Written by: Joe Emerson // Apr 6, 2018
Last updated: Apr 16, 2018
People who work their way through the mountain of tips on how high schoolers can use summers to prepare for college will see a pattern emerge. There are a lot of summer tips for high school students preparing for college. Typically, the experts focus on five areas: jobs and internships, volunteer work, well-chosen summer courses and programs, college admissions prep work, and extracurricular activities that identify, hone, and display personal skills and talents.
That’s a lot of ground to cover, which is why following through on summer tips for high school students preparing for college can take years. And that’s why the process should begin in the freshman year of high school or sooner.
If you’re still planning how to prepare for college and make the most of your upcoming break, consider our summer tips for high school students.
Jobs and Internships
Summer jobs and internships serve several purposes. If you don’t know what you want to do with your life, these are good ways to explore different fields. If you think you know what you want, these are good ways to make sure. In addition, if there are financial hurdles between you and college, a paycheck will help.
Here are some tips gleaned from education professionals:
- Follow your passion. Call employers who interest you and ask for a job or internship.
- Work for free. If you find a place that really interests you but isn’t hiring or doesn’t do internships, offer to work for free. It could turn into a paying gig.
- Be your own boss. Create a business such as a landscape service or something that allows you to apply your talents and skills.
- Apply your talents. If sports or a performing art is your passion, check with professional or amateur sports teams or performing arts venues or companies for opportunities.
Volunteer work is unlikely to be the deciding factor for any college application, but having the service on your academic résumé might give you the cumulative edge you need. Plus, volunteering teaches you important skills that can help you throughout life.
Relevance to your studies and longevity are aspects of summer volunteer service that might impress an admissions officer. For example, if you are planning a social services career, show your commitment by volunteering at a homeless shelter. Another advantage would be summer volunteer work through programs that involve travel and engagement in another country, which may help highlight your adaptability.
In fact, some high schools and scholarship programs, such as Bright Futures, require students to do a certain amount of volunteer hours. Consider adding volunteering to your multiyear summer plan. You don't want to procrastinate and miss out on other influential summer opportunities.
Summer Courses and Programs
Taking summer courses can bolster a strong academic record, fill gaps created by life circumstances, and expose you to career choices that can affirm or change your goals. And there are for-credit and noncredit options related to a wide range of majors and concentrations.
Keep in mind that not all college offer these types of programs, and the colleges that do offer them have different requirements and deadlines. Scholarships and financial aid may be available for these types of programs. It’s important to check with the college for specific details.
There’s another consideration here: If your target schools have summer programs, you can accumulate academic points while spending time exploring residence hall life, the campuses, and communities.
College Admissions Prep Work
When it comes to mapping your college experience, deciding what you want to study and where makes it easier to choose the courses and activities that will open doors at your target schools. That means your high school years should include a thorough vetting of colleges and as many virtual and actual campus tours as possible.
Summer is a great time for campus tours, and it also is a good time to choose high school courses for the coming year. Keep in mind that the high school courses you pick should mirror the academic demands of your dream school(s) and your academic focus.
Then, of course, there are standardized tests. The trick here is knowing what’s coming and when – and studying. Summer is a great time to get it done. There are practice tests available online that can help you prepare for the testing process and study at the same time.
Think well-rounded. While each college is different, many college admissions offices look at the whole person when making their picks.
Chess club member? Good. Chess club member for four years or longer? Better. Leader of the chess club for part of that time? Better yet. A record of summers spent participating in formal studies and programs to enhance your chess skills and competition at local, state, national, and international levels? Wow!
In short, find pursuits you enjoy, stick with them, and do what you can to excel. If those pursuits are also relevant to your scholastic goals, you hit the academic jackpot.
Summer Timeline for High School Students
- Rising freshmen should plan the coming school year’s course load with an eye to college, build or add to their volunteer work portfolio, begin the college scholarship search, and attend freshman orientation.
- Rising sophomores should study for the PSAT/NMSQT, start researching careers, take a personality test (to reduce guesswork in long-term planning), and take online college courses.
- Rising juniors should prep for the PSAT/NSMQT, visit colleges, evaluate their GPA, and review their high school records for weaknesses.
- Rising seniors should put the scholarship search near the top of their to-do list, rank a target college list, study for standardized tests, and think about recommendation letters.
That’s a lot to do, and it doesn’t even cover the final summer before college.
Use That Final Summer Wisely
Along with staying committed to all the things that got you this far and locking in the orientation date, college-bound high school graduates should:
- Keep that summer job going as long as possible. If you have managed to get a job that’s in line with your career goals, the experience will be as beneficial as the money you sock away.
- Continue extracurricular activities, especially the ones tailored to your college and career plans.
- Wrap up any loose ends in the college enrollment process, and check off everything on your get-it-done-before-college-starts list.
The road to college can be long and tricky. Remember that there are pros at places such as the USF Admissions Office who can help.