Your students can stand out to admissions officers by doing something different this summer

If you picture yourself in the college admissions officer’s chair, reviewing application after application, you’ll have a better sense of why it matters so much how you spend your time outside of school.

What you do in your spare time tells them what you care about, where you’ve chosen to go deeper with experiences or exposure to careers, where you’ve made a difference and most importantly how you’ve made a contribution to your high school and/or your community.

During the school year, students have a limited number of hours that they can devote to these endeavors; but the summer is wide open for many students, and that’s why what you choose to do can make a difference.

Last week, I wrote about attending academic programs over the summer. Here are some other great summer options:

Community service: Find ways to volunteer that match your interests. Check out opportunities at hospitals, emergency shelters or libraries, work in a literacy program, teach your favorite sport to disadvantaged youth, entertain seniors at a retirement community or work with animals.

Pros: Volunteering is a great way to demonstrate interest in something you care about, give back to your community, explore a career field and grow personally.

Cons: There may be some restrictions on what teenagers are allowed do.

Resources: Contact your favorite nonprofit organizations and ask about its needs. Initiate suggestions of ways you might be able to help out, such as collecting needed items, designing a flier, helping to plan a fundraising event, etc.

Internship/Job-shadowing: Investigate a potential career in fields such as law, medicine, government, arts, media, journalism or business. Look into research opportunities at local colleges and universities. For parents, this may be a time to lean on friends and family members, or to support your child’s self-reliance by encouraging them to make calls on their own behalf. Contact human resource departments at companies and organizations of interest. These experiences can be as brief as a few days – or if you make a great impression, they might last throughout the summer and into next year.

Pros: A well-choreographed internship or job-shadowing experience can either confirm or deny your suspicions about a certain career and save you a lot of time and money. My son dreamed of becoming an architect, but after interning at an architectural firm he knew it wasn’t for him. We are thankful he had this experience before applying to architectural programs. Students who perform well in their internships are frequently offered paid positions during the academic year or the following summer.

Cons: It can be challenging to convince employers to bring on a high school student. Many companies believe internships and job-shadowing require too much hand-holding and should be reserved for college students with more experience. You might start out washing test tubes or filing documents.

Resources: Contact friends, neighbors and family members with careers of interest. Work your network to find multiple short-term opportunities to explore future job prospects. Check out and type “high school” in the search box to see what resonates with your interests and availability.

Entrepreneurial activities: Start something. Follow your passion. Be your own boss. Tutor or create a landscaping business. The summer is a great time to be an entrepreneur. Figure out what you like to do. Do you have a special skill? Put together a plan, design a website, print business cards and hit the pavement. You might be surprised at the support you receive as a young, enterprising student. Even better, collaborate with a friend for half the work, half the investment and twice the fun! The skills you learn working with and for other people are terrific life skills that will serve you well in college and beyond.

Pros: Colleges love to see students demonstrate creativity, initiative and commitment.

Cons: Requires lots of drive, dedication and strong follow-through skills.

Resources: Take an online career assessment at under the “learn about yourself” tab.

An added benefit of doing something distinctive this summer is that these experiences will often ignite the spark for creative essays.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: or visit her website at