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Maddi Lee

High Schooler’s Guide to Spending Your Summer Wisely

“Oh, lord,” you groan. “Now, this blogger’s gonna tell me to be—shudder—productive this summer.”

I wish I could tell you that you’re wrong…


…But I can’t. Summer is an awesome time to have fun, but it’s also such a vital period for tons of programs and activities and volunteer gigs that your mind will positively explode. It’s an essential time for any high schooler to do things that are (collective groan) productive.

Still, though the word “productive” has connotations all on its own, spending your summer wisely can only help you in the end…and it can actually be pretty fun. Instead of vegetating for the next three months, try a few items on this list! This applies to incoming sophomores, juniors and seniors.


1) Find an internship

Now, many internships only accept applications months in advance, but there are still others who accept new interns on a rolling basis. If you have a good idea of your college major and future occupation, find a relevant internship and work hard at it. Internship opportunities can be found through already established connections (familial or otherwise) or even by a quick internet search on websites like InternMatch or Internships.They’re literally only a click away.


2) READ!

You’ve been told this since you encountered Hooked on Phonics in Kindergarten, but really…reading is so, so vital to success—not just in school, but in life. Man, that sounded cheesy.


Reading will help keep your mind in tip-top shape, while also providing you with valuable information and resources for the next school year (and many more school years to come). Think of all the times you’ll need to cite reading material—on the SAT, on AP exams, on in-class essays…Don’t just stick to required reading. If you look at the books on this awesome reading list, for example, you’ll find tons of invigorating, stimulating material which will not only keep you entertained, but also provide some worthwhile academic benefits.


3) Orientations and college visits

Visit those colleges that you’re looking to apply to—especially if you’ve just completed junior year. Lots of juniors do this during winter and spring break, but summer break offers even more time and even more opportunities to visit campuses near and far. This is a great way to really get a feel for the atmosphere of a college campus and its students.


4) Find a job


It really isn’t as scary as it sounds! Finding a job is an excellent way to prepare for your future. Not only will it help you gain valuable life experience, but who doesn’t like some moola? Not to mention, it’s a great addition to your college app—a great way to show that you are committed, responsible, and not just relying on your parents to keep your wallet filled. It’s even better if you can find a job doing something you enjoy or something relevant to your future career!

Jobs can range from small jobs at your local shopping mall or larger jobs for companies in a field you’re interested in …or maybe even an online job. Check out job listings on these websites, for example—or ask around locally.


5) Volunteer!

Volunteering is a great way to spend your summer—especially if you find a job you really love. This ties into #6, but try to find a volunteer opportunity that you really enjoy—maybe even something that involves your passions and interests.

VolunteerMatch is an excellent resource for finding local and virtual jobs according to your interests.


6) Work on a big project or something that’s meaningful to you

Stay busy! You don’t necessarily have to go to some fancy camp to make your summer impressive. Set big goals for yourself, and reach for them. Climb a mountain. Organize a charity event. The point is to make use of your time—because soon you won’t have much of it.

Particularly for those who have a huge passion or hobby, do what you like doing—and do it a lot. If you’re an artist, paint like it’s no one’s business. Maybe even sell some of your work! Aim to be featured in a local art fair.

If you’re a programming enthusiast, code like there’s no tomorrow. Maybe you can start a business or look for companies which need your talent.

In short, know your passion and exploit it. Become very good at it. Colleges enjoy seeing extracurricular focus in applicants.


7) Take classes

Take classes at a local college or university! This is a great opportunity to gain some experience to gain credits and learning experience in a real college environment.

You can also take online classes—a lot of which are completely free. Again, this ties into #6. If you enjoy architecture, for example, there are plenty of free courses online on sites like edX. The same applies to countless other fields.

Check out these other MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses). There are hundreds of free online courses—some of which are associated with elite universities. You can also watch countless lectures from top universities on Youtube like Stanford or Yale. Pretty cool if you ask me.


8) Study!

I know, I know. Not the funnest way to spend your summer. But for incoming juniors and seniors, this is a great opportunity to study for the SAT or ACT if you haven’t already. It’s also a great time to study for any SAT subject tests that you’re planning on taking in autumn or winter. Find a great online program or prep school, find a tutor, or buy a prep book and study on your own!


9) Start your college apps

Ah, college apps! This has been mentioned in previous posts, but summer is the prime time to begin those wonderful little bundles of…terror. A great place to start is the Common App supplement essays. Start outlining ideas and writing your first drafts. Maybe even send some drafts over to family members for feedback. Check out the supplement essays for the colleges you’re thinking of applying to. (Remember that college list?)

The more you do now, the less you’ll have to worry about in the chaotic maelstrom that is first semester senior year. (And you thought second semester junior year was hard!)


10) Stay physically active

Don’t just work out your brain! Staying physically active has been scientifically proven to promote healthy brain activity and—get this—happiness. Start healthy habits: go for a daily jog, have a nightly workout routine, take up a yoga class! “I’m not athletic” isn’t an excuse.

Unless you’re me, that is. This is what happens when I attempt to exercise.


And before we leave: some things to be wary of…


1) “Prestigious” summer programs

Lots of students and parents become convinced that attending “prestigious” summer programs at prestigious universities will secure them a spot in admissions. Although these programs will certainly provide an excellent experience, attending one just to add it to your college application is not a great idea. Many of them are expensive, but not necessarily selective. It’ll prove to college admissions officers that your parents are wealthy enough to afford such programs, but it certainly won’t guarantee you a spot. Enroll if you want a great experience and want to learn a lot…but don’t do it just for the app!


2) Short service trips

The same thing applies to service trips. A lot of people are convinced that going to Africa and building some houses for a few days will look great on their college app. They go on expensive service trips just to write about it in their essay.


Don’t do this! This will not help your college app. There are tons of students who do this, and admissions officers will not be impressed—especially if you volunteered your time, not out of your own passion, but for the sake of a checkbox on your college app. Especially if you stay for a few days and leave.

If you’re passionate about helping people, go ahead. Do something worthwhile with it. Just don’t think a short summer service trip will secure your chances.



And that’s it! Spend your summer wisely. Don’t get sucked into doing things just to add to your college app…and remember to have fun! It’s summer!


Photo Credit: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7


About Maddi Lee

Maddi is currently a high school junior in southern California. She is an avid freelance writer and has been featured in multiple literary publications and anthologies. When she isn't writing, she loves traveling, doodling, and most of all, sleeping. Through her own experience and passion, she hopes to help guide fellow students through the roller coaster that is SAT and college admissions...that is, as long as she survives the journey herself!

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