the five core subjects. He decided to use the summer to branch out and take courses in entirely new areas. At Oxbridge Academic Programs, he took an interdisciplinary course on Philosophy: Of Mind and Morals that changed his life.  He was exposed to behavioral economics and began to read voraciously about this relatively new field that combined psychology and economics. He is now committed to studying interdisciplinary areas, and is particularly interested in pursuing the Biological Basis of Behavior, and Philosophy, Politics, and Economics programs at Penn.

At the same time, a summer experience in which you realize that a particular field is not for you can be just as valuable.


Kristen worked in a local retail store during the summer after junior year because she thought she would like to major in business.  While her responsibilities working with customers and helping with purchasing did not appeal to her, she loved writing blogs.  She is now a Psychology major at University of Southern California, and seeks a career in social media analytics.

Take a break: re-connect and refresh

For other students, the best use of summer is to reconnect with friends socially and enjoy the continuity of deepening ongoing relationships.


Stacey spent the ten months of every school year in anticipation of attending her summer sleep-away camp. Although her parents felt it might be useful for her to vary her summer activities, Stacey’s strong preference to cap off her eight years at summer camp by serving as a counselor after sophomore year prevailed.  That summer was an enormous growth opportunity for her, as she learned how to be responsible for younger campers and serve as a role model. As a result of her experiences, she decided that she wanted to work with children as a career, and is majoring in Psychology and Early Childhood Education at Tulane.

Some students use the summer to refresh themselves by exploring a totally novel environment.


Li Na grew up in a suburb of Shanghai China, and was eager to attend college in the United States.  She had always been adventurous, and wanted a refreshing break after her intense junior year.  After evaluating many options of summer programs, she decided to spend a month in Montana as part of Visions Service Adventures, which combined outdoor activities such as white water rafting with community service work helping the elderly.  She was delighted to discover that she had much in common with the other international students. Her travel experience helped her decide to attend a college with a strong commitment to a diverse student body and extensive study abroad programs, and is now a sophomore at New York University.

Fulfill academic or financial responsibilities

For some students, summer is a time to fulfill obligations. These can include taking additional coursework to lighten your load during the year or qualify for higher-level courses, being responsible for the care of younger siblings, or earning money.

Rewards of Summer Activities

Summer activities offer many potential rewards, and will help develop your self-awareness in terms of your personality, preferences, strengths, and interests. As you function independently in an environment outside your home, you may have the chance to solve problems, make decisions, develop resilience and responsibility, and learn how to manage your time.  If you work with others, you can also strengthen your skills in collaboration and teamwork. In addition, stimulating activities help your brain develop, especially through the teen years!  According to Dr. Jay Giedd, researcher at NIH:

“Use it or lose it! If a teen is doing music or sports or academics, those are the cells and connections that will be hardwired. If they’re lying on the couch or playing video games or MTV, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive.”

Finally, your summer activities may also provide you with some powerful admissions essay topics!  Deciding on the best summer activities for you involves juggling many factors.  As always, we’re here to help!