Most universities look beyond your test scores and academic performance when they assess your application. This is because a sufficient number of students who apply have good grades and are capable of handling academic rigour. Admissions officers (AOs) are really looking for what sets you apart. They will look at your extracurricular activities, essays and other supplementary information to help determine whether you are going to be a good fit at their college. Summer breaks are a great opportunity to use your time productively by building your extracurricular profile and gaining new experiences.
Here are some broad types of summer activities that you can look into:
Structured Summer Programmes
Summer programmes are usually short courses lasting one to eight weeks. During this time, you can increase your confidence, improve your communication skills and even get a sneak peek into college life.
Summer schools are also excellent if you want to explore a subject that your high school curriculum might not offer such as psychology, legal studies or computer science. These subject-specific summer schools, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Women’s Technology Program and St. Andrews’ Summer School in Psychology and Neuroscience, aim to enhance your knowledge for the particular subject. Students can also attend summer programmes focused on sports and other extracurricular activities, which encourage socialisation and inter-cultural awareness. Some colleges also offer leadership-focused summer programmes such as Yale Young Global Scholars, MIT Launch and Leadership in the Business World at Wharton (University of Pennsylvania).
Closer to home, the Africa Leadership Academy (ALA) in South Africa offers a great three week experience. If travel is not an option, both Alliance Française and the Goethe Institut run French and German language classes. Another option to consider is to enhance your skills through online learning. Platforms such as Lore help in identifying the right class for you, while Free Code Camp allows you to practice your coding skills on projects for non-profit organisations.
Internships are a great way to discover if you like working in a particular industry. For instance, a student who wants to pursue law can gain valuable experience and articulate their future goals by shadowing a lawyer. While working at an established brand is great, what you do and learn during the internship is equally important.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) students should give serious thought to initiating a project that focuses on their long-term goals. One option is to attend research-oriented summer programmes abroad such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Summer Science Program or the University of Chicago’s Research in the Biological Sciences. Another option is self-guided research aimed at creating new products or services that help solve a problem. Many students have been successful at combining their interest in STEM with social responsibility, to develop products that are purposeful, without large monetary contributions. For example, one student in rural Malawi built a low-cost functioning wind turbine from junkyard materials (he is now more popularly known as The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind).
Students love having ‘social work’ on their resume because they think it makes them look like good, socially responsible citizens. AOs are very good at reading between the lines, so you should only pursue social work if you are passionate about it.
It is advisable for you to build upon what you are already doing. For example, if you start teaching at an NGO one summer, next year, you might be able to help them develop content. In the subsequent summer vacation (or during any other break) perhaps assist with developing a website; and so on. Academic Test Preparation
Summer vacation is a great time to buckle down and study for standardized tests and other school work. You can also use this time to build your knowledge by doing some extra reading. Stay in touch with world events or news relevant to your area of interest. These are just a few ideas of how you can capitalize on your summer. As a high school student, you should spend your time outside of school doing something you are genuinely interested in. This will be beneficial rather than trying to “tick all the boxes.” Whilst it is important for you to make the most of summer, we do not suggest that you need to plan something for every minute of every day; or will burn out before you finish high school!