This week, we continue our series on Getting Ready to Apply with a spotlight on summer activities.
One college application I looked at recently asked the student I was working with to detail what he had done each summer while in high school. Somehow we knew that hanging around with friends and playing pick-up basketball or going to the local pool just wasn’t what the college was looking for. Knowing this in advance—we are speaking to you, parents of ninth graders—will help you work with your child to plan significant summer activities, which not only are useful when it is time to fill out college applications, but also help make your child’s out-of-school life richer and more meaningful.
If your child needs to work in the summer to help support the family, then that has to come first. But, hopefully, there will be some time when he or she can also engage in some of the activities we are going to discuss here. If your child is looking at a selective college, then summer should not be viewed as a time to rest, but rather as a time for your child to follow some interest or refine some talent or learn some new thing or do some good for others. While we cannot provide an exhaustive list of every possible summer activity, we can offer broad categories of the more common ones.
1. High School and College Study
Ever since high schools became a part of our public schooling in the U.S., some students have gone to “summer school.” Often, those were students who needed to retake classes they had failed during the school year. However, there were others who went to summer school to get ahead so that they could take more advanced or different courses during the school year. Accelerated or enriched high school study in the summer is a time-honored tradition and would be a very reasonable summer activity, from a college’s point of view.
But, even better, would be study at a college. U.S. colleges have more summer programs than you can count for reasonably bright and/or interested high school students. Some courses are part of full-time residential programs on the campus; others are not. Unlike taking free high school courses, courses at a college can be expensive; but, fortunately, scholarships are often available.
How do you find a college course? Look up colleges in your hometown to see what they offer. Or look up out-of-town colleges that your child might be interested in attending, because a summer course is a great way to get to know a campus. Or look up college courses for high school students by subject field—such as courses or programs in engineering, music, etc.
To take one example, Cornell University has a broad array of summer courses that high school students can take for three weeks or six weeks—and earn college credit for—in fields as different as veterinary medicine, social change, biological research, literature, government, computer science, art, business, and architecture. In addition to all those, Cornell’s College of Engineering runs two intensive one-week programs—The CURIE Academy for girls who excel in math and science and CATALYST for students of ethnic and racial backgrounds that are underrepresented in the fields of engineering, math, and science—as well as the six-week Cornell Engineering Experience for students who excel in math and science.
To take another example, if your child is drawn to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Hampton University in Virginia offers about a dozen summer programs for high school students—some residential, some not. For students from New York, going to a summer program at Hampton is a great way to experience life at an HBCU in a lovely and very different geographical setting.
A final note: If your high school does not offer students the opportunity to take college courses of any kind during the school year, then a course taken at a college in the summer—especially one that earns college credit—would be a particularly attractive option for your child. Being able to say on a college application that you have already taken and succeeded in a college course somewhere at some time is, obviously, an advantage.
For families that are interested in sending students outside the U.S. to study in the summer, there are certainly many programs to be had, with individual colleges sponsoring many of them and offering college credit for the classes students take while abroad. While these programs are understandably pricey, scholarships can be had. This is almost an irresistible summer combination—college study and seeing the world. Great for college applications and great for life!
2. Family Travel
We have found that quite a few students in New York City have close family connections in other countries, often in the country that their parents emigrated from. Many of these students go home to these countries during the summer to visit relatives for several weeks or more, often making it difficult for students to engage in other kinds of summer activities set up by their schools or in their local communities. Students can take advantage of these family trips—for example, by keeping up with a native or second language, by visiting cultural sites, or by working in a family business—and find something interesting to write about on their college applications.
Other families might take a short trip to a different part of the U.S. or to a different country near or far. As always, giving students a close look at important historical sites or art museums or architecturally magnificent churches or geologic wonders makes it possible for them to write in more detail and more interestingly about these summer vacations on their college applications.
3. Internships and Volunteer Work
We talked a lot about internships and volunteer work in our last episodes. We made the case then that engaging in internships and/or volunteer work lets a college know that a student is responsible and dependable, takes initiative, and, depending on the assignment, cares about others. From the student’s side, an internship or volunteer assignment helps the student explore career interests and potential college majors.
As we said, summer is a great time to talk with local church youth groups about mission trips to nearby or far away urban or rural areas in or outside of the U.S. where teenagers can do a host of volunteer jobs for the young, the old, the sick, or the homeless—from cleaning up a park to repainting a house to playing games to serving a hot lunch to reading aloud. Having teenagers do work that helps others, while under the supervision of caring adults, is a win for everyone.
Summer is also a great time to think about politics. It seems these days that there is always an upcoming election, even if it is really more than a year away. Local, state, and national office-seekers can use plenty of extra hands to stuff envelopes, put up posters, and get signatures on petitions. Media-savvy teenagers can often reach out to voters in ways that older adults do not even entirely understand. It’s a powerful way to learn about American government and political science firsthand.
Summer is also a great time to pursue a volunteer assignment in a hospital or nursing home. Many high school students—and indeed college students—interested in attending medical school and pursuing a career in medicine look for these volunteer opportunities, so students should not wait too long to line up this kind of assignment.
Summer internships—in which a student has a chance to try out a future career field, under the mentorship of a successful individual already working in the field—are even harder to get than volunteer assignments, so students need to start looking for those in the early, early spring. Parents, remember that high schoolers will be in competition with college students for internships in many career fields, which makes an early search even more important.
4. Community Activities
In our earlier episode entitled “Activities, Activities, Activities,” we talked about the many kinds of community activities that students might engage in during the school year, but most of them are likely to be available in the summer, too—from community sports teams to community theater productions to programs at community centers or local museums. Some of these—like sports teams and theater productions—require some talent and skill, but others might be more educational and easier to join. All of them are productive uses of a student’s free time in the summer, and all of these would be good summer activities to write about on college applications.
Listen to the podcast to find out about…
- More summer study programs for high school students
- How to turn a part-time job into a rewarding internship experience
- Getting high school credit for an internship
Check out these higher education institutions and programs we mention…
In New York State
- Cornell University
- Cornell University CATALYST Academy
- Cornell’s College of Engineering
- Cornell University CURIE Academy
- SummerOnCampus.com: Summer Camps & Summer Programs at Colleges in NYS
- Telluride Association
- Telluride Association Sophomore Seminar
- Telluride Association Summer Program for Juniors
Outside of New York State
- Hampton University (Virginia)
- Telluride Association (multiple locations)
- Telluride Association Sophomore Seminar (multiple locations)
- Telluride Association Summer Program for Juniors
- National Hispanic Institute Great Debate (multiple locations)
- Villanova University (Pennsylvania)
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- Reviewing parent materials we have available at Policy Studies in Education
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