In my last post, I talked about some of the misconceptions about extracurricular activities in general and the place they have in your education and college application. In this article, I will address summer extracurricular activities in particular.
But perhaps, you—like many other high school students—are pondering deeply and carefully about how you could best use your summer in a way that will benefit you in your college application.
In fact, you probably realize that in the summer a lot of special extracurricular activities become available. And you are considering taking advantage of these.
However, just as with information about general extracurricular activities, there is a lot of misinformation about the value of summer activities in a college application which can cause confusion.
Here are specific myths connected to summer extracurricular activities and the truth about these matters.
Myth #1: Selective summer programs (usually held on college campuses) are remarkably important in the college application process, and if you do not get into one of those, your prospects to get admitted into a highly selective college are wrecked.
Truth: Of the thousands of possibilities a student may pursue during the summer, there is a very small number of selective summer programs that actually stand out in any particular way in a college application. The rest do not carry much weight.
Those selective programs that actually get noticed are not for everybody. They are typically based on the same requirements on which highly selective colleges base their admission—grades, test scores, and rigor of curriculum.
If the requirements match who you are as a student and your level of interest, consider enrolling in one of those programs. However, keep in mind that the prestige of a summer program does not hold the same weight as getting a college degree at a particular school. So, if you are not the type of student who meets the requirements, do not worry about applying to a prestigious summer program by all means.
Moreover, understand that these programs are a business, and companies drum up excitement around what they offer to attract applicants. Do not let yourself be taken in by that just to participate in some program that does not even carry weight.
Myth #2: If you take summer high school classes that are held directly on a college campus, it will help your chance to get into that college because it shows that you are really interested. Conversely, if you take a program on a campus which is the rival of the school to which you choose to apply, it will negatively impact your application.
Truth: Neither is correct. These type of summer programs usually have no connection to the office of admission and will not directly influence the admission decision.
Often, they are not even taught by full-time faculty members of the university. In fact, sometimes, they are even run by a third party or outsourced company who sponsors summer classes for high school students.
Nevertheless, many students choose to take summer high school classes at college campuses. Why?
The benefits these programs offer is the opportunity to live on a college campus for several weeks. You can tour and get to know the school, the town, or the part of the country that may be new to you. This experience can help you make a better decision about if you want to apply to that, or a similar, school.
It is a great way to test out what being a college student is like. But it is not a great way to significantly increase your chances of getting admitted to one college or another.
Additionally, these types of summer programs usually offer something special—such as special classes that you do not typically get to take in high school. Perhaps a higher level of math, an interdisciplinary class, something with a business application, or a specialized computer science class.
Whatever it is, remember to not overload yourself. Take one or two classes. Have fun with it. And enjoy the change of pace from the general high school curriculum.
Myth #3: Taking regular academic summer classes at your high school or somewhere local that are not simply “fun” classes is something that impresses colleges.
Truth: Taking a regular high school class in the summer—the next level of foreign language, math, history, etc.—to get ahead for the next, busy school year and make your schedule easier is not impressive to most colleges.
In fact, they would probably rather see you take a summer break. You certainly deserve and need it if you worked hard all school year.
Of course, there are circumstances where a very busy student (maybe someone involved with a team sport) may need to take classes in the summer so they can keep doing well in school while playing their sport. But for anyone else, taking just 1 or 2 classes in the summer does really not get you ahead that much.
In general, for the summer, I do not recommend that you just keep doing what you have been doing during the school year. Rather, I would advise you to take a break and try something different.
Trying to impress colleges is not a race. In fact, in some ways, you can actually hurt your chances by just taking a regular class in the summer. It simply does not stand out as different.
Myth #4: In order to impress colleges, you have to keep yourself busy during summer vacation with organized, meaningful, academic programs or activities from the start of summer break until the first day of school.
Truth: That is absolutely not true. Colleges do not judge an applicant by how many hours in the day they were busy. They judge extracurricular activities by the quality of what students achieve.
If you can show in your application that you have learned and grown over time—not just one summer—that is what carries weight. It is a cumulative process. Your extracurricular activities add up over many years.
Jamming in just one more week, one more activity or one more program will not do anything for you except exhaust you.
So, have fun in the summer. Do not overschedule yourself. Keep yourself busy and do a few interesting things. But if you can take time off for traveling, visiting places, enjoying time with your friends and family—do that!
If you would like to learn more about how to make the better choices in connection with your college application, please contact me. I am an Independent Educational Consultant with years of experience. It would be my pleasure to help you find the college that best fits you.