If there’s one tip about college admissions that we’ve always known, it’s that you shouldn’t spend high school summers imprinting into the couch. As much as we’d all like to spend some quality time on Netflix, colleges won’t be impressed by several three month internships at Couch Potato, LLC. To help you make the most out of the upcoming summer, we’ve included a few interesting and impressive options for you to consider. We’ve organized this list in order of decreasing impressiveness to colleges.

Summer Programs

This is likely the most fun way to spend your summer, and the easiest way to do something without really working too much. In general, colleges prefer to see students attend summer programs that are tuition-free, because the only thing that attending an expensive camp says about an applicant is that he or she can afford to pay. There are many types of summer programs to choose from:

  • Prestigious Camps: There are some summer programs that are extremely selective, prestigious, and free. Programs such as TASP for humanities, RSI, MITES, or SSP for science, or Boys/Girls Nation for leadership are all camps that colleges give a lot of weight to.
  • Extracurricular Development: There are a lot of camps that are geared towards supplementing the extracurriculars you are already involved in. Debate camp, band camp, sports camps, and drawing camps are only a few such options. These summer-long excursions will allow you to do something you really enjoy while also learning during the summer, and you’ll be better prepared for the year following. Start with a basic Google search for whatever type of camp you are looking for, and then fill out applications! If money is a concern for you, look for camps that offer grants or for independent grants online.
  • Academic Camps: Math camps, science camps, and writing camps are only three of the many different options you can take advantage of. Your local town probably offers day-camps during the summer at community centers, or you can find a program online for your interests. The JHU-CTY program is an example of one that you could consider – you get to interact with other high school students with similar interests, and you have an opportunity to learn about things that you are really passionate about. This could also help you begin to choose a major for your undergraduate years.
  • Pre-College Camps: Most universities offer summer programs, during which you can take classes at that school offered during the summer semester. A pre-college camp would give you a great feel of a college campus, and would make your “Why X College?” essay extremely powerful  because you’d have so many great memories. This type of camp also gives you a better idea of what attending a given school might be like so that you will be able to write more convincing essays. However, these camps will not increase your chances of being admitted to the college later on. If you’re interested, check with top-choice and reach schools early in the year to see if they have these summer programs – many have hard deadlines for the application.

Jobs

Jobs are a great way to make a little money during the summer while still demonstrating responsibility and an active mind. Although you will by no means be penalized for not having a job on your college application, working in the “real world” can definitely lend a bit of color to your application.

  • Career-related jobs: This is the best type of summer job for a college application. If you can demonstrate that you have already done work in the field that you eventually want to have a career in, it shows initiative. Start off by speaking to your guidance office about possible openings, and then approach the job search much like you’d approach an internship search. If it’s proving difficult to get paid for your expertise, start off as an unpaid intern and graduate to an employee. Oftentimes, offering to work during the school year as well will increase your chances of getting hired – companies don’t like to spend time training you if you’re only going to be with them for three months.
  • Other jobs: Working in retail, as a secretary, or at dining places are all easy options to make some money and develop your work ethic. Colleges will look on this option favorably because your ability to hold a job, especially if you have a repeat offer of employment, reflects on your responsibility and character. Look for local options and you can consider extending your employment throughout the school year if you can afford to put in the hours.

Internships

If you want to intern, you should start looking for a position before winter break of your Junior year. Because you don’t have a college degree, anticipate receiving a few rejections before you find something you like. Persistence will pay off – even companies that don’t have intern programs may take you on if they are impressed.

As a general rule, the first email you send should already have your resume attached to it. In the body of the email, don’t ask if they have vacant positions. Instead, just ask for the opportunity to interview. It’s best to also include one or two reasons why, even as a high schooler, you will be an asset. If you do get an interview, you should work to really “wow” them. Practice answering interview questions diligently, and make sure that you have researched the institution thoroughly. You probably aren’t the ideal candidate based on academic qualifications, so you have to be the best based on your hard-working character – if there isn’t an internship program already, you have to make them want to create a position for you!

  • Lab assistance – if you are science, math, or tech-oriented, labs are the best place to work. Start off by asking your STEM teachers to see if they know of any opportunities. Try emailing professors at nearby universities – a community college and state school would be appropriate. Mention the search to your friends to see if anyone has a parent who needs lab assistance. And finally, if none of these options work, send emails to multiple local labs and nearby graduate school research programs. If you have done any prior research in the same field as the labs you are looking to work in, consider attaching both a letter of recommendation from your first mentor and your resume on the first email. If the research was particularly impressive, be sure to reference it extensively in the body of the email and in a potential interview.
  • Humanities internships – if you are looking at law, business, communications, etc., it may be slightly harder to find a position. Any service-oriented companies, such as financial advising agencies, often have a lot of sensitive information about clients that you can’t work with. Try applying for internships that are government sponsored – the public defender’s office or the governor’s office, for example. Send emails to companies that you’d be interested in working for, asking for the opportunity to do any kind of work, whether it be scanning or otherwise. Make it very clear that you don’t have expectations, and that you are looking mostly for the opportunity to learn through observation.

Classes

Taking college classes during your summer months can really prepare you for the next school year and give you what you need to “boost” your transcript. If you haven’t taken a lot of AP classes and you are now a junior, this could be a great way to show colleges that you are willing to accept a challenge. However, know that college classes are not your best option when compared to the rest of this list – they are expensive and don’t tend to impact your application a substantial amount.

  • Community/Online College classes: Getting the summer semester catalog for your local community college or for an online university should not be particularly hard – most are available to the public online. Submit an application with your transcript by the deadline, and then go to class! Make sure that you register for a reasonable courseload and work diligently because you want to be able to submit a positive transcript when applying to college later. If you don’t receive good grades in these summer courses, you might as well have done nothing at home because they won’t impact your application positively!
  • Online summer courses: These are also an interesting option for your summer. Completing an official online program such as a Coursera course can provide you with a supplemental skill to offer on a college application. Make sure that the program you want to complete provides some type of confirmation that you successfully finished the course; otherwise you won’t have any proof that you actually took the class. Taking language classes during the summer and into the academic year using online programs could give you an additional proficiency to include on your Common Application.

Summer is a great time to explore new topics and extra-curriculars or to supplement your existing knowledge and interests. Make sure that, even while going to class or work, you take advantage of the time off and really enjoy your time before college. Choose an option that you find fun, and be creative when coming up with other, unique summer plans.