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How to Make the Most of Your Summer in High School

With summer quickly approaching, many students and parents are wondering how they can make the most of these two months out of school. The truth of the matter is that summer is what you make of it, so use this time to your advantage to grow, learn, and experience new things. Your hard work will pay off, both in your own personal development and, eventually, in your college applications.


Getting a summer job is one of the most common ways that high schoolers spend their summers, and it can be extremely rewarding. Find a local job at a restaurant and retail store. Ask any friends or family who may know anything about an opening at a local business. It’s a great way to save up money and learn practical skills that may help you later on down the line. It also looks great on a resume and conveys a sense of responsibility.

You could also look for internships — yes, you can be an intern as a high school student, although there is a high likelihood that it will be unpaid. You can spend the summer learning about a potential career path or making connections in the professional world. Start with a specific area of interest, and see what is currently available to someone in your position. For instance, if you’re interested in local politics, look for internship opportunities in your local government or in your Congressperson’s office.

Then, there are more competitive opportunities like the Microsoft high school internship program and NASA internships. These positions are more likely to come with a stipend or pay of some kind. It may take significantly more preparation to be successful in applying to these programs, but they would offer you an unparalleled chance to explore these career paths and will certainly be highly regarded by college admissions officers.

In fact, the H&C college admissions company will soon be offering guaranteed placements for high-achieving students at companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Elle Media. Stay tuned for more information about this exciting program, and please feel free to reach out if you’d like to learn more about it.

If you’re aiming for a STEM-oriented summer, consider doing a research internship. Whether you’re intrigued by any STEM field from medicine to engineering, there are so many different ways to get involved in ongoing research projects. You may even get the chance to contribute to a research paper and get your work published. Reaching out to university professors whose work you admire is also a great way to possibly land a research position.

Have a clear sense of your interests but can’t find the right opportunity? Create your own internship program. It may sound intimidating, but if there’s a company whose work is appealing to you, it couldn’t hurt to share your eagerness to work with them. Even if they don’t have a formal position available for you, offer to help out with anything they might need.

Maybe you have a hobby or passion that could lend itself well to a business — if so, embrace your entrepreneurial spirit. Sell prints of your artwork on Etsy, or turn your baking skills into a dessert-making service. Or you could come up with a solution to a problem that you’ve noticed, like this 17-year-old in New Zealand who founded a business to make sustainability more accessible and stylish to her community.

Summer programs

One of the best things to do over the summer is to get extra training and/or compete in the extracurricular activities you’re already pursuing, like sports or performance-based activities. First, evaluate what your school has to offer. Do any of the student clubs compete in national tournaments or offer trips for students? Ask guidance counselors and teachers if they know of anything that might be a good fit. Then, you can do your own research into the programs available that are best for you based on your interests.

A large number of colleges and universities offer summer programs with classes in various disciplines for high school students, often known as pre-college programs. The caveat is that these programs often come with a high price tag, especially the ones at top schools, but sometimes there is financial aid available. If these costs are preventative, consider cheaper or free programs, like free classes available through the University of Michigan’s summer program, Telluride’s free six-week educational experience for high school juniors (suspended for summer of 2021), or offerings at community colleges. Some states offer a Governor’s School program for 11th and 12th graders to challenge themselves artistically and academically at a local university. A lot of these programs now offer virtual options, which make them more affordable and accessible. You might even be able to earn college credits that will help you later on.

That being said, pay-to-play programs may not necessarily look great on a resume, and it’s not guaranteed that the prestigious academic reputation of a school carries over into the quality of their pre-college program. In fact, many pre-college programs are run by for-profit companies that operate outside of the school, so don’t attend a pre-college program at Harvard solely because you want to get into Harvard one day. The most impressive, and competitive, programs are always free or merit-based programs. It’s best to find meaningful free activities to show dedication than to pay for non-competitive programs that’d you look too privileged. The bottom line: be careful when it comes to the programs you choose.

You could also study abroad and improve upon your language skills. If you’re already taking a language in high school, consider traveling abroad to live with a homestay family and fully immerse yourself in the culture. Programs like SPI Study Abroad or CIEE allow you to take classes at a language school, travel, and experience all the world has to offer. (Note that these opportunities might be limited this summer due to the effects of COVID-19.)

But if you’re not interested in traveling outside of the country but still want to refine your language skills, consider Concordia Language Village, a place in Minnesota where you can receive school credit for your month-long stay fully immersed in the language of your choice. Certain programs also offer a hybrid abroad experience.

Community service

Community service is a great way to use your time in a way that benefits both yourself and others. It is also becoming increasingly important in the college application process. Look into places nearby that might need an extra pair of hands, such as animal shelters, nursing homes, and food banks. Maybe you could become a counselor at a camp for special needs kids or a penpal to a senior citizen.

If you’re interested in promoting a certain issue through legislative advocacy, such as reproductive rights or inequities in education, see if any activist groups in your area have already begun a campaign; if not, consider starting it yourself. You could also start a local chapter of an organization like Girl Up or Amnesty International. And if you don’t find an organization that champions the causes that interest you at all, start a nonprofit organization or community group of your own.

Personal projects

Refine your work for submission to writing contests later in the year. Whether you like to write poetry, plays, fiction, or research papers, there are myriad opportunities for you to submit your work for scholarship competitions. Maybe you have other creative abilities, such as music performance, filmmaking, or visual arts. Whatever it is that you like to do, work on your skills and start building a portfolio.

Finally, for rising seniors, it’s always a great time to start working on your college applications. The Common App, Coalition App, and Universal App release their prompts well before applications are due, usually in the summertime, making this break from school the perfect time to get a headstart and lower the workload you’ll have during the school year.

Summer is a great opportunity to try new things and expand your horizons beyond the parameters of the school year. Start planning as early as possible to find the ideal experience for you.

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