So you’re diligently following your ACT/SAT practice test routine, you’re making good grades in all your classes, you’ve joined a handful of school clubs, and to top it all off, you volunteered at a blood drive last month!
First of all, you’re doing great; keep up the good work! But in the middle of juggling all these priorities, there’s one piece of the college application puzzle you may be overlooking:
I’ve seen too many students make the fatal mistake of pushing their résumé-building efforts off until after they’ve achieved the perfect SAT score or aced their most challenging AP class. But take it from me: the closer you get to college deadlines, the more hectic your schedule will become. So don’t wait until Junior year to start exploring and refining your career interests! The sooner you begin, the better, and summer is the perfect time to kick your résumé-building efforts into high gear.
As you progress through high school, each summer you should be seeking out more specialized opportunities than in the previous year. For example, if you attended a beginner coding camp the summer after freshman year, you might take a Python certification course the summer after 10th grade, and round out your final summer before college deadlines by coding your first basic app or taking on an AI research project.
As you begin your search for meaningful summer experiences, focus on opportunities that…
Help you hone your interests
When the time comes to choose your college major, you’ll need to draw on specialized experiences that have helped you narrow down your general interests into a career path. If you think you might want to study Epidemiology, a STEM Camp probably isn’t going to offer you any new insights specific to that career field. Shadowing a Community Health Worker, on the other hand, would offer a behind-the-scenes peek into the day-to-day realities on the job.
Level up your skill set
The more specialized skills you add to your résumé, the more impressive opportunities you’ll be eligible for in future summers, and the more prepared you’ll be for college-level studies. Leveling up can also mean taking on leadership roles or responsibilities as you gain more experience.
Generate prime essay-writing material
A compelling supplemental essay about your unique summer experiences could be the single distinguishing factor between you and hundreds of peers who share your impressive GPA, test score, and class rank. Each year, colleges read hundreds of essays about how a student won a big game or attended a state leadership conference. Admissions committees are far more likely to remember an essay about how you established a partnership between your school club and a local nonprofit to plan a community service project, or how you interned with a local small business to help them improve their social media marketing strategy.
Lead to stellar recommendation letters
Seek out research, part-time job, or internship positions where you’ll be working closely with a mentor, supervisor, or coach who may be willing to write you a personalized college recommendation letter.
We recommend following our Activity Pyramid to maintain a good balance of Volunteer, Extracurricular, and Professional opportunities, but most importantly: make sure your résumé reflects your goals and values. Don’t feel obligated to spread yourself too thinly! Depth, not breadth, is what colleges prefer in today’s applicants. Instead of seeing that you’ve attended five one-week seminars and joined eight extracurriculars that had nothing to do with your interests, they’d rather see that you’ve shown up every week for two years straight to a single volunteer or research project you were truly invested in.
Yesterday is the ideal time to start planning out your summer. So if you’re reading this today, don’t wait! Start lining up your opportunities now, and check out our full offering of College Counseling resources here to get you started.
Washington University St. Louis (Full Scholarship Recipient)