Summer, Summer, Summer-Time

I worked my first summer job at a catering restaurant. The business boomed in the summer as a result of a robust wedding season. I joked to my friends that during the summer before 11th grade, I attended 25 weddings. Aside from learning at age 15 what kind of wedding I didn’t want, I gained actual valuable skills such as what to do when you drop a tray full of wedding cake all over a bridesmaid or spill soup on a groom’s lap. Looking back, I’m wondering how I wasn’t fired. I survived, and I think it was actually one of my favorite summers.

Summertime as a high school student can be tricky. In ninth and tenth grade, students are usually too young to work, too young to drive, but too old for most summer camp programs. That in-between stage tends to lead to a lot of binging on Netflix and video games; not the most productive use of time.  However, by the time students are juniors and seniors, choosing a summer activity can be a little overwhelming. There are so many options.

In general, college admissions officers don’t prefer one summer activity over another. From the admissions perspective, students should just try and find a summer activity that stretches them beyond their comfort zone.  There isn’t one thing that is more impressive than another. The summer program doesn’t need to be expensive or long-term, it should just be intentional. I suppose a summer filled with The Office re-runs can even be valuable if it leads to an amazing analysis of how the tv show reflects cultural values in real-world office spaces. (There is actually a paper on this topic. I’m serious. Google it.).

In an effort to encourage students to look beyond Netflix, here are examples of meaningful summer activities:

Academic programs

Most colleges offer summer programs for high school students. These programs offer students an opportunity to focus on an academic topic or just gain skills useful for improving academic preparedness.

Benefits of attending these programs include:

  • Exposure to a college campus

  • Interaction with students from across the country or even around the world

  • Opportunity for an intentionally academic summer

Potential challenges to attending these programs include:

  • Cost; these programs can be really expensive

  • Competitive



Working a job in the summer can be incredibly rewarding for high school students. Students learn to take responsibility for their own schedules and how to be accountable. It isn’t always easy to land a summer job, however, so it is smart to start the search early in the spring.

Benefits of working include:

  • Development of life skills

  • Income (money, money, money)

  • Creating new connections

Challenges of working in the summer:

  • Not always an option for students because of age

  • Lack of transportation might limit job options


  • Summer camp counselor

  • Lifeguard

  • Ice cream store scooper

Athletic travel/camps

Competitive athletes typically play sports year-round and have the opportunity to participate in camps and/or tournaments in the summer. If students hope to play competitively in college, participation in their sports during summer is imperative.

Benefits to playing summer sports include:

  • Opportunity to increase athletic skills

  • Exposure to college coaches

Challenges of playing in the summer:

  • Travel can be costly

  • Summer sports can limit other opportunities



Students at all levels in high school can conduct research. In fact, I’ve often challenged students to find a topic of interest, create a question to answer, and solve the problem. Students don’t need to work in a lab to conduct research. They don’t even need to have an affiliation with a college or university to dive deeply into something they are passionate about. Self-directed research can be just as valuable as a project guided by a professor.  

Benefit of research at any level:

  • New academic discoveries

  • Intentional pursuit of answers to academic questions

  • Potential relationships with college professors

Challenges of wanting to spend the summer doing research:

  • Student might lose interest in the topic

  • Research opportunities with professors aren’t easy to get

  • Unmotivated students don’t always follow follow through on the project


  • Self - developed project (ex. What barriers did Lin Manuel Miranda overcome to produce the musical Hamilton?)

  • Research at Johns Hopkins

Community service

Participating in a community service project during the summer is a great opportunity for all students, but particularly students who are too young to work. Of course, partnering or volunteering with an existing organization provides students terrific opportunities, but thinking outside of the box can produce some exciting experiences, too. Students should think about what they already love to do and find ways to use those interests to benefit others.

Benefit of participating in service:

  • Opportunity to do something good for the community (duh)

  • Create connections with organizations in the community to continue with during the school year

Challenges to including service in summer plans:

  • Can be difficult to find a long-term project

  • Transportation to the service project could be limited


  • Love playing soccer? Consider volunteering as a youth coach in the summer

  • Volunteer with the Cary Teen Council

While I hope students experience more success during their summers than I did, the bottom line is to do something. Create a plan for the summer and set goals. And definitely share your thesis paper on The Office with me in the fall.