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How to Find Summer Activities for College Applications

Picture of Renee Roush
By Renee Roush on February, 10 2023 | 7 minute read
How to Find Summer Activities for College Applications

Planning for the summer means booking trips, organizing get-togethers, and scheduling some well-deserved beach time. But for most students preparing for college applications, it also means spending time exploring extracurricular activities. Here's our list on how to find the best summer activities for college applications.

Late winter and very early spring are the prime times to start thinking about how to make your summer useful. But, if you Google similar questions to the ones below, you'll likely yield millions of links:

  • How to spend my summer in high school?
  • Best summer programs for high school students?

For most of us, it feels nearly impossible to look at a list like Google’s and find the two or three that actually contain valuable suggestions, much less sit down to implement a plan. Instead of nine million clickable links, we’re hoping you’ll find a nugget of advice below that will send you in the general direction of an awesome summer experience.

Table of Contents


The Importance of Summer Break in College Applications

Family vacations are important, and so are pool parties, weekends at the beach, and taking much-needed time for self-care. But I’ll admit, when I hear that a student’s summer plans consist of a family vacation, sleeping in, and their week at camp, I am a little disappointed. If a student is wondering how to make their summer life-changing and memorable, or if they’re wondering, “How can I differentiate myself from other college applicants?” the answer is this: use your summer to intentionally craft your story

When an admissions selection committee is reviewing an application, they often ask questions such as:

  • Is this student missing from our campus?
  • Do I want this applicant as a roommate?
  • Do I want them in my sorority?

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve closed an application and wished I could have a cup of coffee with that student, or hear their perspective in a class discussion. Colleges have plenty of applicants with a strong curriculum and stellar academic performance, but do they have a student who found a summer job based on their passion for equestrian? One who studied an ancient language and built a website to promote it? Do they have a student who started a successful lawn mowing business, or who ran their own research project at a local university? Colleges are looking for students with varied perspectives and unique personalities because they’re building a community that will enjoy four life-changing years together.  


Extracurriculars on the College Application

A college application is more than a list of grades and classes. The objective information included on your transcript and (sometimes) test scores is only the beginning of the story. The rest is crafted by a student’s experiences, character, and values. It’s woven during the time between classes, the weekends, the afternoons, and the holidays. It’s written by your memories, hardships, and your family traditions. Your fortunate readers - Admissions Officers - get to learn all that you share about your journey and figure out how it fits in among the thousands of applications that the college receives each year.

One of my favorite literature genres is biography, and I’ve read biographies by all kinds of folks,  from famous people like Alexander Hamilton to everyday folks like Tara Westover. Now, imagine opening a biography and finding only a high school transcript! You wouldn’t learn much at all about their lives, would you? College applications are telling an admissions office the biography of your own life, so it makes sense that the essays, activities, recommendations, and honors you’ve received throughout high school are equally as important as the grade you earned in AP Calc. So if we’re thinking beyond the transcript, then one of the most critical times you have in high school to write your high school tale is during your summer break.


Where to Find Summer Activities for College Applications

Here are some ideas that might help get the wheels turning on crafting the story of the best summer of your life!

Look to your Community

Do you have family members or friends who are doing something you’d like to be a part of? Ask them if you can join in for the summer.  Maybe shadow your dentist, begin each weekday morning helping at a local farm, teach swim lessons at your family’s neighborhood pool, or be a nanny.

Discover a Career

Perhaps you have some idea of what you’d like to do with your life. If so, find people who are doing that, and see whether you can get on board. Whether you’d like to become a college professor, an attorney, a nurse, a teacher, or an entrepreneur, create a way to dig deeper into that potential over the summer.

What if you shadowed a doctor, volunteered at a non-profit, campaigned for your political candidate of choice, or participated in a career exploration summer program? You could also simply schedule interviews with folks who are in careers you are curious about: find a lawyer, a project manager, a psychologist, or a software engineer and see whether they’ll donate 30 minutes to an hour so you can learn more about what they do each day.

Use Your Passion as a Springboard

Extracurricular activities don’t need to be limited to a school club or a weekend hobby. Whether you love baking, Latin, mountain biking, or reading, take that passion to the limit! One motto that has stuck with me over the years is: “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” How can your passion become your summer pursuit?  How can your passion become a theme in your story?

I’ve had students volunteer for hospice, raise bees in their backyard, learn to train a dog, write a novel, go to programs all over the world, research sea turtles in the Galapagos Islands, play travel baseball, and coach a swim team.

Free Resources for Extracurricular Research

Not sure where to start? Collegewise offers an array of resources that help students find extracurriculars to add to their college applications. 

  1. Summer Planning Guide (provides a full breakdown by major or program).
  2. Creative Summer Planning Webinar (free tips online and on your time).
  3. TeenLife Searchable Summer Program Database 
  4. SummerApply (an online summer program research tool).
  5. Idealist (an online non-profit, volunteer database).

No matter what you do this summer, we hope you’re fascinated by it. Not only because this makes for a great college application, but because it'll help you write the next chapter of your own fascinating story.

Additional readings:

General CTA - Dream School Blog Asset

About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the family. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for your student to be their best self - whether in the classroom, the applications, or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, lead to 4x higher than average admissions rates. 


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