“Don’t use a pebble to kill a pigeon; use a boulder to destroy a vulture nest.”
Now that 96% of colleges are SAT and ACT optional, high school summer extracurriculars are so much more important. It used to be that you could get good grades, get a 1570 on the SAT, take a million and one AP and IB classes, and that would be enough to get into a school like UCLA or University of Michigan. However, colleges are beginning to prioritize depth and diversity of experience over pure academic excellence. The bottom line: if you want to get into Harvard, Stanford, or Princeton— start spending your summers wisely.
If you are already a sophomore or junior in high school you need to look at more serious opportunities like participating in research projects or landing an internship. Dewey Smart has a guaranteed internship match program for high school students looking for a remote internship.
I’ve compiled a list of 6 thematic high school summer extracurriculars for Freshmen and Sophomores you can do to maximize your two months of summer.
Amazingly, one student got into some of the best universities by being the best Elvis impersonator— winning numerous state-wide and nation-wide competitions, performing at cruises and shows and volunteering at hospitals. This is one great example of high school summer extracurriculars.
Let’s say you’re the best juggler in Southern California. What does this do for you?
I’m not good at anything! How am I going to become the best?
What is your talent? Playing the violin? Making scarves? Writing poetry? Mentoring younger children?
I started volunteering because my mom basically forced me to. I helped out at the library (albeit unwillingly) and stamped little children’s reading cards. Then in middle school, my mom made me volunteer at my church. I hated it— at first. I was atrocious at getting kids to do anything. One kid started screaming cuss words and throwing pool balls at people and it almost hit another kid in the head. Then he crawled under a table and wouldn’t come out!
I did this job for 5 years. I taught and mentored the same children the whole time and I watched them grow up. It was an invaluable experience— not just for college essays, but also for me.
Travel can supplement your student resume, but be careful not to just be listing your vacations. In order to use travel for your college essay or other parts of the application, you need to consider high impact and meaningful travel. The point of going to an unfamiliar place is to become more cultured, more conscious of global issues and the human experience, more inspired, and put yourself outside of your comfort zone. Think about ways that travel can shape you and your ways of thinking.
In high school, I went to Taiwan twice to teach English during the summer of my sophomore and junior year. The experiences from these 2 trips became significant topics for my college essays. I got to teach and become friends with students who were from so many different backgrounds: some who lived in rural areas, some who were from the city, and many who had different religions. It challenged me in many ways and represented a big turning point in my life.
Before you decide to go to a new place, consider two things. First, are you able to demonstrate a long-term commitment to the place? Second,, do you have a connection to the environment? Is this your cultural/family heritage? Is there a specific reason you care about the people there? Emphasizing your connection and commitment to the place shows that it had a genuine impact on your life and wasn't just a one-time service trip.
In high school, I started writing poetry on allpoetry.com. I ended up writing over 300 poems and starting a poetry club from that passion. When I think back on it, it might’ve been cool to try and publish a poetry collection. The point is, that there are some things you can do without anyone else if you just set your mind to it. If you need some inspiration, check out our list of the 20 most unique extracurricular activities and our guide to creating your own passion project.
This is a crucial one. Every single student accepted into Harvard University displays this attribute— at the highest level. Initiative means to go out and do what other people are afraid to do. In other words, they make their high school summer extracurriculars count.
Start a business. Start a fitness club. Start a music program. Lead a karate class for elementary kids. The reason why you should start in the summer is because you won’t have time when school starts and you get caught up in homework, clubs, and other activities.
The part where people often fail is in making their initiative successful. After you start your business, club, organization or nonprofit, you have to make it grow— get at least 50 members. 100 is even better. Yes, it’s difficult, and 95% of us won’t be able to do it. However, I’m willing to make this bet: that even though 95% won’t accomplish it, 95% have the capacity to.
This is probably the most undervalued, yet reliable way to get into top level universities. Every university has two primary goals:
Gaining skills and experience in a career or researching in the field you’re interested in helps universities to further that goal. As a freshman and sophomore, you won’t be expected to know how to conduct statistical analyses on multivariable datasets or how to apply thermodynamics to a combustion engine. However, you can start reading books, building relationships with professors, and developing an interest in an academic field.
Don’t do leadership camps. Practically speaking, there are a thousand better ways to develop leadership in a more subtle and applicable manner. If you’re in the robotics club, you can work your way up to be a lead engineer or vice president. If you’re volunteering in an organization, you can demonstrate leadership and get selected to the board of volunteers. Draft a plan to get elected as your school’s class president. Take your chess club to a state tournament and inspire your team members.
One student at my high school who got into Dartmouth started a COVID talent show when the pandemic started to get people to feel connected despite being online. She also organized protests and political walkout events to express her voice on LGBTQ and mental health awareness.
The key point: if your goal is to develop a skill like leadership, maximize your time by developing your passion and that skill at the same time. Don’t use a pebble to kill a pigeon.
Use a boulder to destroy a vulture nest.
This was a quick list of ways to improve your college resumé through summer activities. Its more important than ever to have unique extracurriculars that help you stand out. When you can't find any high school summer extracurriculars, try Dewey Smart’s Internship Match Program: