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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How Your Summer Plans Factor Into Ivy League Admissions

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Preparing to apply to the Ivy League is no joke. You have to consider your GPA, class rank, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities. Now more than ever, selective colleges can have their pick of the top students in the country as top acceptance rates stoop well below 10%. To compete with the best, you have to ensure that your application is even more compelling than theirs.


It’s no wonder that when summer rolls around, you might be ready for a break. We don’t blame you, but if you’re sizing up your summer months and their weight on your college application, be sure not to rest too long. Ivy league colleges are definitely interested in how you spend your summer months.


To learn more about how the Ivy League weighs your summer activities and what you can do this summer to impress Ivy League admissions committees, keep reading.



Why Ivy League Admissions Care How You Spend Your Summer Vacation

There’s no doubt that after the hustle and bustle of the school year, you may be feeling weary, but summer is no time to put on the brakes. In fact, many selective colleges view your summer activities as a window into how you choose to spend your free time. What you choose to do with this unstructured time speaks volumes about your dedication, ambition, and academic prowess.


Ivy league admissions are among the most competitive in the country. Being at the top of your class and achieving high test scores combined with national recognition in extracurriculars sometimes isn’t enough to gain admissions anymore. As such, Ivy league admissions committees use your summer activities as a gauge for your independence and ambition.


Furthermore, many students have trouble thinking outside the box when it comes to summer activities. While it’s easy to sign up for college classes online or apply to a selective internship, it takes another level of independence and motivation to seek out and create your own opportunities.



How Can You Set Yourself Apart Through Summer Activities?

While top tier summer programs and competitive internships are definitely great to have on your college application, they sometimes aren’t enough to impress the Ivy league. If you really want to impress the Ivy league admissions committees, you’ll need to be more creative than that.


Instead of pursuing established routes to success, think about forging your own. Consider your unique interests, strengths, and passions. Is there a way to combine them into a worthwhile pursuit? Think about designing your own research project, starting your own business, or forming your own service project. Doing something extraordinary is great; creating your own extraordinary pursuit is even better.


To learn more about independent pursuits and creating your own opportunities, check out these CollegeVine posts:


A Guide to Pursuing Research Projects in High School

How to Plan and Implement an Independent Study in High School

Can I Self Study a Language in High School?



What Qualities Should You Showcase Through Your Summer Activities?

Beyond showcasing your initiative and ambition, you should also think about highlighting more personal qualities. The Ivy league wants to attract students who will be positive contributors to their community. This means exhibiting qualities like leadership, compassion, and morality.

Many students consider spending their summers involved in service work. Service work is a great way to demonstrate that you care about others, but you need to think carefully about the opportunities that you pursue. There are countless programs available abroad that advertise a summer of volunteerism, but your ability to affect actual, lasting change working within these programs can sometimes be limited.


Keep in mind the recommendations from Harvard’s ongoing 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.


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 possible, try to find a project that is personally relevant to you or to a community that you’re involved in. Think about the issues that matter most to the people who matter most to you, and go from there.


If there are no local service projects that feel personally important to you, you might consider starting your own. 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, and they will be all the more powerful if you can sincerely justify your involvement with a genuine personal connection.


You may want to gather some like-minded people to help, 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. Tracking your impact will make it easier to quantify on your college applications.



Consider Your Future Career Ambitions

Finally, be sure to think about your career ambitions while deciding what you will do this summer. Ideally, you will be able to create an opportunity that merges your career interests with causes that are important to you.


For example, if you want to pursue a career in medicine and you live in an area battling an addiction crisis, creating a public health campaign about the resources available to opioid addicts in your community would be a strong option for you.


Similarly, if you’re interested in majoring in music, fundraising for and creating a series of community concerts highlighting local performers would showcase your initiative, your passion, and your musical ability.



What If I Have to Get a Job?

If you need to work for financial or other reasons, don’t worry. Many students need to work to save money for college or even to help support their families. Ideally, try to find a job that is in some way related to your interests or career ambitions, even if only peripherally. Ultimately, though, if finances are a concern you should take the job that best supports your first priority.


The most important thing is that you are able to justify your summer activities. Seize the chance to address your summer activities in a personal essay or interview. Supporting your family is a completely worthy summer activity and it demonstrates your selflessness and your commitment to others.


Summers are a time to explore your passions outside of the confines of school. Use your time wisely to set yourself apart from the rest of the applicant pool. Create your own opportunities, highlight personal qualities like leadership and compassion, and be prepared to justify your choices to the admissions committee if you want to truly stand above the rest.


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For more about summer activities, see these CollegeVine posts:

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
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.