What Should I Do This Summer?

Twas the month before Summer, and all over town,
Not a junior was prepared, no one had broken ground;
They studied for AP and subject tests with care,
In hopes that Harvard would soon answer their prayer;
Their teachers had written their letters with pride;
While parents and guardians raved by their side;
Mamma had bombarded the guidance counselor suite,
“Little Johnny needs AP French—he will be elite!”
Fall classes were picked, and college tours set,
When all of a sudden, Little Johnny awoke in a sweat.
“Oh no!” He exclaimed as he started to panic,
“I have no plans this summer—I need something gigantic!”

We know. How clever, right? Let’s focus on what brought you here, though. If you’re reading this right now, you don’t have summer plans. Take a breath. You’re going to be fine. It’s not IDEAL but it’s not the end of the world. Let’s start planning. If you’re reading this right now, it’s too late to apply to a summer program and more likely than not, you can’t intern anywhere. You could get a paying entry-level job somewhere for the summer, but it might not be the kind of resume boost you’re looking for.

Here’s how to think about it: start with an interest. Any interest. It can be writing, engineering, technology, Italian, hiking, or anything in between. From there, we figure out a way for you to pursue that interest in a tangible way. There are a few ways that you can do this, which we outline below. What’s important to keep in mind is that this information will likely end up going in the Additional Information section of the Common App, so make sure you know what belongs there and what doesn’t.  

Another thing to consider is the story that you can tell about your summer. It’s okay if you don’t end up with an internship or something that can fit cleanly onto your resume in 3 lines. That just means that you can expand upon your summer in your supplements, or even in your personal statement. Whatever creative thing that you do this summer, it’s going to end up being excellent fodder for your applications in one way or another. In that vein, think about what you do in that context. Think interesting stories, fun adventures, and compelling projects. That’s where your head should be at right now. Some ideas:

  • Commit your time to one specific interest and create one large project/outcome that you will contribute to and produce at the end of the summer

This comes back to our advice above. Start with one broad interest that you have. 2 examples below:

  1. For example, say your broad interest is technology. You dig a bit deeper, read some articles, and realize that in fact you want to code, because it’s incredibly useful. You decide that by the end of the summer, you’re going to build an app. You enroll in a Coding 101 class through an organization like General Assembly. You buy a couple of books, and you begin. This is a great story.

  2. Another idea is the following: your broad interest is writing. You also love to cook. You dabble in photography. Guess what? This summer you’re going to write a cookbook and pitch it to a couple of publishing houses. You’ll do a cookbook of Hungarian food for the American because your family is from Hungary originally and you still have family in Budapest. You revamp some of your grandma’s old recipes. You research the origins of sour cherry soup and adapt it for farmer’s market ingredients. Some of the dishes get a bit of a Spanish twist because instead of using traditional Hungarian paprika you use smoked Spanish paprika. You create a catalog of original, tested recipes and you take photos. You put it all together. That is a tangible thing that you’ve created that combines all of your interests. At the end, at the very least, you can self-publish and put it on a website to share with colleges.

If these aren’t for you, we have more ideas:

Auditing college classes
Find a local college or community college and do some digging as to whether or not you can audit (sit in on and complete assignments without receiving a grade) any classes in an area of interest. Complete all of the assignments even though you won’t get a grade. You get an A for initiative and intensity from us (and from colleges too). We’d suggest you supplement this with a lot of reading on the topic as well.

Finagling an internship
Find an internship with a local organization that is somehow related to an area of interest. Beg your local butcher to let you shadow her for 2 days a week. On the other days of the week, immerse yourself in volunteer work at any and all local farms that are searching for volunteers. Learn a lot about the organizations in your area that address what you are interested in. Beg them to let you work for free and get them coffee. Trust us, calling an organization and expressing your intense interest works more often than not. Students never call anyone anymore. Make an impact.

Independent research program
You could write a research paper on truly anything. Make it your goal to expand upon a particular concept that you learned about in school that fascinated you in the form of a long research paper. Read dozens of academic articles through JSTOR, find books in the library, and begin crafting your thesis. Reach out to college professors who are experts on the topic and interview them for the paper.

Start a business
Identify a small need in your neighborhood, home, or other community and create a business around it. For example, maybe there are a ton of kids of different ages that live in your building. Create a babysitting/tutoring connection service that parents can buy into and coordinate tutors and babysitters for their younger children. Enlist a team of on-call tutors and babysitters for during the school year and create a platform where they can communicate.

Read 25 books in one specific discipline and become a master in it
Just read. Choose one topic and read so much about it that you are a master of it. Read a book a week (or preferably more!). It’s impressive to have such a lengthy book list in your Additional Info section.

Get your pilot’s license
Or get your boating license. Have planes or boats ever intrigued you? In many states, you can get your pilot’s license or boating license at 16. If you’re already interested in engineering, this could be a logical extension of your interests. It involves a lot of studying, practice, and time but we know that it would be quite an impressive feat to accomplish at such a young age. It also displays an incredibly amount of initiative on your part to pursue something so lofty. Also it’s such a cool story that no one your age will have.

Hike all of the mountains in your area
If the outdoors are your thing, then do it. Hike the top 10-20 peaks in your area. Write about it. Take photos. Learn what it means to prepare for a long hike. Experience frustration and failure—those are certainly great topics for your personal statements.

Learn a second or third language
Dive into your next language with a class, an app, a book, and your brain. Self-teaching is an incredible indication of discipline and ability to execute that colleges love to hear about. If you can teach yourself how to speak French the summer before your junior year, and know enough to take the AP test come Spring? Wow. Colleges will give you an A in autodidacticism.

Let us know if you need any help. We have a lot of ideas, these are just a few. And of course, talking to you might inspire some new ideas. Reach out if you have any questions.