If you’re a high school student interested in economics, you probably have a number of broad extracurricular options to pursue during the school year. You might be in Econ Club or the Mu Alpha Theta Math Honors Society. Maybe you participate in Math League or the Econ Challenge competition. You could even be the treasurer of other, unrelated clubs like your local branch of the National Honor Society. Whatever the case may be, there’s no shortage of econ-related extracurriculars during the school year.

But what do you do when the AP exams are over and school lets out for the summer? How can you keep your momentum headed towards your goal or otherwise use your time productively? An empty summer sprawling before you can seem overwhelming at first, but if you think of this rare, unstructured time as an opportunity for growth, you’ll no doubt find valuable ways to pass the summer months. So what exactly should you do?

Summer activities should serve two primary purposes.

First, as you’re probably already thinking, your summer plans should build the strength of your college application. This means you should think about activities that support your existing academic profile. Your summer pursuits should confirm dedication in areas in which you’ve already built strength over time, or they should fill in some blanks. If you are a strong student athlete with leadership skills on and off the field, you might reinforce this by spending your summer coaching youth sports. Or, if you’re a strong student, but you have not participated in a service project, you may spend the summer seeking out opportunities to give of your time and energy to others.

The second goal of summer activities is to experiment with different possible career and educational paths. If you’re interested in a career in economics, you should seek out summer activities that allow you to further explore this pursuit. Use the summer as the time for trying on different hats within the field of economics to see what fits you best.

Here are four smart summer activities for prospective econ students.

1. Volunteer/Service Work

While there is often a stereotype that many economics students are primarily in it for the money, nearly every charitable organization has the need for economic skills. The field of economics is a vast social science that holds many opportunities for giving back.

See if you can become involved in bookkeeping, statistical analysis, or even communications for a local charity or volunteer group. This could entail anything from calculating the value of donated goods, to analyzing statistical data about public health, to helping the elderly make informed decisions about investments or insurance.

There are also many volunteer opportunities for teens available in other countries. Econ may seem like an unlikely path for pursuing these, but as with local opportunities, most charitable or volunteer organizations can use economic skills. One program in India pairs teen volunteers with local innovators and entrepreneurs to advance entrepreneurial education. Another program in Australia explores business and social impact strategies to address pollution on the Great Barrier Reef. These are a popular choice because they provide the added bonus of travel and cultural experience, but you should think carefully before committing to one.

First, consider the financial feasibility of such an experience. Many are expensive, especially once you add on international airfare. Is this a practical choice for you financially? Second, these types of experiences can be emotionally draining. You are working with real people experiencing crises in the third world and your ability to help them will be limited by supplies, resources, and experience. Are you mentally prepared to deal with this? Finally, these experiences are often somewhat superficial, lasting only a short period of time and not fully integrating you into the communities you are serving. As made clear by Harvard’s recent Making Caring Common campaign, it can be difficult to have a meaningful experience when you don’t have the time to form relationships with the people and community around you.  

Your best bet is to think about what really matters to you personally on a local level. Do you have a grandparent in assisted living? Does your local food bank or animal shelter struggle to make ends meet? Find a cause that you truly care about, regardless of whether it’s related to your academic path in economics. Then, meet with someone from the organization to discuss how your unique skill set might best be put to work. Even if you end up doing something completely unrelated to economics, it’s important to show that you are a well-rounded student who isn’t afraid of branching out for the benefit of the greater good.

2. Internships    

Another valuable summer experience is an internship in the field. This allows you the chance to explore career possibilities in a real world setting. As a high schooler, you could get a paid internship doing basic tasks like accounting or running statistical analyses if you have done so before. Try networking through friends, teachers, and mentors to find connections in the fields of finances, business, or economics.

If you can’t find a paid internship, simply shadowing a professional in the field can be a valuable experience. Again, networking is a good place to start but if that isn’t fruitful, you can reach out to professionals whose work you admire. You might try contacting entrepreneurs, actuaries, stock brokers, financial advisers or even payroll specialists. Professors at local universities may even be looking for help with summer research. Reach out through an email and indicate your interest in and admiration of their work. Ask if it might be possible to shadow them for a week or two to learn more about what they do on a day-to-day basis.

Once you have a few connections, make full use of them. Ask lot of questions; find out why they went into economics, how they chose a specialty, and how they recommend you prepare for a career in economics. Before you finish shadowing a professional, ask if he or she can connect you to another in a related field. Economics is a broad field, so there are lots of options: insurance adjustors, consultants, policy analysts, and even lawyers all may rely on a background in economics.

3. Summer Programs or College Courses

Academic summer programs seem like an obvious choice for aspiring econ students, and they can certainly give you a boost on your college application. Many programs will expose you to coursework required of econ majors, give you practical experiences in finances, and even provide hands-on computer training. These are also a great way to narrow down your interests and explore new subjects not available in high school. Instead of focusing on receiving credit, try to focus on exploring new fields.

There is also another, often-overlooked benefit to these programs that you should consider: summer programs give you the opportunity to form lasting connections with the academic faculty at top colleges and universities. Don’t choose your program based solely on its prestige or convenience. Instead, consider which schools you might like to attend as a college student and explore what programs they have to offer. Creating a lasting relationship with the Econ faculty and staff at schools you’re interested in attending can give you a solid advantage when you apply for admissions. Make sure to keep in touch with these mentors after the program and use them as resources during the admissions process.

4. Real World Experience

Volunteering, interning, and taking summer courses are all great ways to prepare for the real world. But many might argue that the only way to truly know how equipped you are for the real world is to jump right in and experience it firsthand. There are two primary ways for high school students to explore real world economics.

One common way for high school students to experience economics firsthand is to make actual financial investments. Making small investments, learning about the stock market, and risking real money can be an educational and thrilling experience. Of course, you don’t have to invest large amounts of money. Because you are underage, you will have to open a custodial account with a parent, but you can do so with as little as $100. By talking with mentors and researching investments on your own, see how much growth you can get from a simple $100 investment.

Start small and teach yourself the basics including goal setting, diversification, asset allocation, and risk/reward. Some good advice on investing for teens can be found in the U.S. News & World Report article, “How to Teach Your Teenager to Invest”. Before you make any investments, though, make sure to discuss the ramifications with your parents. Because they are the custodial account holders, there could be related tax issues or a future impact on financial aid applications.      

The second way to gain real world experience in economics is to become an entrepreneur. Think about a problem or inconvenience in your life, and come up with a solution. It could be as simple as starting a door-to-door coffee delivery service or as complex as writing new web code. Ask yourself what you will need for your idea to become a reality. Some things you should think about include:

  • How will it be sold?
  • What will it look like?
  • What materials will it be made of?
  • How much will it cost?
  • What permitting issues might you run into?

If you will need to raise funds for your startup, explore fundraising options like investors or Kickstarter campaigns. Ask yourself who would be interested in your product and then research that demographic. How can you target that market? Who are your top competitors and how do they market? How will you differentiate yourself?

There’s no doubt that investing your own money or starting your own company are risky affairs. You might become a successful young day trader or prosperous young business owner, or you might flop on your face. Whatever the case may be, there is always something valuable to be found in real world experiences, whether they are successes or failures. And as the saying goes, you’ll never know unless you try. 

For the academically-motivated student who thrives in the structure of a school environment, an unplanned summer can seem daunting. But summer should be a time to step back from the everyday tensions of homework, back-to-back extracurriculars, and exam deadlines. You can be productive over the summer without overextending yourself, and it is an ideal time to explore your career aspirations. For prospective econ majors, choosing one of the opportunities above and pursuing it deeply will not only look good on your college application. It will also help you to learn about your own goals and ambitions through real world experiences.

If you are a high school student who is considering your options for summer activities, find more information from CollegeVine here:

For more information about Econ programs and preparation check out these CollegeVine articles:

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