How to Choose Summer Activities for Your College Applications

The following piece was written by Rachel Korn. Rachel has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is a former University of Pennsylvania admissions officer, as well as the founder of her own admissions consulting firm.


In your applications to college, you will be asked what you did during your high school summers. Why? Your choices of summer activities actually say a lot about your personality, what you love, and your skills.

Admissions offices care about your summer activities because they want you to be productive. They do not expect you to work all the time and never play – in fact, admissions officers lament that this does not happen often enough, that today it is hard for a “kid to just be a kid” – but they do want to see you engaging. They want you to be following some passion, exploring, challenging yourself, and hopefully, just like in your activities during the school year, taking on some leadership if applicable. And there is no one right activity. Indeed, there are infinite directions you can go during your summers: you can work, earn an internship, take a vacation, take a class, get involved with an organization or create your own activity around one of your passions.

Let me share some examples of specifically what you can do depending on your interests:

If you ultimately want to be a newspaper writer, intern at a newspaper. If your serious hobby is dance or music, attend a performing arts camp and try to perfect your craft. If you are a skilled athlete, sign up for sports workshops. If you love science, enroll in science classes at a college and push beyond your high school curriculum. If you want to become an entrepreneur and develop a start-up, build your first one.

But what if you need to babysit a younger sibling or you need to work full-time either to support your family or to finance your car insurance and gas? That’s okay, too. In your application, you will be asked about your family, their jobs, and where you live. From this information, admissions officers will know that work is a necessity. They do not judge that in any negative way. In fact, they fully respect it – and it means you know how to be responsible already.

On the other end of the spectrum are those students fortunate to have the ability and financial means to “take time off.” Maybe you can attend summer school, find a non-paying internship, volunteer, or travel and explore the world. If this is your passion, go for it. However, note that passion is key. Choose these activities because they excite you. These kinds of opportunities will be given full credit for how great they are only if they are part of a larger pattern of your demonstrated interests. A fancy title will not impress on its own. The skill or interest behind earning the fancy title impresses.

What about being original? Don’t you have to do something to stand out from the crowd? While it is still possible today to win some creativity points if you spend your time engaging in something truly unusual, it is the very rare student who does. Even those “unique” summer activities still fall under very general headings – performing arts, academic exploration, volunteer work, interning, building a start-up, etc. If you have an exceptional idea, by all means pursue it, but know that you can be distinctive sometimes just by doing what you already do well.

Most important, truly, is what you get out of your activities and how you learn and grow. You will be able to share that information in your college essays, but summer activities are far more valuable than just lines in an application – they are the chance to develop your abilities and personality. They give you lifelong value. That is why they ultimately matter.

Thus, when developing your summer plans, explore, be thoughtful and find what interests you. It makes you more interesting.


Visit Rachel’s Admissions Consulting site.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.