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It’s that time of the year again. School is out, the temperature is rising, and the entirety of summer vacation is looming large in front of you. The turning of the calendar to June can mean only one thing for high school students: College application season is right around the corner.
Now, whether you’re just getting ready to enter high school (and college still feels far away) or you’re a rising senior who is going to start applying over summer break, you have three months of no school and more than enough free time.
That means you’ve got no excuses for being productive while still having a relaxing, enjoyable summer. Don’t believe me? Here are six things you can do now that can enrich your college applications and maximize summer vacation without making you feel like you’re all work and no play.
Working is an obvious but excellent way to spend summer vacation. Sure, it’s a great way to earn spending money (or future tuition money), but it’s also an opportunity to discover new interests, learn valuable skills, and make connections. Research opportunities that inspire or excite you. For example, If you love grabbing coffee at your favorite café in the mornings, you can apply to be a barista. Always eyeing the latest trends? Become an employee at your favorite retail outlet.
If those don’t feel quite your speed and you have a skill you can capitalize on, consider starting a freelance business. Become a local babysitter, nanny, or yard worker. Create social media posts for a local boutique. Start a Poshmark shop and start thrifting vintage clothes.
Starting your own business teaches responsibility, time management, marketing, and self-promotion, among other things. And while you’re raking in the paychecks, you’ll also be showing college admission officers that you’re someone who’s not afraid to work hard to make your visions come to life, achieve your goals, and can manage their free time well.
A summer spent volunteering in your community will make you look and feel golden. Not only does volunteering benefit (and leave a lasting impact on) others, but you can also learn a lot about yourself and what you love to do.
There are tons of ways to volunteer, even if you’re young or don’t have a car You could find a local shelter, food bank, or thrift shop who needs help and contribute that way. Or you can build on the skills and talents you have. Maybe you can tutor kids in summer school, or write about local businesses in a community magazine. Volunteer at the hospital to see if you’re really as interested in the medical field as you thought, or offer your party planning services for an area fundraiser and see if that’s a potential career path for you.
One thing is for sure: No matter where you go or what you do, your volunteer service is always appreciated and does make a difference.
Now, you want to volunteer because you want to, not because you have to in order to get into NHS or a college. Still, college admission officers look for students they know will enthusiastically get involved in their campus community and make their college or university a better place regardless of financial gain.
Volunteering shows them you’re driven, motivated, and curious — all great things to show on your application. (And you might even develop some new skills and interests along the way, which is another win!)
The beauty of summertime is the abundant amount of spare time thrust upon you. So don’t squander it! Instead, make the most of it by trying something new. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try or learn? Then do it! Take that photography course. Begin crafting. Start an Etsy shop. Create a YouTube channel. Log on to Coursera and take a free course. Or check out College MatchPoint’s list of summer programs for high school students. The possibilities are endless!
A creative project often blossoms into an excellent addition to your portfolio or resume. You may find you’re great at something unexpected (like graphic design) or you may find a whole new community of friends at the weekly farmer’s market where you sell your jewelry. And isn’t that better than sleeping in until 2 every day? (Admission officers probably think so!)
This one may surprise you, but traveling (and the experiences you have while doing so) can enhance your college application (and can be a fun way to maximize your summer vacation). Traveling allows you to broaden your horizons and gain new perspectives. You’ll experience different cultures and return home with newfound wisdom.
When sifting through applications, college admission officers are looking for curious students who are open to new ideas and embrace cultures, beliefs, and experiences that are different from what they’re used to.
And you never know — travel stories can also inspire some great essays. Did you get lost on the streets of Venice and found something amazing along the way? Did you have the chance to make chocolate in Belgium and get in touch with your creative side? Heck, maybe you even had a revelation at the Buc-ees convenience store driving from Houston to Dallas. Wherever you go and whatever you do, be open to new experiences and people. It’ll absolutely make you a stronger applicant.
As much as we hate to say it (and you to hear it), devoting time to ACT/SAT preparation can be a valuable way to spend the summer, especially for rising juniors and seniors. With no school, you can save more time polishing your testing skills and improving your scores.
True, many schools are still test-optional, and some are even test-blind. Still, a good ACT or SAT score may improve your chances of getting into a highly competitive school (even if they’re test-optional). But they’re good for other reasons, too. Some schools still use test scores as a way to award merit money, and a few points higher on your test could earn you some serious cash. Other schools use test scores to place you in the right math or English classes and save you from having to take entry-level courses.
So don’t dismiss the importance of a solid ACT/SAT score. If this is something you want to work on, check out “The Compass Guide to College Admission Testing” — a free guide full of valuable information on the ACT, SAT, PSAT, AP Exams, and more.
Lastly, but not any less important, take time to rest. Applying for college can be a challenging task. Gathering information on the last 17-18 years of your life, contemplating where you want to spend your next four years, and anxiously awaiting an acceptance is exhausting.
So one last way to maximize your summer vacation is to be kind to yourself. Take time to rest, relax, and spend time doing the things you love — with the people you enjoy being around. If you find yourself feeling stressed and overwhelmed, check out these stress-relieving tips. They may help you find your balance.
Sure, your glorious summer vacation is the time to relax and enjoy a break from the demands of school. But you can also maximize your summer vacation by taking advantage of some opportunities that will support your future plans. While each of these tasks is simple, they’ll significantly enrich your summer vacation and your college applications.
About the Author
Samantha “Sam” Nordstrom is a writer, photographer, and journalism student at Colorado State University. Her work has been published in College Avenue Magazine, Culturs Magazine, NoCo Now, and the Museum of Art Fort Collins. When she’s not working or traveling the world, you’ll find her at home in Colorado, hiking the Rockies or discovering the best thrifting and coffee shops. To see more from Sam, visit her website at www.samanthanordstrom.com.