MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

High School Students! So What Are You Doing This Summer?

Copyright (c) 2010 Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz

When you were in grammar school and junior high, on the first day of school, what did teachers ask you the moment you walked into their classrooms? Remember?

“What did you do this summer?”

Most of the time, your answers were probably pretty predictable: “Just hung out;” “Went to the beach;” “Went to camp;” “Went on a vacation with my parents.” Well, now that you’re in high school and planning to apply to college in the not-so-far-off future, what you do with your summers can affect your college admissions. The last thing you want colleges to think is that you are a goof-off or couch potato.

Most colleges not only look at your grades and test cores, but they also look at how you spend your time when you’re not in school. They want to know what your interests are, what your passions are, and what kind of a person you are as evidenced by what you do. How you spend summer vacations is also of real interest. Carefully choosing your summer activities might help your college applications stand out from other applicants.

Here are the some options that you might consider:

Special Academic Programs

There are a number of special academic programs that are highly regarded by admissions officers. These include Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth (CTY), Duke University’s Talent Identification Programs (TIP), Stanford University’s Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) and California’s California State Summer School in Mathematics & Science (COSMOS). Most of these programs have special applications for their programs, so you need to begin the admission process early.

Hey, don’t think of these academic opportunities as a grind. Not only do they offer students academically rich programs, but they are also a lot of fun. Most students come back excited and ready to go again.

If you’re an artist, musician, singer, or dancer, there are also wonderful summer programs. Take a look at the Idyllwild Arts Camp in California, the Interlochen program in Michigan, Aspen’s Festival and Music School in Colorado, and Tanglewood in Vermont (operated by Boston University). These programs and many more around the country offer you the opportunity to have a wonderful arts experience, develop your skills, and also meet other students who share your passion.


These days, many students volunteer in and outside of school during the school year. However, summer is a time when you can do very special volunteering, even help to change peoples lives or work to save the planet. Some examples of organizations that offer summer volunteer programs are the Audubon Society, City-Year, The Dynamy Program, Global Quest, LeapNow, the National Outdoor Leadership School and Thinking Beyond Borders.

Volunteer programs abound in the United States, but there are also many located outside of the U.S. Some last one or two weeks, and others last most of the summer. Colleges are impressed when you get outside of yourself and do something meaningful on behalf of others or causes.

Summer Language Immersion Programs

It is almost trite to say that we are a part of a global society, but it’s true. The peoples of countries other than the US are often fluent in two, three, and even four languages. Most Americans speak English only. So, your becoming bilingual or even trilingual is something that will help you stand out in college applications. Language immersion programs take place in the U.S., but also in other countries. An immersion program usually involves speaking and writing only in the language you’re trying to learn. Some of the better-known summer language immersion programs are through Middlebury College pr, American Field Service, Experiment in International Learning, Youth For Understanding, and the Concordia Language Villages.

Programs for First Generation or Under-represented Minorities Who Are Economically or Otherwise Disadvantaged

Many colleges are aware that first generation students (that is, students whose parents did not attend college) and under-represent minority students (that is, students who are African American, Hispanic, or Native American, whose representation at colleges is disproportionately less than their proportion in the general population) have special challenges to face. Therefore, a number of colleges and independent groups have created special summer programs to help students from these groups deal with the challenges they bring to college. Among the programs that are offered are the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) at MIT, Questbridge, University of Michigan Summer Bridge program, Telluride Association Summer Programs, and Carnegie Mellon University’s Summer Academy for Minority Students.

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