Many kids dream of taking the summer after Junior to go on a Teen Tour, go spend one last summer at camp, or catch up on the last 26 seasons of Doctor Who. While the desire to engage in these activities is totally understandable following the completion of an entire year of SAT prep, we encourage our students to fight the urge and consider summer the optimal time to secure their eligibility at their first-choice schools.
Aside from grades and scores, colleges are most interested in how you spend your free time. It tells them all they need to know about who you are. That doesn’t mean that what you decide to do can’t be fun. On the contrary. Discovering your passions in life and working hard to develop them in practice can and should be exciting.
Develop Your Expertise
The name of the college game is specificity. Universities want to see you develop an expertise in a certain area. This should even help you narrow down your career path once you’re in school. We recommend building out two to four interests and becoming an expert in those areas. The more specific, the better. So, if you show your first-choice school that you’re really interested in and knowledgeable about Science, that’s great, but if you show them that you’re really interested in and knowledgeable about Molecular Biology, that’s better. If you don’t know where to start, pick two to four things you don’t hate. And call us.
One of our writers went to high school with a kid who was brilliant at everything. He was an Eagle Scout, a marathon-runner, and uncontested in the race to Valedictorian. However, by junior year, he knew he wanted to study Chemical Engineering at a top university. Pretty specific. He scored an internship at a major (Fortune 500) oilfield services company in the Chemical Engineering department. What high schooler does that? The next year, our writer’s classmate got into MIT.
Using our writer’s classmate as an example, try to hone in on a specific niche and get an internship in that field at a prestigious company. It won't be easy. A word of caution: Don’t just get coffee twice/week. Whatever you do, you want to show the admissions council that you really worked hard and have the references to prove it.
If you’re interested in physical sciences or aeronautical engineering, NASA might be a great place to look. They offer internships in New York, Maryland, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia for high school students. Just because a company doesn’t list an internship on their website doesn’t mean you can’t create one. If you would like some help securing an internship at a prestigious company, reach out to us. We have helped our kids land and design hard-to-find internships
If you don’t score an internship at a really reputable outfit, research is another great way to go.
There are two ways to go about securing a research position. One is to apply for any one of the myriad of scientific research programs available to high school students.
To name just a few, if you’re into Space Science, CASPER and Baylor University have a summer research program that might be right for you. Princeton’s Plasma Physics Laboratory is great for students interested in Physics. If you’re interested in going Pre-Med and want to catch some sun before hiding in the library all fall, check out the University of Hawaii’s Cancer Center program. Johns Hopkins offers a program in Computational Biology and Harvard Medical School offers a great program for kids from communities that are underrepresented in medicine.
Another option is to design your own research and get published or work with a scientist studying an area that interests you. Environmental research has arguably never been more important. At a time in which federal environmental agency budgets are being gutted, scientists are actually relying on interns to do critical scientific work. This is an opportunity to get published in a major publication while you’re still in high school. We have helped students design research projects and get published. So, if you’re struggling to find a specific idea for a research field, let us know.
Enroll in a Rigorous College Program
Universities also offer summer courses for high schoolers. In addition to courses in Environmental Science and other scientific areas, Stanford has excellent courses for high schoolers in Computer Science, from artificial intelligence for robots to game design. Harvard boasts a number of scientific course offerings, too, including over a dozen in Biology alone.
One word of caution: Attending a university’s summer program will, in no way, help you get into that specific university. However, taking a great summer course at a top-notch school should impress the admissions committee.
Volunteering can be a clichéd addition to your resume, but it is a really important way to engage with your community and the world. If you’re going the volunteer route with your summer, just steer clear of the typical “I spent a week cleaning up trash in the coastal wetlands of Costa Rica” thing. Get creative and immersive. If you’re great with robotics, find a middle school in a lower-income neighborhood that has a budding robotics team and coach them for the summer. If you’re into Environmental Science, hook up with some civilian groups or organizations testing contaminated waters in hurricane-affected areas and pitch them an innovative idea.
Need help securing a competitive internship? We’re great at helping kids design impressive summer activities. Reach out to us here.