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.

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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.


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