6 Activities that Impress Colleges

by Bethany Goldszer | Last Updated: June 4, 2021

It’s June, and you may be wondering how you will stay busy this summer doing activities that impress colleges. There’s plenty of time over the next two months for hanging out in your room, the beach, or the pool. But if you’re in high school, you should also make time to prepare for college. Summer is the best time to get a head start on getting involved in activities that boost your college applications.

In this post, I will go over things you can do this summer, a list of activities that impress colleges.

Key Takeaways

Table of Contents

Read a Good Book

While on academic break, teens should continue to read over the summer months to prevent summer slide and build critical thinking and literacy skills. Research shows that students who read over the summer do better in school in the fall. Also, during a year of remote and hybrid learning, many schools struggled to recreate the classroom’s rigor. Reading more over the summer months can quickly make up for lost reading practice and instructional time. What’s exciting about summer reading is that there’s time to read books your teachers would never assign. Whether sitting in their room, backyard, or socially distant part of the beach, a good book can bring comfort to you in an uncertain and restless world.

Reading during the summer reduces summer slide. Another reason that you should read during the summer: many college applications ask students to share the books they’ve read. For activities that impress colleges, stay away from books that you would read in English classes. For one, thousands of students will mention these same books in their applications. And second, you want to show that you have a thirst for learning beyond the knowledge your school provides you. 

Instead, look for reading lists like this one from Insider. The list speaks about books banned by high schools, some I wrote about in my University of Chicago application, like J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Also, I wrote about Vladamir Nabokov’s Lolita and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a WallFlower. Here’s a list of catch-up books to share with you. Some of my personal favorites are: 

  • The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, a book about a 16-year-old girl living in a poor neighborhood and attending a fancy preparatory school. The main character, Starr Carter, shows how she struggles to balance the two worlds after the tragic and senseless killing of her best friend at the hands of a police officer.
  • Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott is a book about two teens who love each other. But there’s one problem – they cannot come within five feet of each other without the risk of dying.
  •  Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, a story told from multiple perspectives, full of magic, power, violence, betrayal, friendship, and love.For affffffff

Write the College Essay

girl student writing essay in a laptop

If you are a rising high school, there is no better time to begin writing the college essay than the summer before fall application deadlines. The Common App and Coalition Application have already announced the 2021-2022 prompts. You can read about them and how to choose a college essay topic to write about here.

As I often say, writing a college essay is not like writing an English class essay assignment. Instead, it is an opportunity for you to write your personal story that shares your unique perspective and story to give the college admissions officer a snippet into what it’s like to be you. The college essay you write does not need to be about a huge, monumental moment. Instead, the best essays I have read are one’s that don’t seem of particular significance, but there are themes and learnings it highlights that show how you think and move in the world.

"Summer is the best time for rising seniors to start the college essay."

I wrote a longer post about how to write a college essay, but here are some quick tips you can follow:

  • Make sure it’s between 500 and 650 words
  • Write using the first-person voice
  • Tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end
  • Use words that express emotions
  • Have a trusted person review the essay before you submit it

Get an Internship or Job

activities that impress colleges

"For most students, the process of writing a college essay can be stressful. Be sure to check out linked posts for more guidance on writing a college essay."

Just because you have to socially distance does not mean that you cannot volunteer your time to help others. As far as activities that impress colleges, you will need to show what you’ve done during this time when not in school. Ideas include virtual or in-person tutoring, dance or sports lessons online, letters to the elderly, or those suffering from or isolated due to COVID-19 or other illnesses.

Colleges like students who are productive during the summer. Participate in activities that support your interests and cultivate leadership skills, discussion, advocacy, confidence, and an ability to work as part of a team. Before summer recess begins, email your teachers or guidance office for information on summer programs offered by local colleges, companies, or community-based organizations. 

 If you’re a member of a religious organization, your youth group leader is another good person to speak with about potential opportunities. To impress those you reach out to, attach an updated version of your resume. For a template, download a sample resume here.

Can’t find anything? No problem, act like an Eagle Scout and design your own project. Identify causes that are important to you and make a plan to address that issue.As 

Visit Colleges and Attend Virtual College Fairs

front of a big college building

Before deciding which colleges to apply to, I recommend that you visit first. However, most colleges are closed, and many will be closed during the summer as well. However, there are virtual tours that you can take to learn about colleges from the comfort of your own home. Here’s a resource where you both can experience college without leaving the couch:

Ecampustours gives students 360° x 360° views of more than 1,300 colleges. All virtual tours are free. Also, the site features a scholarship database, college planning resources, and access to the E-advisor newsletter that reminds students of important college and financial aid deadlines.

Why Is it Important to Visit Colleges Now? Before applying to colleges, you want to make sure you connect with your area admissions officer at each college you’re applying to early. Even virtually, you can learn as much as you can about colleges. Also, sign up for web information sessions and email admissions officers, professors, alumni, and students to get your questions answered. By the end of the summer, you want to have a working list of colleges to explore further if you are a rising sophomore or rising junior. If you’re a rising senior, you’ll need to finalize your college list by the end of summer.

Take Online College Classes

There are no better activities that impress colleges and prepare you for the rigor of college than by taking actual college courses. Some great options:

Enroll in credit-bearing or non-credit bearing classes at a local community college or university, or

Apply for a summer enrichment or research program, usually at a big name college like Cornell University or Columbia. Here’s a short list I found from Internet research:

 Boston University

Carnegie Mellon 

Stony Brook University

Hampshire College 

Indiana University

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Bryn Mawr College

University of Michigan

Michigan State University

MIT Research Science Institute

National Institutes of Health 

Ohio State University 

Princeton University

Stanford University

Stanford University

Texas Tech University

University of Iowa

University of Notre Dame

University of Pennsylvania

U.S. Air Force Academy

U.S. Coast Guard Academy

U.S. Military Academy

U.S. Naval Academy 

Yale University

You can also take an online course. I’d recommend that you sign up for Coursera for High School students. There’s a fee, but you can apply for financial aid.

Regardless of what you do, gaining college experience shows colleges that you know the college basics. You know how to read a syllabus, understand the flow of lectures, how to work with a professor, work with classmates, study for college-level exams, and so on. Also, college courses allow you to connect with a new group of friends. If the class you take does lead to credit, then this could help knock out prerequisite college coursework and save you money in the long run.

Do Something

boy holding a phone

If you can help it, please don’t let you sit around all summer and do nothing. There’s plenty of free time now, while many of us are social distancing. Do something. There are great at-home activities to do, such as starting a scrapbook album, learning a new hobby, exploring new social media apps, or exploring the world remotely. Do not take this time for granted. Every experience enhances your high school journey. Take all your activities to impress colleges and have something compelling to write about in your essay or application.

Conclusion + Next Steps

Now you have a list of things to do this summer activities to impress colleges, keep busy, and have fun. As a next step, I’d like you to choose 1-2 activities presented that you’re going to take action on.

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Bethany Goldszer is top college admissions and financial aid expert. She's been featured in HuffPost, USA Today, Newsday, Queens Gazette, and Official Black Wall Street & voted Best of Long Island. Faced with the overwhelming stress of applying, getting admitted to and financing her University of Chicago education, she started Stand Out College Prep LLC in 2012 so that no student or parent would have to go through this process alone. Over the last 15 years, Bethany has worked with over 1,500 students, helping them and their parents get into their top choice colleges and secure more than $20M in financial aid and scholarships. And each year, she continues to help more students stand out in the college admissions process and their parents navigate financial aid and scholarships.