Person in sweatshirt lying on back in green grass holding an open book over head

4 Summer Activities That Will Impress Colleges

Summer is a great time to get ready for college. Find out what you can do in between your fun summer plans that will look great to admission committees.

As high school students—especially rising seniors—it’s hard to achieve the “perfect” summer vacation we all plan for ourselves each year. Summer isn’t all about getting ready for college and boosting your applications…but it is a great time for that! And you can fit that stuff in around having fun and relaxing too. 

We hear the steady buzz of upcoming assignments, summer readings, pressure to get jobs and internships, and, of course, the fall college application process. We forget to prioritize our tasks, manage our time, and even factor in our own happiness! But let’s change up a few things for a change and make this summer memorable, productive, and impressive.

Planning your summer

Here’s a little about what’s important to me: I am always on my toes and want to learn new things. I love being busy and enjoy the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I intend to expand my horizons and deepen my knowledge along the way. Does that sound like you too? For the first time, I have planned out my summer vacation realistically so that I can enjoy myself and learn new things along the way. These things can also ultimately strengthen my college plans, search process, and applications for admission in myriad ways, such as:

  • Demonstrating commitment to learning and extracurricular interests—which is important to colleges
  • Exploring your academic, major, and/or career interests
  • Preparing for senior year and/or college-level classes
  • Personal growth and crystallization of goals

That’s why I've come up with four ways you can maximize your time and make the most of your summer vacation!

1. Take an online course

Imagine learning about something you’re really interested in, getting prepped for senior year classes, and maybe even earning valuable college credit…all while sitting in your room at home, wearing pajama pants, and drinking a cup of coffee you just made in your kitchen. Taking a class over the summer, even the free ones online, is an effective way for you to learn something new and deepen your understanding of complex subject matter. For example, you could get a preview of a subject you’re scheduled to take next year that you’re a little nervous about.

Taking a summer class online can also be a good introduction to college-level teaching. These advanced classes can help you nurture your academic and maybe even career interests as well. If you take a formal online summer class, you may be able to earn college credit. But even a certificate of completion can look great on your college applications. Perhaps best of all, you get to take basically whatever courses you want!

I'm taking two online courses this summer via edX in Political Philosophy and Journalism. The course material is curated by expert professors from renowned universities around the world. Some other notable online course providers are Coursera, Khan Academy, Udemy,, and Udacity, among many more. And their offerings range from free and inexpensive online classes to certificates and even “nanodegrees.” Last year, I also benefitted a lot from the many discussion forums of an Amnesty Human Rights course.

Related: Spend Your Summer Learning With MOOCs 

2. Try something new

Summer is the perfect time for high school students to try something new (it's a lot like college that way!). You know—that thing you’ve always wanted to try, whether it’s fishing, calligraphy, or speaking Mandarin. Venturing into uncharted learning territory is great for your personal growth, and accomplishing new things can fill you with happiness and pride.

So try to go out of your comfort zone and learn something new this summer. Why not pick up an instrument? Take a cooking class or learn how to dance? Go to the gym on a regular basis and really educate yourself on proper form and fitness? You might learn a lot about yourself, discover a great hobby, or uncover a hidden career passion in the process. And the fact of the matter is diving into your passions is good for you and good for college admission counselors to see.

If possible, you might even go on a trip, which can be a huge learning experience and opportunity to learn new things. Obviously, you need to keep your budget in mind, but you might find funding through a summer program. You can also learn a lot just by traveling to a new part of town! I'm traveling to the United Kingdom this summer. It will be my first time outside my home country in Asia on my own, and I know it’s going to be a culturally enriching experience for me.

3. Do community service

Nonprofits are always looking for dedicated individuals to help with their initiatives and assist with planning and fundraising. Of course, in the fast-paced life of a high school student, it can seem impossible to make time for serving society. But high school is actually one of the best times to give back to your community, especially during the summer when you have a little more time on your hands for a change. Look for opportunities in your neighborhood or within your city. Keep an eye out for events and important campaigns being held in your city. For example, organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and World Vision have a strong presence in many countries and hold many advocacy events. Charity runs are also really great activities to take part in if you’re more athletic. Or you could take it upon yourself to raise awareness and/or money for an organization you believe in!

Community service can go a long way, plus it can help you when you apply for college and scholarships. Be proactive and keep an open mind. Not only will you open your mind to new emotions and a unique outlook, but you will also find a great way to spend your time productively.

Related: How to Get Involved in Community Service in High School 

4. Work on your weaknesses

Everybody has that little something they wish they were better at. Be it working on your math skills for the SAT, doing college research, or boosting your involvement in extracurricular activities, summer vacation from high school can be a great time to reflect on your goals and ways of achieving them. Even if they don’t directly help your college search (or impress colleges), this kind of reflection can help you grow a lot and prepare for the college path ahead. Personally, this past semester was a slightly stressful and difficult one for me regarding balancing my academics and extracurricular activities. I now know I have to work on bridging those gaps.

Yet, summer vacation isn’t the time to cram facts, memorize information, or burn the midnight oil. Rather, it’s a time to think about ways you want to improve, accept the fact that everyone feels this way at one time or another, make a plan, and work accordingly. Take this time to think about the ways you can alter your study habits if your current method isn’t working out. Use your summer to identify your opportunities for growth and enhance your existing knowledge so that you are better equipped to face your next year of high school head on.

Related: Top College Planning Tips for the Summer Before Senior Year

So, let’s finally bid farewell to those summers that make us look back and wonder what we did with our time. Use the summer to do things you are proud of (and that might even help you on your college journey). Make it one where you have enough time to learn and grow as well as relax, rest, and rejuvenate!

What are you doing this summer? Anything on this list? How much is impressing colleges a factor in your plans? Let us know on Twitter @CollegeXpress!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

college admission college prep college search high school students summer vacation

About Shivani Ekkanath

Shivani Ekkanath

As a person applying to college this year, I want to chronicle this crazy and unpredictable yet rewarding and fascinating journey so the experience feels less daunting for other students. I'm currently preparing to study Political Science for my undergraduate degree while trying my best to win a battle with the pressures of the IB diploma. I'm a lover of music, debating, reading about current affairs, dancing, baking (not too well), and writing. I'm also an an aspiring journalist and hope to attend Columbia University one day and work for the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Lexie Knutson

Lexie Knutson

High School Class of 2021

This whole website has helped me overcome the attitude I had before. I was scared to even approach the thought of college because it was so much. I knew it wasn’t just a few easy steps, and I panicked mostly, instead of actually trying. Without realizing it, CollegeXpress did exactly what I usually do when I panic, which is take it one step at a time. With college I forget that because it’s more than just a small to-do list, but this website was really helpful and overall amazing. So thank you!

Keaun Brown

Keaun Brown

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2020

As I transition to furthering my education, I can say with certainty that it simply wouldn’t be possible without the help of generous organizations such as CollegeXpress. Those who initially founded CX had no idea their platform would give a plethora of information to a first-generation homeless kid native to the ghettos of over half a dozen states. Everyone at CX and Carnegie Dartlet gave me a chance at a future when the statistics said I had none. And for that, I thank them.

Maurice Whan

Maurice Whan

$2,000 Spring Scholarship Contest Winner, 2021

This year has been tough for my family and myself, so receiving this scholarship has been a blessing in disguise! CollegeXpress has been an excellent resource in helping me prepare financially for college. Thank you again for this amazing opportunity!

Sarah Armstrong

Sarah Armstrong

High School Class of 2022

I am a deaf student, and I had always dreamed of going to Gallaudet University. CollegeXpress helped me search though other qualified universities. They helped me know for sure that Gallaudet University was the right choice for me!

Mataya Mann

Mataya Mann

High School Class of 2022

To say that CollegeXpress is a helpful tool would be an understatement as it is much more than that. Before finding CollegeXpress, all I knew was that I wanted to go to college, it was going to be insanely expensive, and I felt lost. CollegeXpress has given me access to resources such as helpful tips for applications and scholarship [opportunities], and helped guide me in a direction where I feel confident moving forward and pursuing a career. CollegeXpress has helped instill a spark in me that makes me want to continue and supports me in doing so.

College Matches