College Prep: 5 Tips to Make the Most of High School Summers - 2 Dads with Baggage
girl at high school graduation

College Prep: 5 Tips to Make the Most of High School Summers

By Lisa Margolin, Founder of Journey Ahead, College Admissions Guidance

As an independent educational consultant who helps students and families identify suitable colleges and successfully apply, I am often asked what high school students should be doing during their summers. In short, gone are the days when students could hang around all summer doing nothing in particular except waiting for the next school year to start. Now students need to make the most of high school summers.

These days, colleges are expecting that students do something meaningful with their summers This could translate into a lot of different possibilities, depending on the student.

girl holding two kittens
Caring for animals at the Humane Society can be a rewarding summer experience.

5 Tips to Make the Most of High School Summers

Here are 5 tips high school students can do to make the most of summer breaks.

1. Gain Work Experience

Work experience is a very valuable way for students to spend time during the summer. They learn responsibility, how to be part of a team, some new skills, and make new friends outside of their peer group. Paid work can be just about anything for colleges to consider it a valuable experience — fast food or restaurant work, yard work, babysitting, or whatever a student can line up. The type of work is not important. The fact that the student found a job, kept regular hours, and accepted responsibility is.

Checkout Server Serving Young Woman Customer Ordering at Fast Food Restaurant
High school students can always benefit from summer work experience.

2. Get Internships

It used to be that students late into their college career were the only students that were seeking and gaining experience from internships. Now, high school students are finding that internships are a good way to learn about the world of work, specific careers and industries. Colleges find this experience valuable for a number of reasons. Many internships require students to go through an application process that requires job search and employment skills.  Internships also introduce college applicants to potential majors and careers, research skills, and lab skills. In addition, internships give students a view into the real world of work and careers. This happens in a way that an entry-level summer job can’t, allowing students to understand their potential options.

Students seeking summer internships must keep in mind that many applications close between January and early Spring.

To obtain internships, students can google internships in their area. They can also ask friends and family if any of their contacts would consider a high school student summer intern.

High school intern learning how to use a builder's level
Internships are helpful in learning valuable on-the-job experience before college.

3. Create a Personal Project

Some students undertake a personal project in their area of interest that can teach a student business, social, or entrepreneurial skills. Some students start a business, collect money for an existing non-profit organization or start their own, work on a political campaign, or any variety of possibilities that would create a meaningful experience.

4. Volunteer at a Non-Profit

Summer camps and churches are often looking for teens to help out with programs targeting younger students. Those who enjoy working with kids or animals may find non-profit work stimulating and enjoyable.

volunteers planting seedlings of trees in the park
Volunteering for a non-profit has many advantages.

5. Take Classes

Summer is a great time to make up a class in which a student performed poorly. It also can be used to get ahead by taking a community college course in a favorite subject. Some students take a community college class so that they can advance to a different class when they get back to school in the fall. Or simply because they are interested in a topic not offered in high school. Before taking a community college class, students must make sure that their high school honors credits earned from community college.

Young Male Student attends class
Summer school can be a great way to make up low grades.

Rising Seniors

Summer is a low-stress time for rising seniors to knock out a number of time-consuming tasks in advance of applying to college in fall. I recommend my private students have these items finished before the fall semester of senior year begins:

  • Create a meaningful summer, as noted above. Job, internship, volunteer, etc.
  • Finalize your college list. Research all colleges you are interested in, and make a final determination whether you are going to apply. If you are going to apply, determine if you will apply early or within the regular decision timeframe.
  • Start the Common Application, the online portal most most students will use to apply. Set up an account, enter demographic and school information. Then begin to fill in the extra curricular activities list and the honors and awards list.
  • Start on any other applications your list requires. Those might include University of California application, the California State University application, the ApplyTexas application, or others.
  • Review personal statement, personal insight, and essay prompts for all colleges on your list. Essay prompts for colleges using the Common Application will be visible in the application.
  • Finish standardized testing. If a student wants to take a final try at the SAT or ACT to improve their scores, summer is a good time. Spend two weeks preparing on your own, online, or with a tutor, and take the test for the last time.
student volunteers with donation boxes
High school volunteers gather donations of clothing for people in need. (photo credit: fstop123)

If rising seniors complete the items above, they will be ahead of the game and have much less to do once school starts.


Journey Ahead is an independent educational consulting firm located in San Diego, CA that helps students find and apply to colleges that fit their educational, academic, and financial needs. They can be reached at 619-417-9242.

Lisa Margolin, Journey Ahead
Lisa Margolin of Journey Ahead, College Admissions Counseling

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