High school students typically use their summer vacations to engage in activities that will feature prominently in the “activities” section of their college applications. These activities paint a picture of how the student spends his/her time after school and on breaks and help college admissions staff determine which students will be a good fit for their campus. Unfortunately, the coronavirus will likely alter teens’ summer plans, leaving many parents and students worried about missing opportunities to showcase their skills, interests and talents.
While summer plans may be different from what students expected, students should not decide to spend their summers idly. Participating in meaningful activities should remain a key factor in a student’s college application. While sheltering in place, high school students should reflect on their interests and creatively find activities that they can do from home to build on those interests. Alternatively, the summer can be used to try something new.
Typical summer activities such as working as a camp counselor, attending a sports camp or academic summer program, lifeguarding at the local pool and participating in internships will may not be possible this year. Think of the quarantine as an opportunity to do something unique that will set your application apart from others in the pile. Stand-out applicants have resumes that include activities requiring an explanation to be understood. For example, “captain of the lacrosse team” is easy to explain and many applicants will be captains of varsity sports teams. “Created a Twitter account devoted to sharing information and communicating with others about a local historical site” requires a longer, more detailed description and is undoubtedly unique. It also shows that the student has leadership qualities and the ability to take the initiative.
As students choose how they will spend their time this summer, it is important to remember the following:
- Participate in a project or activity in which they are truly interested. Admissions staff can tell when a student’s activities are inauthentic and solely a means of “resume building.”
- Choose a project or activity to which you want to dedicate a meaningful amount of your time. Merely dabbling in an activity is not going to be help a college applicant stand out from the crowd.
The following is a list of ideas of “shelter in place” projects and activities that would enhance a college application. It is my hope that these ideas inspire students to brainstorm activities that match their own interests and then jump into those activities this summer.
- Learn a new instrument. Find an online teacher in your area or learn from professional musician with an online service like ArtistWorks.
- Start an online band with your friends or aspiring musicians half a world away online with SofaSession.
- Perform on Facebook Live to entertain your community. Consider collecting donations during your concert for a local charity.
- Coordinate online workouts with your teammates or host them via Zoom.
- Organize group workouts on Nextdoor, an Instagram page you created or a community Facebook page.
- Become an e-sports superstar.
- Try a new “solo” sport such as running or weight training.
- Horticulture: learn to grow vegetables and coordinate a vegetable exchange with neighbors or your entire town.
- Research: Contact professors and ask about virtual research opportunities.
- Learn to code with an online service like Code Academy.
- Become a volunteer citizen scientist helping the National Oceanic and Administrative Administration to monitor and report the weather.
- Start a blog or vlog or even a subscription newsletter on a topic of interest.
- Public Relations: Contact lesser known or up and coming sports stars and ask if you can volunteer with their PR person on a project.
- Create an Instagram page or YouTube channel on a topic or activity you are passionate about to connect with others who share your interest and become an influencer. Host a series of Zoom meetings addressing that topic.
- Create your LinkedIn profile and connect with colleges, professors, teachers and family friends. Ask for endorsements and recommendations. Write and publish articles to your LinkedIn feed about subjects that interest you.
- Learn a new art medium such as sculpting, quilting or photography.
- Take an online graphic design course.
- Research your family history.
- Ask a family member who is sheltering in place with you to share a skill or hobby such as car repair or cooking.
- Encourage your friends to read five classic novels and start your own book club.
- Join a virtual book club.
- Take an online course in a new language. Practice with native speakers on a language exchange website.
- Become an English-speaking partner with a non-native speaker.
The following are a few summer activities that may not be appropriate to list on your college application, but will help you with your future:
- Interview professionals in a field you are considering entering.
- Take the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment. (Find out how this assessment can benefit you in college here.
- Write a resume.
Michelle McAnaney is the founder of The College Spy, a full service independent educational consulting firm that assists students and families across the US and internationally with the college selection and application process. Prior to founding The College Spy, Michelle was a guidance counselor and educator for more than 15 years, including serving as the Director of Guidance at two high schools, an adjunct college professor and a GED tutor. Michelle holds a master’s degree in school counseling and a bachelor’s degree in human development. She completed UC Irvine’s certificate program in educational consulting and is a MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) Certified Practitioner and a NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Master Practitioner. Michelle visits over 40 colleges each year so that she has first-hand knowledge of the colleges and universities her clients will be considering. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and on The College Spy Podcast.