As summer nears, you might be wondering how to fill your newly discovered free time, especially if you live in a quiet, rural area. Perhaps you have visions of long days spent vegging out by the water, an urge to hop in the car and drive all day without a map, or dreams of an action-packed summer hiking and camping in the wilderness. These are all great ideas, to be sure, but don’t write off the next 90 days just yet.

 

While you’re certainly entitled to some rest after the frantic rush of finals, AP exams, and wrap-up of the school year, summer shouldn’t consist solely and entirely of a three-month vacation. After all, while you’re home putting your feet up, other college applicants will be out there working, participating in academic summer programs, acting as research assistants, or plugging away at their dream internships. If you want to compete with top candidates at selective colleges, you’ll need to find a way to stay productive over the summer too.

 

If you live in a small town, however, you might be wondering if that’s possible. It may seem as though the deck is stacked against you if you don’t have access to advanced industries or higher education. Maybe there are classes at community colleges, but they’re not close enough for you to attend. You may not even find traditional summer job opportunities if there isn’t much of a tourist scene or other seasonal business. If your travel money is also limited, you might feel a little stuck.

 

Don’t worry, though. Plenty of students who come from towns just like yours have been through the same thing. It is completely possible to have a productive and even impressive summer despite your location. In fact, there are even certain elements of a small town that can allow you to thrive and shine through community involvement. 

 

Keep reading to learn more about how to maximize the potential of summer activities in your small hometown.

 

1. Find a Job That Allows You to Work Remotely

If your locality has few job opportunities beyond stocking the shelves at the local grocery store, consider the possibility of working remotely from your residence. Working from home has a lot of perks. You can usually wear whatever you want while you’re working, take a quick break to grab a snack or stretch your legs whenever needed, and sometimes you can even make your own schedule and work when it’s most convenient for you.

 

Working remotely isn’t easy, though. You’ll need to have consistent Internet access and a reliable computer. You’ll also need a skill that easily translates over the computer. Some ideas include writing, tech support, coding, online tutoring, and social media management.

 

You can get started searching for remote positions through large job search engines like Monster or Indeed, or you can use a site like FlexJobs or Virtual Vocations, both of which specialize in remote working arrangements. Keep in mind that these jobs tend to be fairly competitive, since telecommuting is becoming a more and more desirable arrangement for many professionals. You should expect a fairly low starting wage and be prepared for a lengthy search.

 

If you do score an awesome remote job, be sure to take it seriously and devote yourself to it in the same way as you would any other job. Just because your boss isn’t watching you every day doesn’t mean that your work isn’t being tracked. Hold yourself accountable to a high standard and be sure to work as efficiently and honestly as possible. Working remotely is a great solution, but it definitely requires a high degree of responsibility, self-control, and maturity to make it possible.

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2. Complete a Research Project or Independent Study

If you don’t want or need a job during the summer months, a research project or an independent study is an ideal way to gain experience and learn more about a specific subject area or interest.

 

Before you’re done with school in the late spring, look into options for getting your independent study or research project approved by the school for credit or formal recognition. Meet with a counselor or a teacher in your area of interest to see if there are any formal avenues for getting summer work approved through the school. This is the simplest and most effective way to ensure that your summer project will be easily identifiable on your college application.

 

If there aren’t any official avenues for achieving this, don’t worry. There are other ways to communicate the seriousness and depth of your summer work. For example, you could try to get your work published or displayed somewhere, enter it into a contest, or use it towards an online course.

 

In order to complete a research project or independent study, start by finding a mentor. This should be someone with expertise in the subject area. Ideally, it will be someone local with whom you have worked closely in the past, like a teacher or coach, but it could also be someone with whom you communicate via email and phone.

 

Stay on track with your project by creating a timeline well in advance and sticking to it. Set aside a specific time each day that you will devote to your project and set small goals throughout the summer to stay on track with your larger, long term goal.

 

To learn more about setting up a project like this, see our posts on A Guide to Pursuing Research Projects in High School and How to Plan and Implement an Independent Study in High School.

 

3. Learn a New Skill

If you want to learn more about a subject, but aren’t quite ready to tackle an entire research project or independent study, self-studying a new skill or enrolling in an online class is a perfect use of your time. You might study a skill or trade that you haven’t had time to learn at school, like another language, or you could learn something that isn’t offered at your school, like JAVA coding. You could even choose something that isn’t academic at all, like knitting or painting.

 

In a similar way, find a local mentor who can help you along the way or a remote mentor who’s willing to keep in touch by phone or email. Set some small goals throughout the summer to keep your progress moving forward.

 

It’s important to try to find a way to quantify this summer work. The most obvious way to do this is by taking an online class or earning an online certificate. If this isn’t possible or simply isn’t appealing to you, there are other ways to demonstrate your prowess.

 

If you are learning an academic subject, you might be able to self-study for an SAT Subject Test to take in the fall. If you are learning a more tangible skill, consider producing a finished product that can be showcased publicly or donated to a worthy cause. Alternatively, organize and host a skill sharing event where you teach your newly acquired skill to others or apply your new skills towards tutoring others at a local library or community center.

 

To learn more about how to quantify your achievements if you are learning a new skill outside of the classroom, check out our posts How to Quantify Your Achievements in the Visual and Performing Arts and Can I Self Study a Language in High School?.

 

4. Find a Career-Related Job

It may seem easy to pass up a menial job—like washing dishes in the nearby assisted living cafeteria, for example. But if you’re interested in a career in the healthcare industry, it could end up being a great experience. Simply being in the right setting will help you learn more about the day-to-day operations and behind the scenes work that allow the facility to function smoothly. You may also make valuable connections. Who knows? Maybe next summer when you want to get an internship shadowing a practitioner, you’ll already have done the networking required.

 

The same could be said for any local industry or career-related job. Interested in politics? Try to get a job or internship in your local government. Interested in business? Find a small startup that might be willing to let you do some filing or bookkeeping for them.

 

Keep in mind that if there are no jobs available that are directly related to your career, you might need to settle for an unpaid internship or simply shadowing a professional. In addition, depending on what industries or companies exist in your small town, you might need to get creative about how to apply the job to a future career.

 

For example, if you are interested in engineering but STEM opportunities are few and far between in your area, you might choose to learn hands-on mechanics with farm machinery. This might seem like nothing more than a technical skill at first glance, but in reality learning about this kind of mechanics on big machines is an important skill to further your understanding of diesel engine systems, and you might learn something about land surveying, agricultural resource management, or food engineering along the way.

 

5. Devote Your Summer to Service

Service projects are always a strong addition when it comes to college applications. While there are many potential volunteer and service opportunities, you can make yours truly stand out by choosing a cause that is personally important to you.

 

Keep in mind the recommendations from Harvard’s recent Making Caring Common (MCC) campaign, which suggest that meaningful service is found not through grandiose high profile service trips but rather through personal connections, sustained participation, and involvement in the community. Volunteering in a small town can actually be a big advantage because it makes these connections even more tangible and readily apparent.

 

If you already know of a service project that’s near and dear to your heart, by all means, take advantage of this time to get involved. If you can sustain your involvement into the school year, so much the better.

 

If there are no local service projects that feel personally important to you, you might consider starting your own. Think about the issues that impact you or are close to you. Are there local kids who don’t know how to use the Internet because the elementary school doesn’t have a computer lab yet? Is there a retirement home in need of some energizing and outreach with younger people? How about crises like hunger, homelessness, or addiction? Any of these issues can be turned into a service project.

 

You may want to gather some friends, or you can get started on your own and then build support from friends and other connections along the way. Try to quantify your involvement the same way as you would for any other project. Log the hours that you spend and track any potential results, such as funds or resources raised and people reached. 

 

Being from a small town might seem like a hindrance when it comes to planning a productive summer, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little creative thinking, forethought, and initiative, you can easily create a summer itinerary that will broaden your horizons, deepen your understanding in specific subject areas, and even provide you with profitable work opportunities. 

 

If you’re still trying to decide how you’ll spend your summer, or you’re having some trouble narrowing down the possibilities, consider checking out CollegeVine’s Applications Guidance service. You’ll be paired with a personal admissions specialist who can provide step-by-step guidance throughout the entire application process, including how to best highlight your unique skills and activities.

 

If you’re a high school student considering your options for summer activities, you can find more advice from CollegeVine here:

Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist