Summer Activities to Boost Your College Applications

Chase Yano
December 28, 2023

Summer break is a welcome relief from schoolwork and a time for friends, Netflix, video games, and doing nothing. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be productive during this time of year, especially with regard to your college application. In this blog post, we’ll discuss different ways to strengthen your application during high school summer, but first, let’s talk about who exactly should be using their vacation for activities other than binge watching old reality TV shows (my personal favorite recently is Beauty and the Geek). If you need 1-1 counseling, learn about our admissions counseling program and how we can help. Dewey Smart has the Best College Application Tutors.

Who and Why

Universities are becoming increasingly selective, so putting in effort to make yourself stand out from the crowd is becoming more vital than ever. Your junior year high school summer is undoubtedly the most important summer for application-boosting activities, for it is the most recent before you ultimately apply. Likewise, this high school summer is the one in which you will be at your greatest academic and general maturity. Despite the importance of this particular summer, the summers before junior year shouldn’t be overlooked. Applicants dedicated to the process of getting into a selective college also benefit from the pursuits we are about to discuss during their freshman and sophomore summers.

High School Summer Programs

The first high school summer activities we’ll discuss is official summer programs, which are usually offered by universities or corporations. These programs can be very selective and feature an application process similar to that of college admissions, with supplemental essays and teacher recommendations. Most programs involve staying somewhere for the summer along with other students, but there are remote options as well.

To find a high school summer program suitable for you, you first want to decide what kind of programs to which you would like to apply. The primary factor in this decision is looking for programs that are in the field you wish to pursue in college. If you aren’t completely sure about what you want to major in, find a program that falls into the same branch of studies that you are planning on pursuing. For example, you might not know whether you want to be a physics or a computer science major, but a STEM camp will nonetheless demonstrate scientific proficiency and a demonstrated passion in the field. If you have no idea what you want to study, then look for camps that fit together narratively with your present extracurricular activities.

Another factor to consider is whether a college that you are interested in going to offers a summer program. Oftentimes, these high school summer programs allow you to get in direct contact with staff at a university, including admissions officers. Besides being able to interact directly with admissions staff, the interaction that you would have with professors could open the door to recommendations that could be very helpful to your application to that particular school.

Once you find a high school summer program that you’re interested in, the next step is to find out how much it costs. A typical rule of thumb for determining whether a summer program is worth your time is to see whether or not it is free, or very cheap. Typically, high school summer programs that are highly regarded have adequate funds not to charge their students exorbitant fees, so if you find yourself considering a program that charges in the thousands for participation, then you can rest easy knowing that this program probably isn’t worth your time—or money. Instead, look for programs that cover most of the costs for participants, as these are more well-known by universities and are more likely to be useful to both your academic and applicational goals.

Speaking from personal experience, the summer program route is not feasible for everybody. I was rejected from all eight programs I applied to during my junior year summer, but I still consider the process of applying to have been useful to my college application journey. Overall, as previously mentioned, the application processes associated with many of these programs mirror that of the college application process. Therefore, even if you don’t get into any programs, you still have gained valuable experience and (reusable!) essays that will prepare you for college applications.

Local Research as Summer Activities

Let’s transition from selective national programs to more accessible opportunities that one can find locally. The first of these opportunities would be to perform research at a college close to you. To get involved, you first should check to see if the schools near you have any established procedures for high school students to conduct research on their campus. If they do, then follow whatever directions they have. More likely, you will have to cold email professors asking if they would take you on as a research assistant. Search the university website for the emails of professors who are doing research in a field you are interested in. Even if you have no research experience, don’t be afraid to shoot your shot with dozens of professors. There are many professors who are supportive of young, passionate students in their field and who would be glad to have you join them for the summer. Moreover, at the end of the day, you’re offering free labor, so you’re an asset no matter what.

Personal Projects as Summer Activities

If you know what you want to study in college, the high school summer is a perfect time to create or contribute to your portfolio. For humanities students, potential projects include research essays, poems, and blogs. Likewise, a STEM-oriented student may elect to design a mobile app or a small invention using CAD software. Regardless of what you want to do, these projects will contribute to your application by producing materials that you can present to universities. In addition to showing your skills, having viewable projects humanizes you to application officers as they get to know you even better.

Community Service as Summer Activities

The opportunities discussed thus far require you to have a specified field of interest that you wish to delve into over the summer. For those without these set interests or those with a passion for helping others, community service is also a valuable high school summer pursuit. By electing to serve your community over the summer, it demonstrates to colleges that you have a dedication to helping others and have experience in the interpersonal skills associated with this kind of activity.

Furthermore, one can choose to either participate in an established community service endeavor by seeking out local opportunities at school or online. However, a form of community service that is more time-consuming but more fruitful is to organize a group to perform community service. This can be as small as regularly getting together with friends to pick up trash at the beach and can be as large as establishing a nonprofit organization to raise funds for and awareness about a cause you believe in. Either way, you’ll be gaining valuable experience that you can put on your resume for college.

Work as Summer Activities

An often overlooked and underrated extracurricular activity is a job! While this doesn’t seem like a traditional extracurricular activity, it is a necessity for some whose parents aren’t able to support them entirely. Even if you just want to make some extra money, having a job demonstrates work ethic, discipline, and teamwork skills. Above all, it shows that you have the capacity to dedicate yourself to a significant time commitment outside of school.

Essays as Summer Activities

Finally, as a rising senior, it is a great idea to use the summertime to begin work on your essays for the impending application season. Particularly, I recommend getting at least a draft of your personal statement done so that once the school year starts, you only have to focus on writing supplemental essays rather than the long personal statement.


Most importantly, remember that high school summer vacation is just that: a vacation. So, don’t feel obligated to spend your summer grinding away at these activities if it would significantly impede your mental health; this comes before all else. Just try your best to spend your time learning and improving yourself personally while allowing time for rest, and good things will come!

If you would like to talk about how to make the most of your summer with a Dewey Smart tutor, you can do so here: Dewey Smart

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