While colleges want to see a steady commitment to extracurricular activities throughout the academic year, they will take notice if you make an extra effort to challenge and stretch yourself over the summer break. Even if you are not enrolled in an academic summer program , thoughtful summer activities can boost your college applications and give you an edge over other students with similar grades and standardized test scores. Activities that demonstrate leadership, service, and genuine passion, as well as a willingness to face challenges and commit to achieving goals, can be just as impressive and noteworthy.

Here are a few fun and creative ideas to explore for the holidays:

1. Get a job

Perhaps the most overlooked and undervalued summer activity is a paid job. Aside from the benefit of earning some money, securing a summer job demonstrates a commitment to hard work and a level of maturity and responsibility that admissions officers value. It also communicates an ability to manage time and meet deadlines, required skills for college life. In fact, in most cases the type of work is less important than the ability to hold a job. Food service, retail stores, and counselling roles at summer camps are all excellent options! Double check that you are at a legal age to work and determine whether you require a work permit.

2. Start a business

Consider starting a business, possibly with a friend! It doesn’t have to make a huge profit, as long as it shows initiative. Offering services to your community, such as babysitting, computer courses for the elderly, photography, or music lessons, for a small fee can really stand out on your resume and in your applications. Showing the number of customers served or the clear impact on the community will further show your commitment.

3. Volunteering and service work

Volunteering can add dimension to your college essays – and there is no need to go for pricey international service trips to exotic destinations. The local soup kitchen or animal shelter is the perfect place to volunteer your time. Just one or two times won’t show a real commitment, so if you are looking to tie community service to your academic interests or hoping to use the experience as a significant component of your application and essays, it may be wiser to stick closer to home where you can get involved in longer-term projects, making a longer lasting impact. Nothing stands out more than evidence that you are giving back to your own community!

If you choose to spend your summer involved with an international volunteer experience, carefully assess the program’s policies and procedures regarding travel, safety, and supervision to ensure that the projects are ethically run and actually beneficial to the target community. You can continue to show commitment to the cause by remaining involved in campaigning, fundraising, and awareness initiatives after the trip.

4. Internships and job-shadowing

An internship is a structured opportunity to work at an organization or business for a specified period of time, usually unpaid. Admissions officers can view internships favorably, especially if they are connected to a major you are interested in and demonstrate a willingness to explore and commit to a particular career tract. Unfortunately internships can be very competitive for high school students, so the less formal option of job shadowing is a good alternative to consider. Job shadowing involves observing someone at work and, if possible, doing small tasks to gain experience. If you do opt to job shadow, step out of the proverbial shadow by offering assistance with filing and requesting to sit in on meetings.

Both internships and job shadowing have the added benefit of exposing you to the real-life practical side of certain careers, which is great if you aren’t sure what you would like to pursue. The best resources for securing internships and job shadow opportunities are through less formal channels, such as through your teachers, parents and their friends. Securing at least a three-week internship shows that you took the experience seriously.

5. Research experience

Gaining research experience as a high school student can really impress college admissions officers. Reach out to college professors to inquire about opportunities or look into established programs such as Lumiere, Pioneer, or Horizon where you will be paired with an academic in your field of choice.

6. Start your SAT or ACT test prep

Summer is a great time to explore the ACT vs SAT option. Pick up a prep book, take an online prep course, or find a test prep tutor to help you strategize your learning process. While this won’t give you content for your college essays, achieving the best ACT/SAT score possible will help your application with colleges that take these scores into consideration.

7. Get a head start on your college applications

This is particularly useful for rising seniors. Without the stresses of your regular school work, the summer is a great time to focus on your college applications. Students can get ahead on selecting colleges to apply to, contacting teachers for recommendations, outlining essay topics, and compiling information about activities to be included in the applications. Starting the process during the summer will reduce the pressure when deadlines start looming and give you plenty of time to edit your essays to achieve your best work.

For our rising underclassmen, there are steps you can take to get a headstart on the application process too. College visits are a great way of finding out what your preferences are and where you want to apply. You could take a road trip with your friends or family or even virtually visit some campuses from the comfort of your home. Check out our blog on how to make the most of college visits.

8. Get certified (on- or off-line)

Certifications are a great way to build your skillset and bulk up your college applications and resume – and they don’t have to be academic. You can get certified in more practical subjects like CPR, lifeguarding, or Adobe Photoshop. Alternatively, online learning platforms like edX and Coursera offer live-streamed and pre-recorded classes in a range of subjects, including free college courses from universities. With a variety of subjects from robotics to American poetry, you get to participate in real-time lectures, or watch past ones, from professors at institutions like Stanford and Harvard.

9. Start a blog/vlog

If you have a special hobby or interest that can be used to create interesting and meaningful content, blogging or vlogging may be the thing for you! Committing to regularly creating and posting digital content can demonstrate a range of technical and creative skills. While you may want to start this over the summer, aim to convert your blog/vlog into a long term project. Colleges will be particularly interested if you are able to develop traction with your digital content so grow your website/social media page, keeping an eye on the numbers to highlight your ability to build and maintain an online presence.

10. Complete a reading challenge

Universities are particularly impressed by well-read students, and books often serve as a strong topic of discussion during admissions interviews. The summer is the perfect time to catch up on your reading, particularly if you find it challenging to read for pleasure during the academic year. Explore reading material not included on your class reading lists. Pick up a few classic books or books that can lead to personal growth. Select a few books to read from a college recommended reading material for a major you are interested in . If you are struggling to get started, local libraries often organize special reading challenges over the summer and can guide you through the process.

Finally, use your imagination! The sky’s the limit.

There is always the option of creating your own project. Are you a writer? Spend the summer writing for outlets that publish high school students’ work or submit your work to various competitions. Are you an artist? Find out if there are local venues that feature amateur work and see if you can secure display space for the summer. Do you enjoy coding? Create an app. The options are endless!

Remember that none of these suggestions are mutually exclusive so you can mix and match ideas and tick several boxes at once. For example, you can do a summer-long volunteer internship at a local charity, blogging about your experience, and gaining support for the cause. You can also show colleges evidence of collaborative work so you can spend the summer working with others, such as starting a project with friends to beautify a rundown area of your community or organize a team to run in a 5K race to raise money for a local charity.

The summer can be filled with endless fulfilling possibilities with the potential to spruce up your applications. If you have any questions or concerns about your summer options, please do not hesitate to get in touch!