How Summer Activities Boost College Application Narratives

How Summer Activities Boost College Application Narratives

When creating a college application, a student’s main goal is to tell a story about who they are. 

If you think about it, college admissions officers are tasked with sorting through thousands of applications and figuring out who all these people are that they’ve never met before. They must be able to use the bits and pieces of each application to develop their understanding of a full-fledged human, and they do that by pulling those bits and pieces together into a story. 

That story—or narrative, as it’s often called—is formed by a combination of factors, including the student’s grades, test scores, recommendations, personal statement, activities list, and interview. 

At Signet, we advise students to think about what each part of their application is saying and look at how the different aspects of their lives can map onto various components of their application to tell a complete story. 

One of the best ways students can differentiate themselves and shape their narratives is with summer activities. Summer activities help students develop existing interests, gain workplace experience, and build non-academic skills that can be incorporated into their application. 

But what kinds of summer activities should students pursue, and how can they transform their experiences into application-worthy narratives? 

Ideal Summer Activities 

First, it’s important to note that when choosing summer activities, students should be guided by what they find interesting and valuable, not by what they think colleges want to see. Colleges value and appreciate all kinds of summer experiences, such as: 

  • Jobs. Regardless of whether a job is in a field relevant to a student’s career path, jobs not only teach students non-academic skills but also earn them income! Students may need a job to help their family out, pay for college, or save up for a big purchase. No matter the motivating factor, they can use this opportunity to learn the basics of finances and money management.
  • Internships. Students are often interested in a particular field but don’t have the credentials to be paid for work in that area, in which case they can pursue an internship instead. Internships can lead to paid work, and positive impressions can lead to excellent references down the road.
  • Camps. High school students may have the opportunity to attend camp as either a counselor or a camper. Either way, they can come away with a great experience behind them. As a counselor, a student has a unique chance to take on a leadership role. As a camper, they can meet new people, engage in a diverse range of activities, and unplug in a natural setting.
  • Volunteering. There are many ways for students to give back to their community. Volunteering gives teenagers a broader awareness of the world around them and the people in it and fosters the skills of responsibility and integrity.
  • Travel. Like volunteer work, traveling exposes students to new ways of thinking, speaking, and believing. It introduces them to people they might not normally encounter, deepens their knowledge of other cultures, and leaves them with unforgettable experiences that shape them for years to come.
  • Non-traditional projects. Summer offers the time and space for students to devote dedicated attention to passion projects. These student-led initiatives spark a kind of creativity and ingenuity that many other opportunities don’t provide. We’ve seen students learn to play a new instrument, build a website, refinish a piece of furniture, and cook a new recipe each week. The sky’s the limit! Non-traditional projects can really help distinguish students in a sea of college applicants.


Reflection: A Student’s Secret Weapon 

No matter what activities students engage in during the summer, they should make time to reflect on their experiences. 

The activity itself is important, but what matters most is that students can articulate their summer experiences on their college application to convey what they’ve learned. Ultimately, college admissions officers are looking for the ways students have grown and developed a greater sense of self. 

We advise students to document their summer experience using our My Summer Experience Worksheet, found on page 17 in our Guide to Summer Planning. Additionally, the Semester Reflection Toolfound on page 18—can easily be adapted to the summer. 

Some students will do just fine processing and analyzing their experiences independently, while others may benefit from the help of a trusted mentor, such as an academic coach. Either way, students should think critically about how their summer experiences help tell the story of who they are. 

The college application process has so many moving parts. If your family could use extra support, Signet is here for you. Contact us today to start a conversation. 

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