Summer Activities for Students: 300+ Ideas for Your College-Bound Teen

For many of today’s college-bound high school students, summer is an opportunity to spend time actively working, learning new skills, or diving deeper into an area (or areas) of interest. It’s the perfect time to take calculated risks that push students into unfamiliar situations that build skills and enrich life experiences. 

Winter break is a great time for a teen to begin thinking about their summer actives. (Twenty20 @Irrmago)

Planning ahead is the key to finding the most rewarding summer experience

Over the last several years, more and more students spend time over the winter break diving into their summer planning. We’re excited to share our list of more than 300 opportunities for students to become more involved in activities that connect with their aptitudes and interests.

The list includes courses, programs, research options, and service opportunities that are available this summer. Keep in mind that many summer programs have deadlines as early as February, so the next month might be a great time to brainstorm ideas with your teen.

We encourage students to consider what they enjoy, what areas they could improve in, and what their goals for the future are in order to decide what to do over the summer. With any activity students choose to participate in, there should be opportunities to help them learn more about themselves by expanding their interests, gaining new experiences, or taking on responsibilities. Whether or not it’s going to help in the college process should be secondary to having a good growth experience

Summer planning by grade 

Depending on what grade your student is in, you might consider making a loose, multi-year plan for the summers ahead. Map out possible activities for the next few summers, and see if you identify a common thread or interest to pursue. But a word to parents: Know your student and their schedule! Make a plan that ensures the student doesn’t become too busy or overwhelmed. Students should never return to classes in the fall feeling burnt out and exhausted. 

  • Freshmen and sophomores: Summer programs, camps (including CIT programs), and travel are great options for exploring interests. Paid programs on college campuses probably won’t have any impact on getting into college but can be helpful for students (especially those who are less engaged in the college process or are the first in their family to go to college) to experience what it’s like to live on a college campus and determine what they want in a college. 
  • Juniors and seniors: Consider something that is more self-driven, such as a job, internship, or academic research. Students gain valuable experience from researching, applying to, and interviewing for jobs or internships.

Seven types of summer opportunities

1. Interest-based Summer Programs

More and more summer programs are available for high school students, with unique focuses such as STEM, cultural immersion, performing arts, wilderness skills, and more. Programs are often on a college campus, sometimes formally connected with the college or university.

These programs allow students to experience life on a college campus, explore new and exciting fields they may want to pursue as college majors and make friendships with others from around the globe. These programs can help show colleges that a student takes a career path seriously and that they are genuinely interested in learning more about it.

2. Summer Jobs

Most summer jobs for high school students are part-time, but some are full-time, especially if your student has already worked at that place before. Like any other activity, a summer job can impress colleges when a student works at the same place over a longer timeframe and increases their responsibilities.

Common summer jobs for teens include being a lifeguard, cashier, golf caddy, stocker, babysitter, or camp counselor. Having a job is a great way for students to gain work experience to include on their resume and college applications. 

3. Summer Internships 

A summer internship involves working part-time or full-time for a company or organization and is often closely related to a student’s career interests. They can involve a variety of tasks, typically consistent with some of the responsibilities of an entry-level position in that field. Summer internships are not typically for the entire summer, and a high school student may not always be paid for an internship. 

In the admissions process, schools are looking for students who are passionate about something and who are willing to go the extra mile to understand a field of interest. When students work in summer internships that relate to a future career area or subject they plan on studying in college, colleges often interpret that as real interest in a field.

4. Summer Classes

Taking classes may not be the most fun way for a student to spend their summer, but they can help students stay on track academically while exploring new interests. Increasingly, students are taking summer classes as a way to take college-level courses for credit or advanced high school classes to further explore interests. For example, if your student is interested in aerospace engineering, but their high school doesn’t offer an exploratory engineering course, a summer program offering specialized coursework could fit the bill.

5. Independent Research Projects 

For students hoping to attend highly selective colleges, independent research can be a fantastic avenue to not only delve into their academic area of interest but to display a high level of initiative, too. To be able to demonstrate this time as meaningful (and to help students stay on task), students should create a goal for themselves of what the output and/or accomplishment should be. 

6. Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteering is also a wonderful way to learn leadership skills and to gain a better understanding of the larger world. While volunteering is all about helping others, it’s possible to choose volunteer work that relates to a student’s college or career interests. VolunteerMatch, Generation Serve, and Do are good resources for students to explore volunteer opportunities both in-person and through online partnerships.

7. Travel 

Colleges value the cultural insights gained and independent skills learned when a high school student travels during the summer. Travel can expand a student’s horizons while also experiencing other cultures. There are programs offered in areas of service, adventure, skill training, and academics. Seek out immersive programs that are at least six weeks long, or better yet, the entire summer and include engagement with the community. Travel abroad programs are often a good way to practice and even perfect a second or third language. 

Looking for more guidance on getting a jumpstart on summer planning? Join the College Match team for a January 9 webinar (free) on Planning a Sensational Summer.

About Lisa Carlton

Lisa Bain Carlton, M. Ed. has served multiple roles in the field of education for more than 25 years, including in-depth counseling with adolescents and their families. Lisa earned her Master’s degree in Counseling and Student Services with honors from the University of North Texas, and a Bachelor’s of Business Administration from Texas A&M University. Lisa formed Austin, Texas-based College MatchPoint in 2008. The College MatchPoint team has successfully guided hundreds of students through the college admissions and application process.

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