Are you a high school student or the parent of one and are wondering how high school students should spend their summers? Summer is a great time to relax and recharge, but it’s also an excellent chance for students to get work experience, do an activity they enjoy, and boost their chances of getting into a top college.
Read on for everything you need to know about summer activities for high school students and how to choose the best option for you.
Why Is It Important for High School Students to Keep Busy Over the Summer?
While you may want to spend your entire summer sleeping in and hanging out with friends, it’s important also to spend part of your summer being productive and preparing for your future. Participating in an activity over the summer can help you get a great job or get accepted to a top college in the future, and being productive over the summer doesn’t have to take up all your time or be boring!
Colleges and employers love seeing applicants who are motivated and interested in learning more. By keeping busy over the summer, you show them that you have what it takes to be a great addition to their school or workplace.
There are a lot of ways high school students can spend their summer; read on to learn what your options are and how you can choose an activity that you will find useful as well as enjoyable.
How Can You Decide What to Do Over the Summer?
You probably have a lot of options for how you can spend your summer: you could lifeguard at your local pool, take some summer classes, attend a summer camp near you or in a foreign country, and more. How can you decide what you should do?
Read through the list below and ask yourself these two questions:
#1: What Are My Goals for the Future?
Do you want to get a good job? Get into a dream college? Think about ways you can spend your time over the summer to make yourself a strong candidate. Will getting work experience help? You may want to consider a job or internship. Are there classes you can take to strengthen your transcript? Summer school may be a good idea.
#2: What Do I Enjoy Doing?
You shouldn’t spend your summer doing something that makes you miserable. Are there certain extracurriculars, such as a club or sport, that you enjoy and want to continue over the summer? Is there a summer job that sounds interesting or fun? Try to find activities that will be both useful and enjoyable for you.
Note: It’s absolutely possible to do more than one of these activities during the summer. If there are multiple activities you’d like to do, feel free to do them. However, make sure you don’t become too busy or overwhelm yourself. Remember, summer is still about taking a break from school, and you don’t want to return to classes in the fall feeling burnt out and exhausted.
While it may be great for your tan, you don't want to spend all summer lounging at the pool.
6 Great Summer Activities for High School Students
Below are six of the best activities high school students can participate in over the summer. For each one, potential benefits and drawbacks are given, as well as examples and ways to get more information. Under the “How to Stand Out” heading, I’ve also included ways to make this activity particularly impressive to colleges and employers.
Description: It’s common for high school students to work over the summer. Having a job is a great way to get work experience that you can include on your resume and college applications, and it will earn you money that you can use to help pay for college or just for fun. Many summer jobs for high school students are part-time, but full-time jobs are also available, especially if you’ve already worked at that place before. Common summer jobs that high school students have include being a lifeguard, cashier, or camp counselor.
Pros: Make money, gain work experience for your resume and college applications.
Cons: Some high school jobs can be tedious and not very interesting, your job may not relate to the career you want.
Learn More: To learn more about jobs high school students can get, read our guide on the eight best jobs for teenagers, as well as this guide that will help you decide if getting a job is a good decision for you.
How to Stand Out: Like any other activity, your job will impress colleges more if you stick with it and increase your responsibilities. If you can work at the same job over multiple summers and get promoted or have your responsibilities increased, that will make the job look stronger on your college applications. If you are able to find a summer job that relates to a subject you want to study in college or get a future job in, that will also help show colleges what your interests are and that you can commit to them.
Description: Like a job, an internship involves working for a company or organization. However, internships are often more closely related to your career interests, and you may not always get paid to be an intern, especially as a high school student. If there’s a place you’d be interested in working at or learning more about, you can contact them directly and ask if they hire interns. Your high school’s career center will also likely have more information about internships you can apply for.
Pros: Gain work experience, learn more about careers you may be interested in.
Cons: You may not make money, some internships involve mostly grunt work that doesn’t teach you a lot about the specific career field.
Learn More: For everything you need to know about getting and doing well at an internship, check out our guide.
How to Stand Out: If you can get an internship that relates to a future career you’d like to have or subject you’d like to study, that will show colleges that you have a real interest in that field. Schools like students who are passionate about something, and showing your passion in your internship will help boost your application. For example, if you are planning on majoring in English, getting an internship at a publishing company or newspaper, along with strong English classes and related extracurriculars, can show schools that you’re serious about that field and motivated to learn more about it. Schools will see that as an indicator that you’ll be similarly dedicated to your college classes and activities.
Description: Taking classes may not be the most fun way to spend your summer, but they can help you stay on track in high school and prepare you for college. Some students take summer classes to improve their grades in a class they didn’t do well in the first time, some do it to take a class they wouldn’t have time for during the school year, and some use summer classes as a way to take college courses or advanced high school classes. Summer classes can be taken in a variety of ways, either through your high school, at a community college, through an academic program at universities, or even online.
Pros: Strengthen your transcript, take classes you’re interested in, can help prepare you for college.
Cons: May be harder to motivate yourself to study during the summer, not the most enjoyable way to spend the summer.
Learn More: For more information, check out our guide to summer classes for high school students. We also have guides for several university academic programs, including Stanford EPGY, the Boston University Summer Challenge, and the National Youth Leadership Forum
How to Stand Out: If you’re able to, taking college classes over the summer can be a great way to become a stronger applicant. Having college classes on your transcript, even if they are only introductory classes at a community college, can boost your application by showing schools that you’re able to handle the rigor and workload of college. This is an especially good option if your high school doesn’t offer a lot of advanced classes and you want to strengthen your transcript.
Hobbies or Talents
Description: This is a broad category that can include sports, clubs, or other activities that you do either through school, with a local group, or on your own. Some examples include sports teams, clubs, or a hobby you do in your free time, such as painting, working on computers, or creating a small business. Colleges and employers like to see applicants who have outside interests and can commit themselves to a particular activity. Continuing your hobby during the summer is a great way to show that.
Because you don’t have classes to attend, summer is an excellent time to spend more time participating in an activity you enjoy. Use this time to think about how you can become better at the activity or increase its impact. For example, if you love baking, is there a way you can expand that hobby? Perhaps you could take a pastry course, have community bake sales, see if local bakeries are interested in working with you, or something similar. If you do your hobby with a group, such as a school club or sports team, and they don't meet over the summer, you can still become better at it by practicing on your own or joining a community group, if one exists.
Pros: Can do an activity you enjoy, possibly move into a leadership position, show colleges that you can commit to an activity and have interests outside the classroom.
Cons: This may not be the best way to strengthen your resume or college application if you don’t plan on continuing the activity throughout high school or aren’t spending a lot of time on it.
Learn More: If you need help deciding which activity to pursue, check out this guide to hundreds of extracurricular examples. We also have a guide to starting a new club if your school doesn't offer an activity that you're interested in.
How to Stand Out: Your hobby or talent will be most impressive to colleges if you have participated in it for an extended time period, have achieved a leadership position or more responsibility, and are passionate about it. For more information on how to do this, check out this guide with four examples of amazing extracurriculars.
Summer can be a great time to get better at a sport or other activity you enjoy doing.
Description: Summer camps aren’t just for making s'mores and going on nature hikes anymore. More and more summer camps for high school students are being created that have unique focuses such as cultural immersion, performing arts, wilderness skills, and more. For this article, summer camps differ from regular extracurriculars because, even if they focus on the same area such as a sport, camps offer a more intensive, structured experience over a set period of time.
Many students attend these programs to learn new skills or improve skills they already have. For example, if you want to get better at a certain sport or start to learn a new language, a summer camp can help you immerse yourself in that subject and really focus on learning it since there are fewer distractions, and you’ll be surrounded by people with similar goals. Participants may receive academic credit if they attend a program that includes coursework. Most of these programs are in the US, but there is a growing number of international summer camps for high school students.
Pros: Can give you a unique experience, you may get the chance to travel, can focus on a skill or topic that’s important to you, chance of getting college credit.
Cons: Can be expensive, the number of academic credits you receive is usually not very much, you may get homesick if it’s a sleep-away camp, some programs are poorly put together and may not be very beneficial or enjoyable.
How to Stand Out: Summer camps can vary widely in terms of quality and the activities that participants do, so it’s important to research a program before you enroll in it. Look for programs that reflect your interests, whether academic or otherwise. For example, if you want to be a doctor, try to find a science-based summer camp or a program that lets you learn more about what it’s like to study and practice medicine. This will help show colleges that you take your career path seriously and are genuinely interested in learning more about it.
Description: Volunteering is when you do work that benefits others without receiving payment. There are many places where you can volunteer including schools, animal shelters, retirement homes, museums, and more. Most volunteer work is done near where you live, but there are also opportunities to do volunteer work abroad during the summer. This can be done through your school, place of worship, or an organization that offers these programs. In addition to the benefit of helping others, it’s often possible to choose volunteer work that relates to your interests. If you enjoy working with children, love spending time with animals, or want to work outside, you can often find a volunteer opportunity that allows you to do just that.
Pros: Knowledge that you’re helping others, can include it on resumes and college applications, may be able to volunteer at a place where you’d like to work in the future, can fulfill a volunteer requirement if your high school has one.
Cons: You won’t get paid, some volunteer work can be repetitive and tedious.
Learn More: Learn about the nine best places to do community service as well as the best volunteer abroad programs. We also have a guide specifically for students trying to decide if they should attend a volunteer abroad program.
How to Stand Out: Just completing a few hours of volunteer work won’t impress colleges very much. In order to make your volunteer work stand out, you’ll have to work at the same place over a long period of time, obtain a leadership position, and make your passion and interests clear. Check out this guide for a more in-depth look at how to make your volunteer work impressive.
- It’s important that high school students spend part of their summer actively working or learning in order to be well prepared for the future.
- Fortunately, there are many activities to participate in over the summer that will fit your interests and circumstances.
- Think about what you enjoy, what you could improve in, and what your goals for the future are in order to decide what to do over the summer.
- Regardless of the activity you choose to participate in, you can make it more impressive to colleges by connecting it to your interests, gaining new responsibilities, and sticking with it for the long term.
Want to know how to make your extracurricular stand out even more? Check out this guide to four amazing extracurricular activities and learn why they're so impressive to colleges.
Wondering when to start applying to colleges? We have a guide that will give you a complete college application timeline to follow to make sure you're on track!
Thinking about summer school? Our guide explains what summer school is, what you'll be doing, and who should be enrolling in it. Summer school has more uses than you may think!
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.