The needed break is on its way for students. The temperature is rising, motivation is dropping – only weeks remain in the classroom until school is let out for summer recess. While days spent sleeping in and heading to the pool are undoubtedly deserved, it is important for students to continue shaping their college applications during the summer months. Colleges want to see that students are spending their time doing something valuable and constructive, and unfortunately binge watching Netflix does not fall into this category. However, this isn’t to say that the summers need to be painful. Rather, the key is accentuating strengths and demonstrating involvement – preferably in areas that the student is passionate about.
One of the greatest fallacies that has spread amongst parents and students looking to “strengthen an application” is the belief that quantity trumps quality in the never-ending pursuit of being “well rounded.” However, the key to a constructive and beneficial summer in terms of the college admissions process is not to dive into a plethora of activities that you think “would look good,” but rather to involve yourself in areas that demonstrate something about yourself to a potential admissions counselor. The easiest way to think about this is to ask the “why” for the activities that you partake in. “Why did you volunteer at the children’s soccer camp?” “Because I enjoy kids and may want to major in Child Development.” “Why did you take a trip to Buenos Aires?” “Because the opportunity to volunteer also helped me advance my skills in Spanish.” The answer to these “why” questions should never be “I did it to build my resume” or “I did it to get my volunteer hours.” If the involvement feels empty and tiresome your summer will be miserable, and most admission counselors will see right through that anyway. Furthermore, it should not be assumed that to draw attention to your application you must partake in a mission trip halfway across the world, or the engineering camp at an Ivy League school (admissions counselors at these schools don’t take this into account anyway!). Community involvement is just as, if not more, valuable on a college application, and a student that pursues an internship tells a greater story than the expensive flight to Ethiopia for a week.
A couple of quick notes – because I know that a number of students will read the word “passion” and freeze up, discouraged by the stress of having to find their life’s calling before their biological clock strikes 18. For one, your summer involvement does not have to be your “life’s passion,” as many of you will be glad to know – especially should you be flipping burgers at the local restaurant or lifeguarding at the community pool. If the word “passion” gives you hives, think of it more as a consistent “story” or “theme” to your application. Think about what your involvement demonstrates. If you work the entire summer, an admissions counselor can draw the conclusion that you are hardworking and dedicated. If you read a lot of books, keep track of them in a journal and demonstrate that you are an avid learner. In the end, the summer should be rejuvenating and worthwhile. Invest in your passions, demonstrate involvement, and make a statement about your strengths. The only real killer is lethargy!