What To Do the Summer Before Your Senior Year of High School

The following piece was written by Kofi Kankam. Kofi has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is a former admissions interviewer for The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the co-founder of Admit Advantage.

The summer is finally here. Time to kick back and relax before the final push of your high school career, right? Unfortunately, I think this notion was generated in the same rumor mill that would have you believe that senior year is a time to coast. The reality is that if you are applying to competitive schools, there is much work to be done during your senior summer. 

Senior summer affords a tremendous opportunity for continuing, extending, creating, or mitigating experiences as needed. 

Continuing: If you have been a part of an organization consistently throughout your high school summers (or during the school year, for that matter), your senior summer could serve as an opportunity to demonstrate continued involvement. There is often a misconception about what colleges are looking for. In more of a check-off-every-box approach, students build resumes that read as more of a hodgepodge of disconnected experiences. I would challenge this notion, as this sort of resume building is easily discerned by admissions officers and does little to support your candidacy. Certainly, if there are gaping holes or a lack of certain activities that are preventing you from growing as a high school student, then, by all means, use your senior summer to fill in these holes. For example, if you’d really like to challenge yourself by taking a certain advanced course during your senior year but you lack the prerequisite requirements to enroll in that course, go ahead and take a summer course that will allow you to advance academically. Or if you are particularly light in community service and involvement, you could use your senior summer to engage in such activities. The key here is this: try to pick organizations, activities, and courses in which you have a genuine interest and are in line with past experiences or future plans. This way, you are more likely to stick with the involvement, and your participation in such endeavors will come across as a seamless part of the bigger picture you are trying to paint as an applicant.

Extending: This is the step beyond mere continuation. This means that for three summers you have been a camp counselor, and, during your senior summer, you step up to be the lead counselor. Perhaps it means that you challenge yourself athletically and earn a new designation or title during your senior summer for your sports team. It could also mean that you take the initiative to take an advanced course that goes beyond what is offered at your high school. Colleges love to see this! Not only does it demonstrate a sustained commitment to an activity, organization, or interest, it demonstrates initiative, leadership, and passion. More importantly, it also signals to colleges that this is something you will bring to their campus should you be admitted. So, if the opportunity presents itself for you to step up, or if you have to create this opportunity for yourself, without a doubt – you should heed the call.       

Creating: Perhaps the only thing that speaks louder than the extension of an activity is creating new ones. These are the stories that get featured in local and national publications or go viral on YouTube. These are the kind of ventures that don’t require you to point out how terrific you are because someone else, usually with a much larger platform, is already doing it for you. Just this week, I watched an internet story about a boy in southern California who didn’t just volunteer at a soup kitchen – he, along with his father, created a program to feed poor neighborhood residents breakfast every Sunday, complete with corporate sponsors and dozens of volunteers. This level of engagement sends a message to colleges that you aren’t the kind of person to sit around and complain about things; you are going to institute change. Think about the impact that this sort of proactive person could have on a college campus; it could be game-changing.  Look around your community – where do you recognize a need? What’s lacking? And more importantly, what can you do to spark that change? Alternatively, what industry would you like to learn more about? As the job market continues to struggle, internships abound. Want to learn more about social media? Propose an internship at a local PR firm looking to enhance their social media presence. Just because there isn’t a job posting for an opportunity yet doesn’t mean there isn’t a need; this is where you swoop in to create that opportunity. 

Just a word of caution here – don’t force the issue. Again, pick an area that is consistent with your interests or past involvement so that you are more likely to stick with it. Additionally, it should be in line with your values as well as the story you are trying to communicate to the admissions committees. 

Mitigating: No one likes to admit that they have weaknesses or deficits, but we all do. If your weakness happens to be in the area of test taking, don’t allow this to be your Achilles heel. The summer offers the perfect opportunity for test preparation. With so many applicants now taking test prep courses, you are almost certainly at a disadvantage if you do not. Not the best math student? You could use the summer to take a course at a local college to get a jump on the material that will be presented during senior year. Often, a weakness is only as much of a hindrance as you allow it to be. Perhaps you’ll never grow into a Nobel Prize winning mathematician or get a perfect SAT score, but proactively tackling your weakness may prove to be just the boost you need to at least make it a non-issue.

Here’s a heads-up for the fall of your senior year: it will likely be overwhelmingly busy. Rather than testing the limits of your time-management skills, use the summer to review and familiarize yourself with the Common Application, and take a stab at responding to the essay questions. Come senior year, you will still find that you are unbelievably busy, but the overwhelming feelings will be turned down just a notch.

Remember, you are not alone in this venture. The college guidance office at your school can serve as a tremendous resource for opportunities that may be available during the summer from pre-college programs to summer study abroad and internship opportunities. Additionally, search the websites of local or interesting colleges for programs that they may be offering. Figure out if you need to continue, extend, create, or mitigate and make the most of your senior summer. Then, time permitting, you can kick back, relax, and enjoy the remainder of it.


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