7 Summer Activities that Impress Colleges

by Bethany Goldszer | Last Updated: May 9, 2022

In summer 2020, you are likely socially distancing for the foreseeable future. This means the usual ways you keep your college-bound teen busy in the summer — camp, sports teams, travel — are not an option. Now that virtual school is over (for now, but let’s hope school opens in the fall), you’re looking for ways to keep your teen busy this summer, while preparing for college. I have put together a list of 7 summer activities that impress colleges.

1. 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, while on quarantine, many schools struggled to recreate a rigor similar to that of learning in the classroom. By encouraging your teen to read, you can quickly make up for the lost instructional time. What’s exciting about summer reading is that there’s time to read books not commonly assigned. Whether sitting in their room, backyard, or socially distant part of the beach, a good book can bring comfort to your teen in an uncertain and restless world. 

Reading over the summer reduces summer slide.

Another reason that your teen should read during the summer is that many college applications ask students to share the books they’ve read. To impress colleges, I advise students to stay away from books that they read in English classes. Thousands of students will mention these books in their applications. This is where the books your teen has read in the summer can be discussed. For example, when I was in high school, many of my favorite books were read outside of school. And in my University of Chicago application, I referred to these books, namely Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, and The Perks of Being a WallFlower

Since your teen has been out of school since March, they may be behind in their reading. Here’s a list of catch-up books to share with your teen. 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 a tragic and senseless killing of her best friend at the hands of a police officer.

  • Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott, a book abou two teens who fall in love with 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, as well as friendship and love.

2. Write the College Essay.

If your teen is a rising senior high school student, there is no better time to begin writing the college essay than the summer before fall application deadlines. The Common App has announced that 2019-2020 prompts will be used for the 2020-2021 season. Also, the Common App has added a question about COVID-19 to allow students to discuss what impact the virus has had on their lives. Find questions here. As I often say, writing a college is not like writing an English class essay assignment. Instead, it is an opportunity for the student to write a piece in a narrative format that shares their unique perspective and story to give the college admissions officer a snippet into their life. Students do not have to write a college essay about a monumental moment. The best essays I have read are one’s that don’t seem of particular significance. And once fleshed out, a good college essay previews how the student thinks and who they are

growing up to be in the 21st century.

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

Here are tips your teen can follow to write a good college essay:

  • 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 it.

For most students, the process of writing a college essay can be stressful. Have your teen check out this article about how to write the college essay.

3. Get a Remote Internship or Job.

Just because we have to socially distance ourselves from others does not mean that teens cannot volunteer their time to help others. To impress colleges, teens will need to show what they did during this time when not in school. Ideas include virtual tutoring, dance or sports lessons online, writing letters to the elderly, or those suffering from or isolated due to COVID-19. 

Colleges like students who are productive during the summer, participating in activities that support their interests and cultivate skills such as leadership, discussion, advocacy, confidence, and an ability to work 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 affiliated with a religious organization, your youth group leader is another good person to speak with about potential opportunities. If you want to really impress those you reach out to, attach an updated version of your resume. If you need a template, 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.

5. Visit Colleges (Virtually).

Before deciding which colleges to apply to, it is recommended that you and your teen visit first. However, the majority of colleges are closed, and many will be closed during the fall as well. However, there are virtual tours that you and your teen can take to learn about colleges from the comfort of your own home. Here are two resources 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.
  • CollegeWeekLive: A highly interactive site that allows students to take virtual tours, connect with college admissions officers in live chats, and view presentations by college planning professionals. Join the site’s mailing list and visit often to get key updates on scheduled events. With events happening daily, you could plan a month’s worth of college search activity and learn a lot that you can use to impress colleges.

Why Is it Important to Visit Colleges Now? Before applying to colleges, you want to make sure you and your teen connect with admissions offices early. Even virtually, you both can learn as much as you both can about colleges, and web conference 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 if your teen is a sophomore or junior, and a list of schools to apply to if your teen is a senior.

6. Take Online College Classes.

Your teen can impress colleges by showing they are ready for college classes. Your teen can enroll in credit-bearing or non-credit bearing classes at a local community college or university, or online through sites like coursera.org. Either way, by gaining college experience, your teen shows colleges they know how to read a syllabus, understand the flow of lectures, how to work with a professor, and so on. Also, college courses allow your teen to connect with a new group of friends at a time when they may feel isolated. If the class your teen takes does lead to credit, then this will help knock out prerequisite college coursework.

7. Do Something.

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

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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.