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9 Productive Things to do Over the Summer as a High School Student

The criteria for admission to the most competitive colleges are far more than good grades and high test scores — from successful research experiences to advanced coursework, standing out within the broader applicant pool is an intensive process. 

Without the time commitment and obligations that come with attending classes, studying for exams, or attending extracurricular activities, the summer is the perfect time to start building up your college applicant profile.

In this blog, I’ll discuss 9 of the best ways to take advantage of your summer to prepare yourself for college admissions. 

1. Join a research program

High school research credentials are increasingly common among college applicants, so adding these experiences to your resume can make a big impact — UPenn’s recent admissions data notes that about one-third of admitted students completed research in high school! 

Research programs can aid this pursuit, as they’ll provide you with support and mentorship while still giving you autonomy in determining the project that best suits your interests. 

Veritas AI, a program founded and designed by Harvard graduate students, builds the skill sets and credentials of motivated students interested in data science and AI. Under the mentorship of Harvard computer scientists, you’ll collaborate to design and complete a project in data computation and AI that fits your personal goals.

If you’re searching for a multi-disciplinary opportunity, check out the Lumiere Research Scholars Program, which offers 1-on-1 guidance on a research project through mentorships with top PhD researchers. Lumiere Research offers academic mentorships for students across STEM, social sciences, and the humanities. 

2. Complete an internship

Finding an internship can be another compelling way to build your profile. By gaining competence in your desired academic field, you’ll show clear preparation for high-level work and knowledge of the topic outside of the high school curriculum. 

One good option to check out when exploring internship opportunities is Ladder Internship, a selective program for high school students to work with start-ups, where you’ll show both academic skill and contribution to a growing industry.

Ladder Startups work in fields including technology, machine learning and AI, finance, environmental science and sustainability, business and marketing, healthcare and medicine, media and journalism, and more. You can explore all the options here on their application form.

3. Enroll in a summer course

If you’re hoping to supplement your academic preparation for college, you can take advantage of summer courses. Extra courses can have an immense boost to your odds of getting into college, as rigorous coursework is an important criterion for admission. 

There are two main directions this can take. One option is to get ahead in your high school curriculum. If you want to jump into a higher level of math, language, or other progressive course subjects, this is a great time to do so. 

You can also enroll in college courses at local universities or online, to gain specialized knowledge in a potential major of interest. Many college majors from STEM to humanities have few or no analogous courses in high school. For example, if you’re interested in neuroscience, you can go beyond AP Biology and strengthen your profile, showing early commitment to the field and preexisting knowledge that puts you ahead of your peers for college-level study. 

4. Test prep

The test-optional policies that began during the pandemic are changing — many schools again require SAT or ACT scores, others will be phasing out their test-optional guidelines, and some — including Yale and Harvard have made unexpected changes in their requirements. In the face of this confusion, it’s safest for all students to take the ACT or SAT before they apply 

Since the average SAT scores of students admitted to the most selective schools is typically well above 1500, you’ll need to study hard to stand out from other applicants. Trends in admissions data show that “the importance of SAT scores to college applications is correlated to the degree of selectivity of a given institution.”  With this in mind, consider using extra time during the summer for individual study or test prep programs.

5. Design a personal project

Diving deep into a personal interest or cause not only demonstrates commitment and motivation, but also showcases your unique identity. Whether it's founding a community service initiative, starting a blog, or conducting independent research, a passion project illustrates your drive and dedication. Consider resources like volunteer organizations, online courses, or local mentors to support your endeavors. College admissions officers value the initiative and leadership cultivated through such ventures, seeing them as indicators of future potential. We’ve identified some great passion project ideas for you to check out here!

6. Get a job

Work experience can be a powerful addition to your college application resume for multiple reasons — it shows a sense of maturity and responsibility that extends past academic or athletic commitments. Though extracurriculars are often demanding for high-achieving students, there is a large degree of flexibility — you can skip a club meeting or practice if you’re feeling tired or bored. With employment, you’re committing to show up to your shifts and complete the tasks assigned to you — you’ve proactively chosen to take on this responsibility. 

Having work experience can further show a commitment to helping support your family and/or funding your college education, meaning that your activities had a purpose beyond academics or enhancing your college application. 

While work that relates to your intended major can be helpful, this isn’t a requirement. Academic job positions are hard to acquire as a high schooler — students might complete research programs or internships, but they’re typically not paid positions. If such an opportunity does turn up, it’s absolutely worth taking advantage of. Otherwise, working at a restaurant, local business, or other typical high school job is a strong choice. 

US News & World Report discusses how you can leverage your high school job experience on your college application here

If this seems like something you’d be interested in, check out our blog on the best internships for high school students in 2024!

7. Join an incubator program

Similar to those used by actual entrepreneurs in the early stages of their careers, high school incubator programs provide guidance for students hoping to enter the business world. You’ll show expertise in business and economics, and be able to add ‘startup founder’ to your resume. 

One strong incubator program is the Young Founders Lab, a start-up bootcamp that matches students with mentors from top universities, tech companies, and successful startups. By the end of the program, you’ll have learned the techniques for building a company and founded a revenue-earning start-up of your own. 

8. Explore your academic plans

When admissions officers are evaluating your application, they’ll be looking for signs of passion for your chosen major. Though you won’t be expected to have everything figured out, choosing a major that you can back up with evidence from your coursework, extracurricular activities, and personal passions will be massively advantageous

During the summers before 10th and 11th grade, it’s a good idea to start thinking about what topics most excite you. Some great first steps can include reading books and articles in potential areas of interest, speaking to individuals with careers you’d like to pursue, and exploring the wide range of majors offered and how they align with your interests and goals. From there, you can start tailoring the courses you take and extracurriculars you prioritized based on the passions you discover, working towards establishing a cohesive profile by the time you submit your applications. 

9. Visit colleges

Conducting college visits over the summer is a great use of time — you’ll get exposure to the campus atmosphere, hear from current students and admissions officers, and narrow down your school list without needing to worry about missing school days. 

On the admissions strategy side, many colleges track ‘demonstrated interest’, which means that they look more favorably upon applicants who have shown a clear interest in attending the school. Since school rankings are partially determined by yield rate — the percentage of admitted students who attend — they’re more likely to admit students who seem truly interested in attending the college. 

If you’re looking for an incubator program that helps you establish a developed startup in high school, consider the Young Founders Lab! 

The Young Founders Lab is a real-world start-up bootcamp founded and run by Harvard entrepreneurs. In this program, you will work towards building a revenue-generating start-up that addresses a real-world problem. You will also have the opportunity to be mentored by established entrepreneurs and professionals from Google, Microsoft, and X. 

You can access the application link here!

One other option - Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re interested in pursuing research in STEM or other fields, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students. Last year, we had 150 students on full need-based financial aid!

Alexej is a graduate of Princeton University, where he studied Linguistics, Cognitive Science, and Humanities & Sciences. Alexej works in college admissions consulting, and is passionate about pursuing research at the intersection of humanities, linguistics, and psychology. He enjoys creative writing, hiking, and playing the piano.



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