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The Value of Pre-College Summer Experiences

Jill visits a college campus.Jill visits a college campus.

Summer experiences are an important part of the college admission process. The Common Application, Universal College Application, and college application supplements all ask for a student’s pre-college summer experiences and what was gained from them.

Everything Summer® surveyed admissions teams from 35 of the country’s most prestigious universities such as Colby College, Johns Hopkins University, University of Miami, University of Michigan, Rice University and Vassar College to get insider information on which summer activities offer students the greatest value, and what to avoid when choosing a program.

Based on feedback received from admissions counselors, here are several rules to remember when designing a teen’s summer program:

1. Push Yourself

Summer is the right time for many students to test themselves in areas of creativity, volunteerism, academics and potential majors or careers. Most admissions officers feel students need to ‘go outside their comfort zone.’ Use the summer to experiment, see what you are capable of, and what you can accomplish, especially at the leadership level.

According to Feodies Shipp III, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, University of Michigan, “Students that take part in few activities but at a leadership level tend to get more consideration than students that have a plethora of activities with no leadership."

2. Pursue Genuine Interests

Admissions counselors stress the importance of using summertime wisely and productively, but also emphasize pursuing programs in which a student is truly interested. They seek depth, not ‘packaged students.’ Laura Villafranca, Assistant Director of Admissions, Rice University, counsels, “Follow your interests. Don’t participate in a summer activity or program to try to impress an admissions committee.”

3. Wisely Communicate Your Summer Experience

Nearly all of the counselors surveyed agree on one thing: most high school students underestimate how important it is to let the admissions teams know why they chose a summer program — and what they gained from it. John W. Birney Jr., Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Johns Hopkins University, advises, “Students need to learn to articulate the impact of the experience; if writing this is difficult, pick up the phone or tell us in person.”

We Can Help You With the Teen Challenge »

Jill also interviewed Danielle Toglia, George Washington University’s Regional Admissions Director. Read her valuable insights and tips.