Colleges Know What You Did Last Summer

Admissions professionals are often asked by anxious parents about summer activities and how these will be viewed by college admissions offices. I recently had a conversation with a mother who, checklist in hand, wanted to know if her son needs to practice tennis five or seven times a week in order to look attractive to colleges. Her son likes tennis, but she is worried that he won’t look as committed to the sport if he only practices five days a week. After all, he has to practice after dinner because, if tennis is just for ‘fun’, he needs to put his SAT prep course, his summer course in statistics, his internship at Southwest Medical Center, his piano lessons, college visits, and an immersion trip to Spain into his summer programming. She is only slightly concerned that he will not have much time for fun and relaxation before school starts again, since he can have fun after college.

The other end of the spectrum is the parent who suddenly realizes that his children are no longer getting on the bus everyday to school, that it’s warm outside, and his kids seem to sleeping until mid morning. Now what? Those kids need to do something, and what will the colleges think if Sam just lists “Video Games” under “extra-curricular activities” on the application?

Over-programming and under-programming are both problems, not just for college admission purposes, but because of simple child development reasons. But lets focus on the college admissions issue here.

College admissions offices very much like to admit an interesting student, as opposed to a formulaic statistic comprised of SAT or ACT scores and a GPA. Summer activities can, just like admission essays, recommendations, school activities, and interviews, highlight what makes a young person “tick” and will personalize the admission process. The more per sonalized the process (within reason, of course), the more the college will be able to see this young person as a valuable member of their student body who will positively impact those around him or her. Campuses are comprised of students, but those students are also contributors to student life, whether their contribution is athletics, writing for the school paper, acting in student productions, playing for the marching band, leading the school government, or working in the library.

Summer activities, therefore, can be opportunities to explore something to a greater extent than would be possible during the busy school year. A summer activity ideally is something the student wants to do. In fact, she should be excited for the opportunity to learn, explore, and experience whatever it is. Activities should not be just a way to ‘pad the resume’ in the admissions process. If an applicant is the vice president of 15 school clubs, most of which meet less than one hour a month, the applicant’s seriousness of purpose and commitment is in question. While well-roundedness is nice, seriousness of purpose, commitment, and a high level of accomplishment is attractive. Traveling through Europe is nice. Spending eight weeks in a total immersion program is better. Tennis, piano, prep courses, statistics, and travel is nice. Getting a by-line on a research project as part a Medical Center internship is better, even if some other activities are curtailed. Community service projects are nice. Being elevatedto the one student position on the local women’s shelter board of directors is attractive. So where do you find these opportunities? There’s a camp for just about anything these days, but I wouldn’t stop, or even begin, there. The first step to a finding a meaningful and fulfilling activity is a conversation with your student. What is it that she e njoys doing, and where is she talented? If you allow a real conversation to happen you may be surprised by the answer your student gives. That answer, however, may be an excellent summer activity and an opportunity for her to grow intellectually and emotionallywhile having a great time doing something she otherwise would have missed. Just because everyone else’s kid is in summer soccer camp doesn’t mean yours should be. Anything can be a true, college-worthy activity if it is pursued with seriousness of purpose. We always hear that in your career you should love what you do, but not many of us pull that off very well. We do what we’re supposed to do, or what otherstell us we have to do. Summer activities are the same for teens. Look beyond the usual camps and activities for something truly worthwhile for your student. The serious pursuit of a genuine interest is a wonderful opportunity for a young person, and if a student can communicate and demonstrate that interest the college admission process will take care of itself.

About the author:

Author: Bill McCumber
Bill McCumber is the founder of iCollegeCoach, a leading provider of college search, admission, financial aid, and college funding services. For more information please call 1-877-Coach-13 or visit