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         By Eric Lynne, Director of Essay Coaching at Galin Education

With Spring Break just around the corner, it may seem a little early to start thinking about summer. But for college-bound students—especially those interested in highly-selective schools—the summer months provide the freedom and flexibility to differentiate yourself from other applicants. Colleges often ask applicants to report how they spent their summers. By taking advantage of the extra time, high schoolers can take these three months to really boost their resumes.

While a good chunk of summer should be devoted to recharging and enjoying the sun, there is more than enough time to create a healthy balance of fun and productivity. Below are five ways to make the most of summer as a college-bound student.

1: Land a Cool Gig

Admissions officers love to see students who can hold down a job or internship. Jobs and internships show that students are responsible, punctual, and work ready. Work experience also allows students to check out different types of working environments, which is invaluable for career planning.

Remember that college students are also out of school during the summer, so the best gigs get snatched up months in advance. Start asking and poking around now for work opportunities. Does your student already have a place in mind he or she would love to work or intern? Check out the company website for employment and internship opportunities. Do your student’s friends already have jobs? Your student can ask them if their managers are in need of summer staff. Is your student already shoveling driveways? Check to see if your neighbors are interested in lawn care, too.

Pro tip: have your students keep a record of their roles and responsibilities on the job so they can easily write about them during the college application process.

2: Volunteer Somewhere Awesome

Are your students looking for a meaningful way to spend their time? They can give back by volunteering. There is no need to sign up for expensive service trips or experiences, either; there are plenty of opportunities to help out in the local community. Find a local charity, non-profit, or cause your student already cares about and visit their headquarters to find out more. For those in the Madison area, you can also check out the website VolunteerYourTime.org for a bunch of options.

And volunteering isn’t just a nice thing to do; there are a ton of real-world skills to be learned and interesting life experiences to be had. Volunteering is also a great opportunity to watch professionals in their habitat and check out different careers. Because student labor comes free, students might even be able to pitch and lead initiatives of their own design—a rare experience in school and essentially unheard of in the entry-level jobs they’d be qualified for without a diploma. When people volunteer, everybody wins!

3: Initiate Your Own Thing

Is your student a self-starter? A go-getter? A DIY-er? Summer is the perfect time to finally begin that project your student has been putting off all school year. If your student can document these projects, colleges will be interested in hearing about your ambitious student’s ability to be creative and independent.

If your student has ever wanted to start their own school club or extracurricular organization, encourage your student to start that club before the school year begins. Putting in the legwork necessary to start something new will be much more manageable while he or she does not have to worry about studying for tests. So persuade your student to put together a mission statement, recruit some members, and assign leadership roles before the school year even starts.

4: Learn More in an Academic Program

There are a ton of educational enrichment programs available throughout the country and they come in all shapes and sizes. Not all will directly impact a student’s admission chances, but participating in such programs can enhance knowledge, build skills, and allow students to dive into an academic subject they love or explore a course that is not available in school.

College-sponsored programs, in particular, are a good opportunity for your student to test out the college environment and start deciding what kind of college experience he or she may want to pursue. Spending a week (or even a few days) on campus will give you an insider’s view of a school and its surrounding community.

Additionally, a student may be able to take advantage of the summer to free up time during the academic year. Many programs, including online classes, can be taken for high school credit. Some students use this opportunity to catch up in math or jump a level in a foreign language. If your student needs the credit, just be sure to coordinate with your school before you sign up.

However, the most selective, popular, and competitive programs fill up fast. So start searching today!

5: Prepare for College Directly

What better way to get ready for college than getting ready for college?

One fun and productive way to get ready for college is to do a few college visits. Underclassmen are encouraged to do some exploratory visits to see what kinds of colleges seem to fit them best. Rising seniors should start zeroing in on where they’re going to apply. Just last week we released our Galin Guide on college visits (which you can find here) that outlines how to make the most of these valuable visits.

Juniors (who will be rising seniors come summer) especially have plenty to do in preparation for college. On top of that list should be working on college application essays. And don’t just take my word for it—ask any current senior who waited until the start of the school year to begin writing essays. If rising seniors can get that huge task of their plates in summer, first semester of senior year goes can be made a lot less stressful. (If you want to make sure you get a good start, you may want to sign up for one of our College Application Boot Camps.)

The snow is starting to melt and that means summer is on the way. Be prepared and get working on those summer plans today!