As families prepare for the bustle of the holiday season, summer may seem to be in the distant future. However, for motivated high school students with Ivy League dreams, the winter is a critical time to plan the coming summer and strategize the best ways to use their time off of school. Top universities know that college students spend more time outside of the classroom than inside of it during their college years. For that reason, they place significant emphasis on how students spend their summer months, as it demonstrates what a student chooses to do when they have no other obligations or responsibilities, what they genuinely value, and how they might contribute to their campus community in the future. The summer can be an important time for students to hone their core passions and develop skills that will carry them throughout their academic and professional careers.
If your student aspires to attend a top university, here are five things they can consider doing this coming summer to build their applicant profile:
1. Enrich their academic interests through a rigorous summer program.
Attendance of prestigious academic summer programs demonstrates to top colleges that a student is equipped for the demands of collegiate coursework and that they have engaged with their subject of interest in a sophisticated manner. Students and parents should note that there are two different types of academic summer programs. Pre-college programs tend to be less rigorous, have high admissions rates and are generally expensive. While these can offer good opportunities for freshman and sophomore students to get a feel for life on campus and connect with other students who share their interests, they do not generally demonstrate students’ academic prowess or ability to perform well at the university level.
Merit-based programs, on the other hand, require thorough applications, offer limited seats, and often provide scholarships or are completely free for admitted students. These programs are highly challenging, and while they do not boost a student’s chances of admission to the university that hosts the program, they do provide unparalleled opportunities for students to develop their passion, challenge themselves in the classroom, and build a network of peers and scholars in their field. Students and parents who are interested in pursuing these types of programs should be aware that deadlines for applications typically fall in December, January and February, so it is critical that they start assembling their application materials now.
2. Make a difference through a passion project.
One of the most productive ways to spend summer break is to put concentrated time and effort into the development of a unique passion project which will enrich a student’s community. Whether founding a nonprofit, starting a business, building a website, or organizing an event, execution of any standout passion project requires time and strategy, so this option is best suited for sophomore students who have a sense of their interests but are not yet eligible to attend a competitive summer program. Students interested in pursuing this option should take advantage of the winter months by brainstorming a project idea and determining the specific action steps required to execute it—whether raising money, seeking a mentor in their community, recruiting volunteers, or finding an organization to partner with. Students who start early give themselves the opportunity to dream big and craft a project that will impress admissions officers.
3. Prepare for the professional world through an internship.
Whether interning at a renowned research institution, a leading corporation, or a non-profit with a global impact, interning not only offers students hands-on learning but also equips them to demonstrate a proactive approach to their future. Students should aim to engage in work that aligns with their academic interests and career aspirations in order to get a feel for their future career. While LinkedIn and Idealist can be good places to start the internship search, many publicly advertised internship opportunities are not available to high school students. Therefore, students should use their winter break to brainstorm and connect with any contacts in their network who may be willing to facilitate their internship. If no one comes to mind, they should personally reach out to those in their local area and beyond whom they would be interested in learning from in a professional setting.