If you are an American high school student approaching your senior year, college applications are no doubt on your mind. Your junior year of high school is one of the busiest of all, and now that you’re done with the semester, it’s time to make use of your summer with a few impressive summer activities.
The right summer activities can be the deciding factor when it comes to college applications. Your academic scores are important, but your extracurriculars are what shows colleges your personality and passions. Summer activities (and essays) are what makes you stand out.
So how do you stand out among the millions of college applicants? In this post, you’ll learn about 11 impressive summer activities that will look good on your college application. Please note that I am not a professional, and all the information I put out is based on the experiences of students! But I hope this post will be helpful to you!
Before we start…
Note that for many of the activities below, it’s better to start early and stick with it long term rather than start a bunch of them in one summer. College admission officers can see right through your attempts to bulk up your resume, and I would avoid casting a large net the summer before college applications.
Instead, start one or two activities as early as possible. This could mean from the start of high school, or at the latest your junior year. If you’re currently a senior, I would recommend continuing an activity or project you’re already doing and making it better.
Start a nonprofit organization
One of the most popular choices among high school students is to start a nonprofit organization. This is because the process (though it can be costly) is relatively easy. You determine a purpose or goal, name your organization, and register it as a 501(c)(3).
However, I don’t recommend you start a nonprofit organization just to put it on your college applications. Colleges will see right through your act if it’s extrinsically motivated (if you don’t genuinely have a passion for your cause).
Instead, find a current issue you’re genuinely passionate about, and one that you want to do something to cause change. This can be something small and local, or even large and international.
Your organization can have various purposes, such as raising awareness, gathering funds, increasing communication, etc. You can also add your own twist and personality into the way you run your organization; perform music, paint commissions, design logos… these are all ways you can publicize your cause and gather donations.
Once you’re ready to really establish your organization, you’ll have to officially register it with your state. Please reference this page if you’re considering starting a nonprofit.
Start a profitable business
While a nonprofit organization is often created to better the community or world around us, a business is often for one’s own motives– whether it’s to share one’s passions and projects or to make money.
If you love creating something, you could try selling it on Shopify or Etsy. These platforms are not free to use and take a small percentage of your income, but if you’re serious about your small business, these investments are worth the outcome.
You can be as creative as you want when creating your products. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some examples of items you could sell:
- Resin charms
- Handmade jewelry
- Original stickers
- Digital planners
It can be difficult to grow your business at the beginning, but if you have unique and well-made products, customers will find you. Here’s a pro tip: products for fan bases (fans of a certain singer, TV show, etc) are very popular.
Having active social media channels is often helpful for small shop owners, and you can often join a community of them on Instagram! And you never know when one of your posts could go viral, bringing in lots of potential customers.
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Write & publish a book
If you’re an avid writer, this could be your passion project over the summer! Being a self-published author is a big deal, and colleges will no doubt be impressed by this project– especially if you get sales and good reviews of your book!
Unfortunately, I cannot help you write a good book. Writing a unique and engaging piece of text is difficult, but with inspiration, time, dedication, and repeated revising, you can produce an excellent book. If you’re seriously not sure where to start, don’t force it; wait for the inspiration to come.
If you already have a plan in mind and are ready to learn about self-publishing, check out Kindle Direct Publishing. KDP is Amazon’s free self-publishing service and allows you to publish your book onto the Kindle store.
If you’d like your book to appear in other stores as well, such as Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and more, check out Draft2Digital. This platform is also free and easy to use, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking to reach more people with your book.
Find an internship
Legitimate and relevant internships are hard to land as a high school student, which is why it’s all the more impressive to college application officers. They are also highly time and energy consuming, which could demonstrate your passion in a certain field.
Internships are a good choice of summer activity if you already know what field you’d like to pursue in college and beyond. This helps to narrow down potential internships and– if you already have some experience in the field– makes it easier to land one.
You can research internships on Chegg’s free Internship Search service, as well as on Indeed. You’re also encouraged to ask around your local universities and businesses, as some professors and business owners may be open to hiring interns to help them over the summer.
Don’t pick internships based on whether they’re paid or not (most of them, especially those hiring high school students, are unpaid). Instead, determine whether or not it’s relevant to your interest and will help you develop experience in the field.
If your internship goes well, you should have gained valuable experience working on a relevant project and formed a connection or friendship with your mentor during this internship. Connections are valuable for your life in and beyond college, so start forming them early!
Research is hard. It takes hundreds of hours and a lot of drive to conduct significant research and write a paper. It’s very difficult to do research yourself, which is why many students apply to research programs at universities, where mentors guide you through the process.
You can find many research programs online, but many require an application. You must show your interest and passion, as well as previous experience you may have.
Here are some of the most impressive summer research programs you can give a shot at:
- Research Science Institute
- Simons Summer Research Program
- Rockefeller Summer Science Research Program
- RISE Internship
You are also encouraged to use your connections to reach out to professors and other professionals for research opportunities. Don’t hesitate to ask around your community!
Create a documentary
If you’re interested in film, creating a documentary may be the perfect summer project to showcase your passion, skills, and personality.
Your documentary can feature anything you’d like. It can be a research-based one that teaches the audience about a certain little-known topic. It can be an educational one that raises awareness about a current issue. Or it can be a casual one that focuses on you!
If you have a topic you’re passionate about, and you are interested in filming and video editing, take some time over the summer to research, plan, film, and edit your documentary!
However, don’t forget that editing takes time and money. Though you don’t need advanced software like Final Cut Pro X or Adobe Premiere Pro to edit a nice video, there are certainly advantages. In addition, it will take a lot of altering (cutting, splicing, deleting) to make an engaging video. But if you have the time and passion, do it!
Code a program
Like filming a documentary, coding a program takes a lot of time and is best for experienced and interested students. If you’re pursuing a biology major, having a coding program on your resumé (though it won’t hurt you) won’t necessarily boost your application.
However, if you’re pursuing a computer science major, you might want to test out your skills and demonstrate your interest by creating your own computer program.
If you’re new to coding, there are many platforms where you can learn to code and do some beginner projects. Here are some resources:
Once you know the basics of coding, dive into a project that will solve real problems. If you’ve come across a problem before that you think can be solved by an algorithm or robot, try brainstorming it, prototyping it, and coding it!
Here are some additional resources to help you successfully prototype and code a real, working program:
- Figma (prototyping)
- Origami Studio (prototyping)
- Webflow (prototyping)
- Xcode (coding, Mac)
- Visual Studio (coding)
- Sublime Text (coding)
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Take a college course
Your academic stats show colleges your achievement and aptitude, which means what you’ve accomplished so far and what you’re capable of accomplishing in the future. By taking advanced classes, you’re demonstrating that you’re able to handle the pressure and workload of college.
Consider taking a college course at your local community college or university. Most colleges offer online or in-person classes for a few weeks, and you can choose one (or more) that are interesting to you.
College courses most often count for college credits as well, which means that you’ll be getting your course requirements out of the way early (if the class is a required one at the college you’ll be attending).
One important thing to note is that these courses are still advanced-level classes, so don’t expect to be able to slack off just because it occurs over the summer. Treat these classes just like those in your normal school year, and it will truly benefit you in the long run.
Volunteer in your community
Volunteering is a great way to leave an impact in your community, and if you do it consistently, colleges will see your passion and persistence. In addition, if you volunteer for enough time, you’ll be eligible for volunteering awards!
Any student can volunteer and make an impact in their community. You can find opportunities at local libraries, churches, small businesses, nonprofit organizations, schools, clubs, and more.
Over the summer, you will be less busy (in terms of academics) and therefore have more time to volunteer. Reach out to your connections and find somewhere to volunteer! It’s even better if the field you’re volunteering for is relevant to your major of interest; you should dedicate more time to it and show your passion.
Students in the United States who volunteer for enough time within a certain time frame are eligible for the President’s Volunteer Service Award (the PVSA). Here are the eligibility requirements for young adults (ages 16-25):
- Bronze: 100-174 hours within 12 months
- Silver: 175-249 hours within 12 months
- Gold: 250+ hours within 12 months
- Lifetime Achievement Award: 4000+ hours
If you qualify for an award, reach out to a local Certifying Organization (many registered nonprofit organizations are certified, but you should confirm first) and apply for the award. They will be the one to purchase and provide your award.
Find a summer job
Another productive way to make use of your summer is to find a job. This is just like landing an internship, but it’s often less specific to a certain interest and requires less skill and experience in a certain field.
There are many summer jobs you can find on Indeed, such as:
- Camp counseling
- Restaurant waiter
These jobs may not demonstrate your passion in a certain academic field, but it shows your ability to work well in a collaborative environment; it proves your work ethic and responsibility, which are great characteristics in any student!
Prepare for the SAT
Last but not least, you can prepare for the SAT or any other standardized test during the summer. Test scores are a big part of your college application, and you want to ensure that you’re going in prepared, ready to get the highest score you are capable of.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to sign up for a SAT prep class to get a good score on the exam. When I was a junior in high school, I self-studied completely and got a 1580 out of 1600. This is not to brag at all, and I’d just like to prove that self-studying does work.
If you’re not sure where to begin with self-studying for the SAT, here’s a highly comprehensive post that goes over each section and how to practice for each: How To Self Study For The SAT. These tips also work for tests like the ACT, so even if you’re not taking the SAT, I encourage you to check the post out!
The summer before your senior year is golden. It’s the ultimate time to get a few impressive summer activities onto your resume and maximize your chances of getting into your dream school. Leave a comment down below with what project you’d like to pursue this summer!
And if this post was helpful for you, check out these:
- College Prep Checklist For High School Upperclassmen
- How To Motivate Yourself To Study When You Don’t Feel Like It
- 7 Better Monthly Habits Of The Smartest Students