Summer is a time for enjoyment and relaxation. It’s also a perfect time to pursue things that you didn’t have time to do during the year, whether that’s exploring a creative passion, volunteering in your community, holding a summer job, or picking up a new skill. Ideally, your summer will involve a mixture of relaxing and engaging in meaningful activities that help you grow.
Frankly, colleges have come to expect that applicants be engaged and involved during their summers. But that’s not because they want you to check off another box on the Common App. We believe the rationale goes much deeper and is much more well-intentioned than that: schools want students who are passionate learners. They want students who, when given time and space, will construct meaningful experiences for themselves. These are the students who will enliven classrooms, residence halls, and the campus community.
If you’ve left your summer planning to the last minute, don’t feel like it’s too late to craft a worthwhile summer experience! Many summer program application deadlines have passed, and some seasonal job openings may already be filled. But fear not! There are still plenty of options for planning an active summer. Read on for some of our favorites:
Even after the deadlines for many summer programs on college campuses have passed, there are still myriad learning opportunities at your fingertips. Consider browsing the course offerings on edX and Coursera. One of the things we love about edX in particular is that the courses are free (though you can pay a small fee to receive a certification). Some of the most popular courses, like Harvard’s CS90 (Computer Science), are offered at any time and can be taken at any pace. Others, like MIT’s Game Design, have a specific start date and pacing. Of course you’ll miss out on the college-like experience of living in a dorm room with other high school students like you would at an on-campus program, but these classes do offer a glimpse into the academic world of college. Taking a summer course also demonstrates your commitment to learning, and could even spark a new interest.
My friends and I used to joke in high school, “Volunteering…it doesn’t pay.” That may be literally true, but it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. Volunteering for a community in need can be an immensely powerful experience. Teaching compassion, empathy, and patience, volunteering forces us to be more mindful of the experiences and needs of others. Overwhelmingly, colleges are looking for students who are passionate about serving the world, and there’s no better way to cultivate this quality than to actually do it. Consider reaching out to your counselor at school, or researching charitable organizations that operate in your area. Religious institutions are another great resource for volunteering opportunities. If you have a passion for a specific cause (sustainability, poverty, human trafficking), then look for organizations in your community whose mission is oriented toward addressing that specific issue.
We worked with a student a few years ago who had been admitted to a selective and enriching summer program. Unfortunately, her brother became ill, and she decided to stay home. Not one to twiddle her thumbs in boredom, she reached out to her Mandarin teacher and asked if she could help provide resources for the introductory-level courses. She ended up creating a series of YouTube videos that walked students through various conversational situations in Mandarin. These videos were an incredibly valuable teaching tool in the class, and an enriching experience for the student.
You might ask yourself, “What’s a special project I’ve been thinking about but haven’t had the time or space to complete? Is there something I’ve been meaning to make or create that would make my life better?” “Maker spaces” are popping up all over the country, and these are great places to create and test out new ideas. Whether it’s building a robot or writing a short story, use this summer to pursue a project that excites you!
Even late in the game, you have many meaningful options to pursue this summer. Ultimately, ask yourself, “What am I passionate about?” Then look for opportunities to pursue that passion and make the most out of these next few months!