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College Bound

What Should I Do With My Summer?

Most high school students look forward to summer as a well-deserved break from the intense deadlines of school. Yet college applications loom ahead—crying out for a well-organized jump-start. Good news! The recommendations below allow fun-in-the-sun while also crossing off important college prep to-do's.

  • Do what you love.
    Admission officers see through carefully orchestrated summer programs undertaken to impress them. Summer is a great time to dive deeper into your true interests. Students who find a passion and know how to make something happen around it naturally stand out from the crowd.


  • Push yourself. 
    Growth is the heart of the college experience, so admission officers look for students with the confidence to take risks. Besides doing what makes you happy, also step outside your comfort zone. Consider summer an opportunity to try new things and perhaps you'll discover a new passion! If you're focused on a tried-and-true interest, pursue it in a different way and take on new leadership roles.


  • Take time to reflect.
    Even if you climb Mt. Everest over the summer, what admission officers really care about in those upcoming essays and interviews is what you get out of that experience. What did you learn about YOURSELF? HOW did you overcome obstacles? If you love something, WHY? Keep a journal to jot down ideas and details now that you'll want to remember later.


  • Get to know colleges.
    Websites offer basic information about admissions stats, academic departments, and extracurriculars. Also look for student blogs or newspapers that open a window into day-to-day campus culture. Create a system (a chart, a spreadsheet, a notebook, whatever works for you) to track what you do and don't like about schools. Start narrowing in on where you'd like to visit and sign up for email notifications of open houses, visiting days, etc.


  • Take stock of your résumé.
    Create a complete list of your honors, awards, and extracurriculars dating back to ninth grade. Be sure to note the years, leadership positions, and hours per week. This activity can be surprisingly fun—brainstorm at a family barbecue to celebrate you. Sometimes students forget all the things they have achieved, but proud parents remember!


  • Plan fall tests.
    Have you signed up for your SAT subject tests? Are you retaking the SAT? Are you taking the ACT with writing? It doesn't take much time to register online and mark your calendar. Then you can plan your study program before the dates sneak up.


See? There's definitely time for weary students to recharge over the summer before heading into a hectic senior year—and to make headway on their college prep checklist too.

Deena Maerowitz specializes in college and graduate school advising. She can be reached at