82 Summer Activities for High School Students
- What Types of Activities Should You Do Over the Summer?
- How Do Summer Activities Impact Your Admissions Chances?
- Summer Activity Ideas for High Schoolers
Summer is a time when you can get some much-needed relaxation, but it’s also a great time to work towards your goals. Admissions committees like to see that you’re being productive and accomplishing something during your breaks. At a loss for what to do this summer? Here are 82 of our favorite ideas. Do one, five, ten—or come up with your own original ideas!
What Types of Activities Should You Do Over the Summer?
It might seem a bit overwhelming with the number of different things you could do during the summer, but there are some ways to narrow the list of possibilities down to good, productive choices.
First of all, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin by committing to too many activities. Rather than devoting a few minutes here and there to 50 different things, consider setting aside a larger amount of time to just two or three substantial activities.
Second, think about extracurriculars that can either help you develop or hone a skill, and those that might boost your admissions profile. Of course, don’t do something solely because it looks good, but try to find an activity that’s also meaningful or useful to you. When we talk about extracurriculars, we often refer to finding your spike—a particular passion or interest in a specific area. Ideally, the activities you engage in over the summer should contribute to your spike and show your commitment and dedication to that interest.
Extracurriculars you might want to consider include things like research projects, self-driven projects, internships, jobs, community service, and selective summer programs that offer financial aid. While formal research projects and jobs may be a little difficult to find, there are plenty of ways to volunteer and give back to your community. You can also conduct a self-driven project from the comfort of home!
How Do Summer Activities Impact Your Admissions Chances?
Since just about every student applying to college will submit transcripts, grades, and test scores, summer activities can be a good way to show admissions officers something unique about yourself that isn’t captured by those academic indicators. Who are you outside of the constraints of a busy school week? How would you ideally spend your free time? Your summer activities provide insight into these questions.
These activities can influence your chances at college admission, but the scope of that influence depends on many factors, which include:
- What the activity is
- The activity’s difficulty
- The activity’s prestige/if the activity is offered by an organization or institution
- Your individual role and performance in the activity
- The activity’s relevant connections to or sponsorships by certain colleges
- How much weight a college places on extracurricular activities in general
That said, colleges do care a good deal about summer activities. Everyone in high school gets a summer break, and colleges like to see students who fill that time with productive, high-impact extracurriculars.
Needless to say, if students have family responsibilities and, therefore, lack the time for traditional extracurriculars, colleges will understand. If those are your circumstances, be sure to note that on your application. Unless you explicitly tell colleges your situation, they won’t know your reasons for not having as many summer extracurriculars under your belt as your peers.
It should be noted that not all extracurriculars carry the same weight with admissions officers—there are four tiers of extracurricular activities that colleges think about when reviewing applicants’ activities. More selective, competitive, and prestigious activities are often found in the top tiers, Tier 1 and Tier 2.
Tier 1 includes accomplishments like being a highly recruited athlete or an award-winning national science fair competitor. Tier 2 is for more common activities that have a similar level of prestige or rigor like student body president or being part of an all-state band. Tiers 3 and 4 are reserved for the most common extracurricular achievements, such as holding school leadership positions or being a member of a high school club, respectively.
Curious how the summer activities you’re doing impact your admissions profile? CollegeVine can help you figure that out. We’ve created a free chancing engine that factors in your high school GPA, course rigor, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, and more, to estimate your odds of getting into over 1,600 colleges and universities around the country! It even provides feedback on how you can improve your profile.
Summer Activity Ideas for High Schoolers
- Enroll in college classes: Just because you haven’t matriculated at college yet doesn’t mean you can’t dabble in the coursework. If you take classes now, you may get a head start on credits when you start your college career, which could save you time and money in the long run. Community colleges and some state schools will allow you to enroll in individual courses at a low cost. For more information, check out our article, Should I Take College Classes Over the Summer?
- Take online courses: If you’re unable to take classes in person, there are still plenty of opportunities to learn online. Many online course databases, such as LinkedIn Learning and Skillshare, offer online subscriptions that allow you to access thousands of courses with video tutorials, teaching important skills like coding or SEO.
- Participate in pre-college programs: Colleges and other institutions across the country offer summer programs to high school students looking for a taste of college life. In most cases, students live in dorms and take classes, much like they will when they matriculate as college freshmen in a few years. In some cases, you might even be able to earn college credits that you can apply to your degree later on.
- Attend an academic STEM camp: Similar to pre-college programs, academic camps often allow students to live in a dorm and participate in a college-level curriculum. However, these camps are generally focused on a specific niche or talent, such as science, as with the National Youth Science Camp. These camps are ideal for high schoolers who have a specific passion or definite idea of the discipline they want to pursue.
- Attend an academic camp in the humanities or liberal arts: The same idea as STEM camps applies, but different subjects appeal to different students. Again, this kind of camp is ideal for high schoolers with specific interests already in mind that they want to expand upon.
- Attend performing arts classes or camps: Future actors will enjoy classes and camps that cater to prospective theater majors. Check out our guide to theater arts summer programs for ideas.
- Participate in visual arts classes or camps: There are several art institutes, such as the Rhode Island School of Design, that offer summer courses and programs for aspiring artists. You can also find art classes in your local community that will give you a chance to express your creativity and grow your portfolio over the summer.
- Study for the SAT or ACT: Summer is a good time to enroll in standardized test or college prep classes, since you don’t have to study for your regular high school tests. CollegeVine’s SAT tutoring program will help you prepare with proven strategies and tutors from top schools.
- Take private lessons in an area of interest: Now is a great time to learn something you’ve always wanted to know how to do—sing, speak French, play the clarinet, sew…whatever you want!
Learn a New Skill or Discover a New Interest
- Study a foreign language: Whether you want to gain proficiency in a language you study at school or learn a new one, summer is a great time for practice. Try an app like Duolingo, or connect with a native speaker online through a language exchange platform like italki (you’ll need a parent’s permission to set up an italki account if you’re under 18).
- OR a programming language: Have you always wanted to create an app or build a website? Learning how to program can set you up with the skills you’ll need. There are countless online resources to help you learn Python, Java, HTML, and countless other coding languages.
- OR sign language: Becoming proficient in ASL will give you a unique, not to mention extremely useful, skill. If you’re really interested in delving into this form of communication, you could even learn a foreign sign language!
- Hone your leadership skills through a program or independent activity: Leadership is an invaluable asset for students to have that colleges place a lot of importance on. There are countless established programs you can attend to grow your leadership skills, or you can develop independently by assuming a leadership role in a local organization or business.
- Take singing lessons: Warm up those pipes and learn how to sing your favorite songs.
- Take dance lessons: You can pick what style you like and learn anything from ballet to hip-hop to tango to square dancing! You can even do it without leaving the comfort of your home with YouTube tutorials and online videos.
- Take acting lessons: Who knows? If you get proficient enough in singing, dancing, and acting, you might find a passion for musical theater, where those three talents combine to create one wonderful experience!
- Join your local theater group and audition for a local production: For theater kids looking to continue their passion when school’s not in session, local theater troupes are a great resource. Most groups even have behind-the-scenes roles if things like lighting or audio interest you.
- Join a sports team: For just about every spot you might play, there are local, club, or regional teams you can join over the summer to retain your skills. It’s also a great way to meet other students who share a love for your sport outside of your school.
- Learn how to cook or bake: Julia Child didn’t learn how to cook until she was in her late 30s, so it’s not too late for you to become a master chef! You can even have a bake sale and raise money for charity or put it aside for your college savings.
- Pick up a musical instrument: Playing an instrument is a fantastic way to work your brain over the summer, plus you get to enjoy some music. If you already know how to play an instrument, summer is a great time to learn a new one.
- Speaking of music, join a community or school orchestra: Playing an instrument on your own is fun, but playing with others can be so much more enjoyable. Go out and join an established band in your community, or get together with other students from your band class and practice over the summer and play at gigs.
- Study a visual art discipline, such as painting or photography: Whether you want to try your hand at watercolors or perfect the art of the perfect photo, getting creative with visual arts is a great hobby to pick up over the summer.
- Learn to play chess: In the last few years, chess has grown exponentially and is now a more popular game than ever!
- Take up knitting or crocheting: With some basic knitting skills, you can make clothes for yourself, your loved ones, or even your pets!
- Become proficient in a marketable skill, such as using Photoshop like an expert: Skills that you can put on your resume that will differentiate you in the job market in the future are so important. Depending on what you are interested in, knowing how to use Photoshop, Excel, Google Analytics, etc, will be incredibly useful in the long run. You can teach yourself or find a private tutor or class to help you learn these skills.
- Start a garden: Summer is prime time for gardening because everything is in bloom. You could even help out your community by creating a community garden, and you might learn a good deal about food cultivation while you’re at it.
- Learn basic car maintenance skills, such as changing a tire or checking oil: You never know when you might need to put those skills into practice!
- Learn to do basic home repairs, such as fixing a leaky faucet or a squeaky hinge: Just as knowing how to fix a car is useful and can save you money in the future, becoming handy around the house will pay off as well. You can even sell your services and make some extra cash.
- Learn a martial art or self-defense: Not only will you get a good workout from practicing martial arts and self-defense, but knowing how to defend and protect yourself is always a good thing.
- Learn to swim: Besides being a fun recreational activity, swimming is an important skill that may help you save your own life or others’ lives!
- Get CPR certified: Sometimes, jobs like lifeguarding or childcare will require you to get CPR or First Aid certification, but even if you aren’t required, knowing how to save a life is extremely useful. It’s pretty easy to get certified, but the knowledge you learn will stick with you forever.
- Write: One of the best ways to maintain your skills over the summer is to simply write. Try exploring different kinds of writing—like poetry, short stories, and essays. You could also enter writing contests and try to get your work published.
- Start journaling: Writing in a journal has incredible benefits for your mental health and can alleviate stress and anxiety. Not to mention, it’s great practice for getting in touch with yourself and understanding who you are—skills you will need to write your college essays!
- Practice interviewing: Draft lists of questions you have about topics you’re interested in and email college professors who specialize in those topics. While many professors may not see their emails during the summer, a large number do and would be happy to help! Also, conducting an interview from the interviewer’s point of view can help you when you eventually do college interviews.
- Learn about another culture: It’s important to broaden your perspective and expand your worldview, and learning about other cultures is a great way to do that. Read books about that culture and its history, watch movies and documentaries about that culture, and even take trips to local restaurants or cultural centers.
- Shadow a professional in a field you’re interested in: Granted, this can be hard if you don’t know someone in that industry, but you have nothing to lose by reaching out and asking! Getting professional experience in high school is an amazing way to show your dedication to your interests and start building connections for future internships and jobs.
Practice Leadership or Work Toward Personal Growth
- Practice mindfulness or meditation: Life as a high schooler is undoubtedly stressful, so having techniques to manage life when it gets too hectic is very important. Especially once school starts up again and you eventually enter college application season, you’ll thank yourself for building mindfulness habits over the summer.
- Practice role-playing exercises: These can help you think on your feet more quickly or creatively. It’s never too late to work on your decision-making or problem-solving skills!
- Join a public speaking workshop: Do you get stage fright, or do you find yourself stumbling over your words more than you’d like to? Practicing presentations or speeches can help boost your confidence and increase the ease with which you speak publicly.
- Look into mentorship programs: Everyone has different experiences in life, and we all have something we can teach somebody else. In fact, it’s a great idea to learn from both older and younger people, as their amount of life experience and outlook on things can be very different!
- Write down and accomplish personal goals: Make a list of goals for yourself and try to meet or exceed as many of them as you can during the summer. They can be anything you want, from reading a book every week to mastering a song on the piano to doing 20 pushups by the end of the summer.
- Consider joining a team-building retreat: Although these are usually offered to companies, there are some retreats for high school students designed to improve how they work with peers.
- Create a personal budget and learn about money management: While this might not seem like the most important thing to know now, it will become absolutely essential very soon in life!
- Learn about investing: Just as it’s important to know how to save, it’s also good to know about how you can make your money grow. While you have to be 18 to start investing on your own, it’s never too early to start learning about the stock market and investing strategies. Also, you can invest before your 18 with the help of a parent or guardian.
Get a Side Hustle
- Find a side job and earn some cash to put aside for college: Having a job can be an impressive extracurricular activity!
- Be a camp counselor at a local or sleepaway summer camp: If you love going to camp and are sad you’re too old to be a camper, why not be a counselor? It’s a nice way to keep doing what you love while getting paid, not to mention it’s good practice for working with kids and taking on responsibility.
- Start your own business: This shows colleges that you have many of the skills they’re looking for—leadership, innovation, and gumption. The sky’s the limit when it comes to what your business could be!
- Land an internship: Internships are incredible opportunities to get exposure to industries you want to work in. They can be challenging to find, especially since many internships go to college students, so a good place to start is asking family friends or teachers if they have anyone you could contact.
- Perform services and chores for others: Ask your family, friends, and neighbors if you can be of any service with things like babysitting, lawn mowing, or car washing. Services like these that don’t require hard skills are easy for high schoolers to pick up, and if you charge less than professional services, you could gain a lot of business.
- Sell old clothing: Summer is a great time for a closet cleanout, but don’t throw away all the clothing you no longer wear. Instead, sell your clothes on apps like Poshmark or Depop, or bring them to a second-hand store and see if you can get any money for them.
Volunteer or Do Community Service
- Do a service project, such as Habitat for Humanity: Get out and help your community. You can also find countless community service projects you can do online now, too.
- Tutor peers or younger students at your school or within your community: Tutoring is a great way to help others in a subject you excel at. You can join existing tutoring programs through your school or a community center, or offer up your services independently.
- Visit a senior center: Your youthful energy can bring so much joy to senior citizens. You can read to them, play games like chess or cards, play an instrument, or just sit and talk with them.
- Volunteer with your library: Libraries are always looking for volunteers to help out, whether that’s with working at the desk, organizing and shelving books, or helping out with youth programs where you might have the chance to read to little kids.
- Visit a soup kitchen or homeless shelter and help people in need: Helping the less fortunate is an incredibly rewarding way to spend your summer. If you like to cook, volunteering to make and serve food for a soup kitchen is a great idea. Or, you can organize drives to collect items for shelters.
- Work with animals at an animal shelter: For those of you who love animals, volunteering at an animal shelter would be a great summer activity.
- Write a column for your local newspaper: Getting involved in your local community and supporting small media is a great option for any student, especially those who like to write. You could ask your newspaper for a column to write about whatever you like—sports, movie reviews, political debates, best local restaurants, etc—or you could submit opinion pieces every few weeks.
- Volunteer with a local campaign: Depending on if it’s an election year, summer is a busy time for political campaigns, and they are always looking for more help, especially from younger generations. You could reach out to candidates running for anything as small as the school board up to the president.
If service is important to you, check out our list of colleges for people who want to make a difference.
Check out these posts for more info about volunteering:
- Finding Volunteer Service Activities: Tips for Freshman & Sophomores
- Can I Volunteer If I’m Under Age 18?
- Study abroad: Studying abroad is one of the most rewarding experiences of your life as you get to fully immerse yourself in another culture. There are numerous programs that give high schoolers the opportunity to spend a summer in another country, where you will not only learn about the culture, but also take classes to expand on your academics.
- Spin a family trip into an extracurricular: Just because your family is going away for a few days or weeks doesn’t mean you have to put all your extracurriculars on hold. You might take classes on your trip, learn a new skill, or volunteer.
- Tour colleges: Now that you have extra free time, it’s a smart idea to tour colleges, especially those farther away from you. It’s normally not essential for you to visit a college before applying, but be aware that some colleges consider demonstrated interest to be important and prefer for students to physically visit.
- Engage in service opportunities abroad: If you want to go abroad, but don’t want to spend your summer taking classes, you can volunteer! You can find organizations that have international branches and sign up for service trips.
Check Something Off Your Bucket List
- Train for a marathon: Summer is a great time to get outside and go for a run in nature. If you like having something to work towards, turn your recreational running into a training routine for a 5K, half-marathon, or full marathon.
- Tackle some books you’ve always meant to read: Summer is prime time for reading; you don’t have to worry about required readings for class and you can take a book to the pool or beach and just relax.
- Hike a mountain or embark on another adventure you’ve always dreamed of doing: Let your adventurous side run free! If you’ve always talked about a certain hike or camping trip you want to go on, why not do it now?
- Plant a tree: You could even turn it into a community service project by gathering a group to plant trees across your neighborhood.
Do Something Informative/Productive With Your Friends or Community
- Document your summer through photography, film, or a scrapbook: What better way to record and look back on the adventures you had this summer than to make a photo album, video, or scrapbook with fun moments and memories.
- Host a trivia night or karaoke night: A fun way to bring your community together would be to organize and host a trivia or karaoke night at a local restaurant, bar, or community center.
- Start a book club: Book clubs aren’t just for adults! You can start one with your friends to stay connected over the summer, or start one with your family. It’s a nice way to check some books off your reading list while also staying in touch with your loved ones.
- Create a podcast: Get your friends together and talk about a subject you’re all interested in. This can be anything really—a video game, a sport or sports team, an academic subject, history, art—the sky’s the limit!
- Start a YouTube channel: Just like the podcast, you can start a YouTube channel on a topic you find interesting. If it becomes successful, you will even be able to make money from it!
- Challenge your friends to join you on a particular fitness plan: Whether it’s a complex workout challenge or something as basic as jogging or biking regularly, this is a great way to bond and hold one another accountable on their fitness journey.
- Start a band: If you and your friends are into music and play instruments, a band is a great opportunity. Nowadays, it’s even easier to learn, create, and publish music than ever before.
Plan for Next Year
- Brainstorm your college essays: If you’re a rising senior, developing essay ideas now will help you during the busy application season, when you’ll also need to study for your classes and exams.
- Narrow down your college list: When it comes to building your college list, it requires a lot of time and research to figure out which safeties, targets, and reaches are right for you. Start thinking about what you want now and find schools that match your criteria.
- If you’re a rising senior, start working on college applications: The Common App officially opens August 1st, but you can actually start filling out your personal and extracurricular information prior to that. Check out our complete guide to the Common App to help you navigate applications.
- Research and apply for scholarships: In the same vein as the previous point, many scholarships and grants will be published prior to the fall, so summer is a good time to get a headstart. Do this with a parent though, as financial endeavors can get a bit tricky.
- Plan a club to start: For younger high schoolers, you can continue to grow your extracurriculars throughout the year by starting a new club. Here are some ideas.
- Brainstorm new ideas for your existing club: Come up with a schedule for club meetings, figure out philanthropy events and fundraisers, research competitions and conferences you can attend, and so much more.
- Connect with teachers to ask for advice or college recommendations: Teachers are also incredibly busy during the school year too, so summer is a good time to maintain relationships from the previous year by asking for advice or help with the college process. Just remember, teachers need a break too and might not answer during the summer which is okay.
- Create an action plan for the coming year: What better way to set yourself up for success than taking time to plan out your goals and how you will achieve them for the upcoming school year?
And don’t forget…
- Relax: Just because you want to show colleges that you’re being productive and not wasting the summer doesn’t mean you can’t take some time to relax and recuperate.
Check out these posts for more advice on summer activities: