Summer Activities Students Can Do to Boost Their Candidacy

By Nina Berler

“I’m concerned about Emmy’s summer. What should she do that would look good for college?”

Parents like Emmy’s inevitably ask the question. Their angst has likely helped to fuel a huge pre-college business. (Harvard’s seven-week experience this summer will cost you $13,200.) Yet listing these summer programs on applications sends a message to colleges: My parents can afford a summer program at an elite college. But does that mean a student is more qualified? More interesting? Not at all.

What looks good is for a student to spend the summer pursuing their interests. So here’s some advice I give to Emmy and her friends:

Get an everyday job (i.e., barista, ice cream scooper, delivery person).

Students with summer jobs show admissions people that they have a strong work ethic and are willing to save or offset some expenses. And, yes, job experiences result in some stellar college essays!

Teach what you love.

That could be volleyball, lacrosse, soccer, ASL or art. Sharing a hobby helps sharpen communication and instructional skills. I counseled a strong academic student who accepted an offer from the University of Virginia. But the Covid summers of 2020 and 2021 weren’t exactly conducive for her to land a research or internship position. So she took advantage of her love of volleyball, setting up a net and a large box of balls on the front yard. Students lined up from 7:30 am on for lessons.

Learn social media.

Over the past several years, I’ve encouraged my students to use the summer months to develop an inventory of digital skills. That could mean blogging, creating a website or making videos. For example, I counsel a varsity athlete who is interested in sports media. He’s acting on his passion, interviewing professional athletes and making a podcast with a good friend. Last summer, we met regularly to work on his informational writing skills so that he could develop an array of articles with confidence, creating headlines, writing strong introductory paragraphs and using proper English mechanics.


Over the past two years, I’ve worked with five students who joined their local emergency squad. They just love it! Students interested in equine science should pitch in at a stable, or those interested in sustainability can help out at a farm.

Become an entrepreneur.

There’s a market for just about everything! With help from social media (see above), some students have been successful selling sneakers and crafts. (Even If their business ideas don’t take hold, they’ll learn from the experience.)

Find a mentor.

If your student is interested in fashion, perhaps they can connect with a designer. If they’re a budding artist, it might be possible to spend time in a studio or work virtually on technique.

Regarding academics, I mentioned above that parents should usually avoid overspending on pre-college programs that they think will get their student admitted. However, a student can use the summer to take a course that isn’t available at school or satisfies a requirement. There are plenty of local universities or private schools (like Fusion Academy) offering summer programming at a fraction of the pre-college cost, allowing a student to enhance their credentials and have a smoother senior year. Now that should help Emmy’s mother stay calm.

Do’s and Don’ts of Summer Activities

Do . . .

Be original

Follow your interests

Make some money

Learn valuable communication skills

Volunteer doing something you (might) love

Don’t . . .

Seek activities just because you think they sound good

Pay for an overly expensive pre-college experience

About the Author

Founder of unCommon Apps

Nina Berler advises high school students and their families, focusing on how applicants can differentiate themselves in the admissions process through unCommon Apps. Previously, Nina was college counselor and curriculum consultant at The Hudson School in Hoboken, New Jersey. She has also advised educational startups.

Nina has an AB with Honors from Brown University and an MBA from the Stern School of Business, New York University. She holds a Certificate with Distinction in College Counseling from UCLA Extension. Nina is a Professional Member, Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), and a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Her blog posts and articles have appeared in, Parentology, College Confidential and LINK for Counselors.