Summer is a wonderful time of year. The snow (barring climate change) has melted. Movie theaters market films to kids and teens. Beaches are back open, and perhaps best of all, school is out. We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but unfortunately, if you want to get into a great school spending your time simply lounging and enjoying the bliss of summer isn’t going to cut it. Sorry (not sorry) but in order to be competitive, you’re going to have to be strategic and work hard during your summer vacation.
To Take a Course or Not to Take a Course
Your goal should also be to do something interesting. A lot of people think that taking a course is a good use of their time. Sure, it can be hard work and it is certainly better than sitting around all summer, but the things is, taking a random course is not exactly…interesting to colleges. In fact, considering the fact that most summer college courses cost thousands of dollars, taking one can flag you as a rich kid, something that, on its own, is certainly not interesting to top universities.
There is one exception to the rule: your goal with summer activities and all extra-curriculars should be to build a highly specific portfolio that demonstrates that you’re an expert in one niche area. Being the president of the environmental club, playing on the soccer team, and volunteering at an elderly home on the weekends will keep you busy, but filling your days with a random assortment of extra-curriculars won’t tell the colleges anything about why they should accept you. Showing that you’re an expert in electrical engineering, however, is a great path forward. It tells schools that you’re a specialist who knows what they want and how to get it. So, taking a highly-specialized course, like a class in microelectronics at a top tech school would be a great addition to a niche electrical engineering portfolio.
Don’t Be a Page
A lot of kids who come our way think they should try to secure a summer internship. They think the word internship engenders prestige. We find that, in actuality, internships can be tricky business. For one, if you’re interning for two days a week, the odds are, your employer is not going to trust you to do anything except make coffee. And no matter how much you try to spin it on your application, colleges will know you basically spent your summer being an unpaid messenger.
If you can find a place that offers a structured internship program for high schoolers (something that is very rare), that’s different and you should try and go for it. The goal is to learn and then demonstrate what you’ve learned after.
Get a Job!
Before you apply to college, put yourself in the admissions counselor’s shoes. That’s tough to do when you don’t know anything about them, but you can probably assume a few critical points: they are an adult, they live in the same city as the college, and they’re not making millions of dollars. According to Glassdoor, the average salary for an admissions counselor is under $45,000.
The goal is to connect with that mysterious person on the other side of the laptop. So, if you’re trying to connect with someone who needs to make more money, getting a summer job may be relatable. Taking a $10,000 trip to volunteer in Costa Rica may not be. If you do go the job direction, strive to ensure that your job is in the realm of one of your niches. There’s no reason a paid opportunity can’t fit right into the speciality you’re carving out. Also, don’t be afraid to start your own business. Being enterprising a good thing.
Need help finding a prestigious summer activity? We help students connect to top notch research opportunities, apprenticeships, and more. Reach out to us here.