A pineapple sitting on the beach wearing a pair of sunglasses on a blue-sky day

How to Make Your Summers Before College Count

If you're really trying to get into a good college, utilizing your summers is crucially important. Here's how you can make them count!

Each summer, approximately 10 weeks stand between you and the next school year. Binge-watching your favorite Netflix shows and hanging out with friends are good for your sanity, but to make your summer vacation count, you also need a game plan to make it productive. Not counting the summer prior to freshman year, there are three summers before college applications are due. What you do during your summers can make a difference in how much you stand out from other college applicants when the time comes. And how you spend them is a gauge for your creativity to explore opportunities and stretch yourself.

Find your theme

Your college application is a narrative that tells your story. And a compelling story needs to have a cohesive theme. It’s the one thread that underlies each part of your application, from your activities to the courses you take. Consider what makes you tick and look for (or create) opportunities to do something that showcases that passion. My first internship was at a lab doing research on learning intervention for children. This showcased my interests in working with children and exploring psychology. The following summer, I interned at a nonprofit counseling facility, which further displayed my interests in psychology. The pre-college summer program at Harvard I participated in was consistent with my theme; the program allowed me to learn about psychological experimentation methods and research children with dyslexia.

Related: 5 Benefits of Pre-college Summer Programs

Plan early and creatively

Whichever activities you choose to do over the summer, they don’t just happen. You need to plan for them ahead of time. How early should you plan? It’s never too early! But practically speaking, you should start to look around in December. Information for pre-college programs usually becomes available in December. Most of these programs require you to submit essays with the application, so you need to put in the extra time. The same timing applies for internships. Many organizations start planning their summer projects and figure out their need for interns in the beginning of the year. Be creative and use all available resources to seek opportunities. For my first internship, I remembered what my parents told me about LinkedIn and its use as a networking tool. I asked my dad if he could search for someone in his network who worked in research surrounding psychology and children. That search led to the local research lab I ended up scoring my internship at.

Related: How Community Service Can Help Your College Application Stand Out

Fill up your weeks

Remember, you have 10 weeks of summer. Getting an internship is great, but don’t limit yourself to just that. In my first summer, aside from my internship, I also danced in the American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive program. As a dancer, it’s important for me to continue dancing year-round. The following summer, I split my time between doing an internship and joining a dance company to perform community art outreach. The key is to pursue activities that are meaningful to you and showcase your unique interests. The habit of multitasking may come in handy during the summer before your senior year. This is the one summer you definitely need to juggle several things. It’s a great time to prepare for the SAT because you don’t have schoolwork competing for your time.

The Common Application prompts come out before summer, and some colleges also publish their supplemental prompts by mid-summer. Investing time to tackle these prompts in the summer is wise and practical. Transcribing your storyline into a captivating essay takes time, so it’s logical to start this process in the summer. Plus, once you start the fall semester, the demand on your time increases exponentially.

Related: Make Your Summers Count With Jobs, Internships, and Volunteering

In the end, remember that your choice of summer activities should reflect what truly motivates and interests you. When you do things you’re passionate about, you’ll grow as a student and an individual. Being able to impress your future college is simply icing on the cake. Here’s to a productive summer!

For more advice on staying productive and having fun this summer, check out our Student Life section.

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

pre-college programs summer summer internships summer jobs summer programs

About Crystal Haryanto

Crystal Haryanto

Crystal Haryanto is a freshman at UC Berkeley pursuing a double major in Economics and Cognitive Science. When she's not poring over textbooks on behavioral economics, she enjoys pirouetting in a dance studio and improving her horseback-riding skills.

Aside from her passion for writing, she’s a believer in promoting equal opportunities for kids to thrive. She is a cofounder of the Bay Area affiliate of the I Have A Dream Foundation, a national organization supporting children in under-resourced communities to pursue higher education. In addition to performing around the Bay Area, she has also used her dancing to introduce the art of ballet to underserved kids through community outreach projects and teaching.


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
Lydia Huth

Lydia Huth

Student, Campbell University; CollegeXpress Student Writer

I discovered CollegeXpress while embarking on my college search journey as an excited—but scared and way confused—high schooler without a counselor or college-bound sibling to give me advice. Let me tell you, I’m so glad that I stumbled on this community! CollegeXpress helped me find potential colleges and keep application deadlines straight. It gave me a great list of scholarships, and the blogs and emails made me feel like I wasn’t going it alone. Almost three years later and with freshman year of college down, I still love the CollegeXpress vibe so much that I’m writing for them. I’d recommend this site to anyone!

Kelly Nogueiro

Kelly Nogueiro


For me, CollegeXpress has given me a valuable tool to use with my students to explore colleges easily beyond objective data. It helps me find colleges for students that fit their needs and wants that aren’t quite so black and white. It's a wealth of knowledge, and the Type-A side of me loves all the lists and the fact that I know they're coming from folks who know what they're talking about. I share it with colleagues and students alike, and it's always well received.

Hannah Nelsen

Hannah Nelsen

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me look at colleges that fit my interests by taking my profile and matching it to colleges that have the programs I'm looking for. It has the ability to connect me to colleges so I can be contacted by them and look at them more in-depth to find what's right for me. Additionally, the scholarship database is super beneficial for getting scholarships for college. Not only does it help lift the financial burden of college but it shows all the opportunities available. Overall, CollegeXpress has been very helpful to me.

Amari Toussaint

Amari Toussaint

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped me narrow my school choices down from 10 schools to four and then two. It also gave me information on a school I had never heard about or thought about attending until now, which is the school I will be attending in the fall. I am thankful for CollegeXpress and its helpful tools.

Caio Matos

Caio Matos

High School Class of 2022

Starting the college admissions process as an international student was daunting. Thankfully, CollegeXpress was the first website I used for that cause and it helped me so much, from knowing where to start to deciding what my next move would be. I'll take a gap year, but I’m certainly using the website again when applying for fall 2023.

College Matches