What Should Students Do With Their Summer?


One of the best parts about being a student is having summers off! Every student I know eagerly looks forward to summer break, and for good reason. The school year is long and arduous, and it’s important to take some time off during the summer to recharge, relax, and have fun before heading back to school in September. However, as you progress through high school, how you spend your summers becomes increasingly important. Colleges pay close attention to how you utilize your time outside of the classroom. In addition to taking a break; it's about demonstrating your academic interests, personal passions, and your willingness to challenge yourself. So, how should you plan your summers? 

First let’s reframe some commonly held misconceptions about how many students look at extracurricular activities and what they do during the summer. Don’t view summer plans and extracurriculars as mere checkboxes to fill; approach them as opportunities to authentically engage with your interests. It's not just about joining clubs or participating in activities because those will look good on your college applications. It's about immersing yourself in experiences that genuinely resonate with you. Whether it's pursuing a hobby, volunteering for a cause you're passionate about, or exploring a new skill, prioritize activities that align with your interests and values.

For Students Who Don't Know What They're Interested In

Don’t worry, you’re not alone! And it’s easier than you think to find some direction. The best place to start is by thinking about what gets you excited. Begin by reflecting on how you choose to spend your free time. Whether it's after school, on weekends, or during the summer months, what activities do you gravitate towards? What brings you satisfaction? What do you find the most exciting?

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What topic could you talk or think about for hours and hours on end?
  • What do you read and learn about, just for fun?
  • What types of videos do you search for on YouTube or Instagram?
  • Which internet rabbit hole would you most like to go down?
  • Which academic subjects do you most enjoy in school?
  • Which classes come more easily to you, and which homework do you typically do first? 


Think about what you would do if you had a free hour to do absolutely anything you wanted. What would you do? What if you could learn about ANY topic at all - what would you want to know more about? (For me, it’s suspension bridges; I’ve always wondered how they work.) Or what if you could apprentice under any master craftsperson or tradesperson in history - what skill would you want to learn? (I personally would want to learn either shipbuilding or how to carve and sculpt marble!)  

Try looking objectively at your social media accounts! If someone picked up your phone and scrolled through your Instagram or TikTok feeds, what themes would they see? For example, if you scrolled through my Instagram, you’d see a lot of posts about art, interior design, DIY home repair, marine transport, industrial engineering, funny pet videos, and posts from Dr. Andre Isaacs, a chemistry professor at the College of the Holy Cross who does choreographed dance routines with his undergraduate Lab Assistants. (Highly recommend). What would I find on your feed? 

Free resource: Student Success Kit


For Students Who Know What They Want to Pursue

If you already know what you’re interested in, go for it! Make it fun! Seek out opportunities to challenge yourself while doing it. Here are some ways you could engage in an area you’re interested in and care about:

  • Get a job or internship
  • Volunteer
  • Do an exploratory program at a college or university
  • Take a class for college credit
  • Complete an online course or program
  • Study a new language
  • Learn a new instrument
  • Learn to code
  • Train for a marathon or long hike/bike ride
  • Complete a self-directed study in a subject you care about
  • Start a business
  • Start a club or organization
  • Get involved in academic research or scientific research


Go the Home Grown Route

Sometimes it’s most rewarding to do something self-directed. You don’t have to wait for the perfect opportunity to join an organization or apply for a position. Instead, get creative and be proactive! Here are some ideas to get you started:


What does authentic engagement actually look like?

Here are some examples of students who pursued opportunities that furthered their passions:

  • Animal Lover: This student started by walking dogs, cat-sitting, and volunteering at an animal shelter. She went on to volunteer, and then intern, at a nonprofit that trains service dogs. 
  • Politico: This student was especially interested in politics and the news. First, he participated in a summer program in Washington, DC, through the ACLU. Then he interned at his local democratic party office, worked on voter registration campaigns, started a Teen Democrats chapter at school, and got 40 of his peers to canvas and knock on doors for the election.
  • Dancer/STEM Aficionado: A dancer also really liked science, took a summer neuroscience course, and then did a research project on what happens in the brain during acts of improvisation.
  • Photographer/Psychology Lover: A student who liked photography started getting hired for small gigs, like birthday parties. After discovering a love of Psychology while taking AP Psych, she wrote a gorgeous essay about photographing the doorways of dilapidated buildings, imagining the lives people lived there.
  • STEM Star: A student who was drawn to Comp Sci and robotics decided to learn Python. She pursued science research and then began a Hackathon that went kind of ‘viral,’ no pun intended.
  • Sports Nut: A sports lover who also loved chatting about different events found the perfect outlet in sports announcing.  He became the announcer for all sports at his school and then started his own sports podcast, which now has 12 episodes. After that, he interned with a local minor league team and even got to shoot t-shirts out of a cannon at games this past summer. 
  • Storyteller: This lover of literature created a writing workshop for children at a local shelter to help them tell their stories.
  • Businessman: He created his own internship with a local business, something anyone can do with an offer to work for free.
  • Budding Child Psychologist: She worked at a camp for kids with special needs and ended up writing a wonderful college essay about teaching a boy with autism who had a fascination with boats how to swim.
  • Farmer & Baker: This student decided to grow his own wheat and use it to bake his own bread!


Planning & Execution

As we all know, planning is one thing, but executing is another! As a busy high school student, it can be hard to follow through on all of your ideas on your own. Beyond Booksmart has been helping students realize their potential for nearly two decades. The coaches at Beyond Booksmart are experts in helping students learn the tools and build the life skills that are crucial for future success. 

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About the Author

Lisa Frankel

Lisa Frankel is the Executive Vice President of Premium Prep College Counseling and one of their most experienced and in-demand counselors, having worked in college counseling for nearly two decades. Before joining Premium Prep, Lisa was the Director of College Counseling and Academic Advising at a private high school outside of Philadelphia. Lisa attended Harvard University on a full scholarship for her master’s degree and obtained a Core Credential from Harvard Business School. While a graduate student at Harvard, she served as an Academic and Resident Advisor for Harvard College and as an advisor on the Bureau of Study Council, where she reviewed student applications.

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