By Laurie Weingarten of One Stop College Counseling

This is a question we are always asked when beginning our work with students. There are literally thousands of options of different things you can do in the summer, and there is no “right” choice. Colleges look to see that students were productive during their vacations, but they do not have a preference for one program over another.

School is exhausting, and students need a mental break during July and August. Plan to take some time over the summer to relax and rejuvenate after the long school year, but then select something you are passionate about.

Studying for standardized tests, taking advanced academic courses, and travel/sightseeing are not typically considered part of a productive summer. And participating in expensive, so-called “prestigious” pay-to-play programs is not usually a good use of time (and money). Colleges are looking for you to spend six weeks (or more) doing something meaningful, where you can demonstrate leadership, creativity, initiative and accomplishment.

It can be a program, volunteer work, hobbies, internships, research, summer employment… whatever you like! You should put together a summer plan where you can pursue your interests, particularly those that you may not have enough time for during their year.

Don’t worry about impressing admission officers; the things that you enjoy are the ones that you will take to the next level—either continuing them during the year or discovering a way to build upon or initiate change during the following year. It will give you something different to speak/write about in an interview/essay. Let your creativity shine!

Quick advice:

  1. Advance Interests: Spend your summer doing something that TRULY interests you. That way you will be more engaged, perform better, and be more likely to find a creative way to “make an impact” which will serve you well in the college admission process. You’ll also enjoy your summer!
  1. Broaden your Options: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you are going to apply for a “highly selective” program, make sure you have a few backups in case you aren’t accepted.  
  1. Great is the Enemy of Good Enough: Remember that you don’t need to pick a “program” to do. You can simply take a job (even something basic like working at a local Carvel Ice Cream shop), work for a professor at a research lab, become a camp counselor or make a difference by volunteering in your community. Colleges just want to know that you were productive and that you weren’t at home watching TV all summer!

About the Author: Laurie Kopp Weingarten is a Certified Educational Planner as well as Co-founder and President of One-Stop College Counseling. She meets with students in her New Jersey office and virtually throughout the United States and abroad. She graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and received an MBA from Harvard Business School. Working with eighth to 12th graders, Laurie guides students through each stage of the college admission process. She’s passionate about helping students reach their full academic and extracurricular potential; there’s nothing more rewarding than their excitement upon acceptance to their top-choice schools! Laurie is a Professional Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) as well as a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA). She’s also a proud member of the Character Collaborative.