Your extracurricular list is a way for you to show colleges that you’re more than just a test score. What you do outside of class highlights your passion, leadership skills, dedication, and drive. High school extracurriculars can extend to your college life, where clubs and organizations will help you get involved and make friends in your new environment. Summer is a good time to start test-prepping or visiting colleges, but also a chance to delve into outside interests, develop skills, and discover new talents. You should start planning your summer well before the school year ends, as many opportunities will become available months in advance. Whether you’re a member of every club in the yearbook or prefer to concentrate on just a couple of beloved activities, there are always new avenues to explore.
Let’s start with thinking about extracurriculars that won’t break the bank—you don’t need to attend an expensive summer program in order to pursue your passions and stand out to colleges. Many students worry that an ordinary summer job will not seem very impressive, but know that they need to work in order to save money or help their families. That is actually a misconception! Holding down a job shows a lot about your character, highlighting traits like responsibility, initiative, time management, and work ethic. If you maintain good relationships with your colleagues and managers, they can become valuable professional references. Working in a business such as a restaurant, summer camp, or retail store will teach your life lessons about interpersonal skills, time management, and financial savvy.
Next, consider getting involved in your community through volunteering. Reach out to local organizations such as a food bank, library, animal shelter, or summer school program, and see if you can donate your time and knowledge. Not only can volunteering be emotionally fulfilling, but you can develop workplace skills and discover career interests. For example, tutoring kids in reading and math could be a great activity for a future teacher. Visiting senior citizens or volunteering in an outpatient clinic would be a meaningful way to start thinking about a career in medicine, while also bringing comfort to those in need.
You might also use the summer to learn a brand new skill, either by yourself or through lessons. Are you interested in learning a foreign language, First Aid, music, or programming? What have you always been curious about, but never had the chance to study in school? Learning new skills is a good way to round out your resume and show colleges how dedicated and diligent you are. On a similar note, you could attend an academic camp. There are many summer camps for high schoolers that focus on science, creative writing, coding, the visual or performing arts or other specialties. Do some research to see what is available in your area.
If you really want an adventurous challenge, try going on a wilderness adventure with an organization like Outward Bound. Leaving your comfort zone, and your hot shower and comfortable bed, will teach you just how resilient you can be. All kinds of travel build character and teach you about the world beyond home, which will make you stronger and more prepared for college. Is your family planning a vacation? Try sketching, journaling, blogging, or some other creative outlet to process your adventures and practice mindfulness.
Many high schoolers are motivated to look for internships. This can be a great opportunity, but remember that internships are very difficult for high schoolers to get. It doesn’t hurt to apply, but remember that you will have plenty of time for internships later on in your academic career. If you really want to learn more about a particular industry, you could try reaching out to family friends or other connections and ask to shadow them for a day or set up informational interviews. What jobs are you curious about? Would you like to follow a surgeon around for the day, or observe a board meeting at a nonprofit organization? Experiences like these would enable you to learn more about a role model’s career path and consider whether a similar role would suit you.
Last, you can enroll in a summer program on a college campus. Many colleges, including very prestigious schools, offer programs and classes for high schools students in areas like mathematics, business, writing, or law. These tend to have a difficult application process, requiring letters of recommendation, supplemental essays, and grade transcripts—not unlike the college application process itself! The tuition fees can get quite steep, often adding up to over a thousand dollars. Although you may be able to get financial aid, you should definitely start thinking about this kind of program far in advance, considering fundraising and budgeting very wisely. If you can afford the cost, these kinds of programs can be life-changing, allowing you to meet like-minded students and engage with your interests in great depth and intensity. You will also be able to experience college life by living on campus, working with professors, and eating at the cafeteria. This can help you learn more about what you need and want from a college, and refocus your plans for the future. Many of these programs have early deadlines in February or March, so you will need to start thinking about it well in advance.
And finally, don’t forget to have fun—remember to relax and spend time with family and friends. You have earned this time off, and you need to give yourself a break in order to avoid burnout during the school year. This list is by no means comprehensive. There are so many ways to have an amazing and productive summer. Time away from school can enrich your studies in so many ways, and you should feel empowered to budget your time in whatever way works for you!