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Best Summer Plans for High School Students: It’s Not What You Think

Summer’s just a couple months away, and chances are your teenager is planning to take it easy. And he should … but not too much. That’s because summer is the perfect time for your teenager to pursue those non-academic activities that many colleges like to see in their applicants.

Not every college cares, of course. But selective colleges will be looking to see whether your teenager used time outside the classroom productively.

The good news: when it comes to finding the best summer plans for high school students, there are no right or wrong activities. And you don’t need to spend a lot of money.

“Colleges are not looking for fancy or expensive programs,” says Mandee Heller Adler, founder of International College Consultants. “They are looking for activities where teenagers can explore their interests.”

Summer Enrichment For Teens: No One Right Answer

That could be improving a skill—like a sport or instrument—volunteering, taking a class, or even digging into a particular subject area.

“Maybe your teenager says, ‘I’m interested in anthropology, but I don’t know very much about it. I’m going to spend my summer exploring anthropology,’” explains Heller Adler. “So they take a class online or at a local college. To me that’s very compelling.”

It can also be working a part- or full-time summer job. That’s Heller Adler’s favorite option.

Indeed, admissions staffers routinely say they like applicants who have paid work experience (and most applications ask for it specifically).

“Working is a great enhancement for anybody,” says Cecilia A. Castellano, director of admissions for Bowling Green State University. “It builds character in a different way than going to school.”

But, Castellano adds, there is no checklist for the best summer plans for teens in terms of giving your teenager an edge in the admissions process.

“It’s not that you have to do X, Y, and Z over your teen summers,” she explains. “I have a high school senior who didn’t have a lot of opportunity for volunteering during the academic year, so she went on mission trips during the summer. But that’s not right for everybody. You have to look at it holistically. You want to do things you enjoy that are going to round out your experience.”

Make It Authentic

And teenagers, not parents, should decide what those things are. “The trick is for teenagers to be authentic, and that’s the hard part for parents to understand,” explains Heller Adler. “You don’t get brownie points for doing science versus doing English.”

In fact, pushing your teenager into a summer activity just to impress a college can backfire, as it will not come across as authentic no matter how hard your teenager tries to make it seem so.

“If your teenager prefers English, then finding cool opportunities in English will make him happy,” notes Heller Adler. And those kinds of teenagers are able to write passionately—and authentically—about their experiences in their applications.

Last, be sure to build some downtime into your teenager’s summer—and not just to allow her to recharge for the coming academic year.

“These are the last few summers before your teenager goes to college,” says Heller Adler. “Why not carve out some time to be together as a family and have experiences you might never have again.”

Diana Simeon

Diana Simeon is an editorial consultant for Your Teen.