As soon as school is back in session after the holidays, many students begin to consider their options for summer. Elite college hopefuls should take care to craft a summer break agenda that will build upon the “hook” they have established during the school year. A theatre kid might use these relatively unburdened months to write and produce a play of his own. A student with a passion for environmental engineering might volunteer at a sustainability NGO. Since the months of September to June are typically filled with must-dos (a student aiming for an Ivy is expected to receive exceptional grades, for example), you can think of summer break as constituting students’ most substantial opportunity to cultivate the “wow” factor that will ultimately help them to stand out to admissions committees—and wherever possible, this time period should be filled with an activity or two that solidifies the applicants’ overarching narrative.

That said, not every student has the time or resources to find that perfect, application-capping internship or project. And when that’s the case, spending a couple of months flipping burgers at the local fast-food joint might be precisely what the admissions gods ordered. We find that this often flies in the face of conventional wisdom—many students and their parents tend to believe that unless an experience is intellectually rigorous, elite schools will not see value in it. As a result, In a lot of cases, these students would rather spend their time (and their precious dollars) taking classes through a less-than-exceptionally-competitive program on their target school’s campus.

In reality, this is the wrong approach. Spending six weeks on the campus of your dream university may help you write your “why X university?” supplemental essay a little bit more convincingly. But it won’t give you an edge in terms of getting in. Working at your local yogurt shop or washing cars or serving pizza just might. In the world of elite college admissions, appearing privileged is rarely an advantage in and of itself, and getting a (paying) job can help dispel that perception. Just do us, and yourself, a favor and refrain from writing your Common App essay about that time when working the cash register at Chick-Fil-A taught you the value of humility and hard work.

 

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