“So, Dan, how was your summer?” I asked.
“It was pretty busy.” he replied.
As an experienced interviewer, I know that the first few minutes are sometimes a bit tough, and it can take a bit of small talk before the student opens up.
“A busy summer is always a good thing; what did you do?”
“I, uh, just worked all summer,” he said and looked down a little bit.
This was fascinating to me, as a summer job is a very impressive thing to do. It shows that you are responsible, can conduct yourself in a professional environment, and can work effectively with people of different ages, backgrounds, and experiences. However, Dan was making it seem like a summer job would be received as negative or suboptimal in the college admissions process.
Many students think that their summer needs to be full of glamour and prestige – perhaps doing a summer program at a prestigious university or “voluntourism” in an exotic location. This could not be farther from the truth. In fact, the best summer experiences don’t have to cost a dime. Admissions officers are not wowed by the glitz and glamor of flashy activities. Instead, they want to see that you have engaged in activities that are meaningful and that allowed you to learn, grow, or perhaps take on a necessary responsibility.
Here are three free ideas for students who want to have a successful summer:
Do you want to make a difference?
As we discussed, you don’t have to travel to a new continent or country in order to make a difference and serve. Instead, you can think local and identify nonprofits and other social impact organizations in your community. The chances are good that local organizations have a variety of volunteering opportunities to both learn and serve. Try to think about the issues that you care about and use that as a starting point for identifying organizations to reach out to.
Do you want to learn something new?
High school curriculums can be a bit restrictive, and summer can be an opportunity to try something new. Whether you are interested in furthering an existing passion or trying something totally new, taking classes can be very fulfilling. Your local college or community college will provide an array of options available to high school students. edX, a nonprofit collaboration between MIT and Harvard, also offers a library of free online classes from leading colleges and universities around the world.
Do you want to make extra money?
For many students, summer represents an opportunity to earn money for themselves or to help support their family. Whether you are working as a barista, a restaurant server, a camp counselor, or anything else, a job is a very enriching experience. I spent my summers washing dishes and doing kitchen prep at a local deli. Not only was I able to earn money, but I learned a valuable skill – cooking – that I still use today!
Lastly, don’t forget to recharge
Summer is also about spending some time on yourself. Spend time with friends and family, read that novel you have had on your bookshelf, and watch that new Netflix series that your friend recommended. This will allow you to start your new academic year refreshed and ready to succeed!
Will Geiger has extensive experience in college admissions that includes work at an elite independent school and a selective liberal arts college. He graduated from Wake Forest University with honors in history and received his master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.