Summer is an excellent time for brains to shift gears but not come to a grinding halt. During the summer, there’s some breathing room away from the everyday pressures of high school that gives students the chance to exercise their creativity and continue to challenge their minds through the summer months. A summer bucket list is a great place to start!
As the first month of summer comes to a close, many students have started to look toward their college goals. In this post, we explain the importance of a productive summer and list 55 few ways that students can make the most of it.
Do summer activities help with college admissions?
The big picture answer is yes—how you spend your summer matters when applying to college. Things like volunteer experiences, extracurriculars, college summer programs, and interesting summer projects can definitely give your application a competitive edge.
But do colleges care that you learned how to play the ukulele over the summer? In a direct sense, probably not. However, the smaller things you do during the summer also play a part in the overarching goal of finding answers to these four big questions:
- Who am I?
- What are my interests?
- What do I want to pursue after college?
- Which college is the best fit for me?
Many high school students struggle to answer these questions, and part of that is because of a lack of experience. It takes time to explore your surroundings and find the passions that help shape who you are—and oftentimes this process will involve leaving the couch.
When it comes time to build a college list or write application essays, you’re going to want to have a handful of experiences that you can look back on to answer these big questions. Taking some time to rest after a difficult school year is definitely needed and encouraged, but remember to think about these ways to make the most of your summer break.
55 Ways to Enrich Your Summer
Rest and Recharge
1. Start a summer reading list
Start your list with some books you’ve always wanted to read, but you never found the time to. Sprinkle in some books from other genres that you’ve wanted to try: mystery, horror, epic, historical fiction, sports literature, etc. Maybe ask a librarian what his or her recommendations are for the summer.
Not sure where to start? Try some classics or an already curated list and build off from there. Find a fun reading spot and knock out your list this summer.
2. Keep a journal
Find a journal and put pen to paper! Create a designated writing space or set aside time to use your journal as a vessel to clear your mind. Whether you want to sort each entry by day, or by mood, find a comfortable organization that will help you unload your thoughts.
3. Take a self-care day
The pressures of school and college admissions can grow into mountains of stress, and when they do it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. Reduce that stress by taking time out for you!
Today’s agenda is solely about feeling good. Start by spending a day taking care of you! Set up a mat or a clear surface and find a meditation or yoga video to exercise your mind. Go outside or create something artistic. Or have a spa day! Do whatever helps you relax the body and calm the mind.
4. Bake something new
Of course, the biggest reward of baking is the delicious treats, but believe it or not, baking builds concentration by helping you focus on one thing. Find an interesting step-by-step recipe on the internet or an old cookbook lying around the house and get baking!
5. Watch a new movie or show
Summer is the perfect time to catch up on your movie/TV show watch list that you’ve been building throughout the school year. Try out some of the award-nominated films from the year or an adaptation of the book you read with your English class. Watching new films or shows is a great way to relax and inspire reflection this summer!
6. Digital detox
While social media brings us together, sometimes it can also have a negative effect on your brain. In fact, research has shown that taking a short break from social media can have a positive impact on your well-being.
Step away from technology: your phone, laptop, iPad, TV, and, yes, even your smart watch. Focus on strengthening relationships off the screen. Start small: an hour a day, and build up to more sustained times off technology, so you can focus on yourself and your relationships with others.
7. Take a nap
Naps can be a good thing even if they’re short and planned. Taking a quick snooze has been shown to increase problem-solving efficiency as well as alertness, according to a study by Harvard Medical School.
8. Watch the sunrise
Wake up with the sun and start your day with a beautiful view. Watching the sunrise is a natural and peaceful cue that your day has begun and a nutritional source of vitamin D before it gets too hot. Not a morning person? Catch the sunset instead.
9. Create a scrapbook
Scroll through the pictures on your phone or go through old photo albums and look back on your fondest memories. Whether it be your 3rd birthday party where you had cake all over your face, the time you held your baby cousin for the first time, or even just a silly face that makes you smile.
Print out your favorites and have fun pasting them in an empty scrapbook or journal. Decorate your scrapbook with some fun paper, drawings, or journaling. Use your creativity to build a beautiful showcase that brings the memories back to life. This is a great, creative way to reflect on the defining memories that shape who you are.
Leave the Comfort Zone
10. Start a new hobby
It’s never too late to pick up a new trick. Try out Sudoku or the daily crossword puzzles. Or pick up a friend and try out a new sport like tennis, sand volleyball, table tennis, or golf. Maybe you’re a natural and decide to join a team, or maybe you find that you love doing it for fun. If sports aren’t for you, go through the news and see if any headline inspires you to learn more or join an organization. Stepping outside your comfort zone is crucial to finding your place in the world.
11. Summer camp
Learn some valuable skills this summer at camp. Make new friends and mentors and build personal relationships in those weeks together. Whether it be boating, kayaking, or roasting marshmallows, have fun and don’t be afraid to try something new!
12. Go on a bike ride
Along with the added health benefits of biking like increased mobility and strength, biking is a great way to let loose and get some fresh air. If you don’t know how, this is a great opportunity to pick up the skill as many college campuses encourage biking to get around instead of driving a car.
13. Visit a museum
Take a day to visit nearby museums. For history buffs, visit a museum that details the past with artifacts and talk with local experts. For art and culture enthusiasts, see beautiful works in person at the Dallas Art Museum (free general admission) and explore the defining art district of the city.
14. Go geocaching
Use your navigation skills and play this form of treasure hunting with hidden objects and containers. There are three rules: take something from the cache, leave something in the cache, and write about it in a logbook!
15. Go roller skating
Go to a skate park or roller rink and put those roller blades or quad skates into action. Roller skating helps to build balance and muscle, and while it’s not as easy as it looks, give it a try! (Just make sure to wear a helmet and protective gear if you’re new).
16. Go on a picnic
Grab a friend or two, pack a meal, and have lunch surrounded by the outdoors. This easy activity will give you some vitamin D and fresh air, two things we all need after the pandemic. Relax and enjoy the time away from anything that might stress you out.
17. Join a book club
Establish a community with readers nearby and bond over your favorite books. Book clubs are a great way to meet people with similar interests in a relaxed environment. Book discussions can be serious, or just a time to get together and chat. Check your local book store or library for groups to join or start one with your friends!
18. Practice public speaking
Talk in front of a mirror, in the shower, or even to your pet. Control your breathing, body language, and use of filler words (“like” and “um”). Regular practice will enhance your speech delivery and make you a better verbal communicator. Public speaking is important, allowing us to form connections, inspire decisions, and influence change. These skills require ongoing practice, and this summer is a great time to work on it.
19. Go to a cooking class
Everyone will thank you if you know how to cook—your parents, your friends, and your future roommate. Learning this life skill will also help you pick up more real-life skills like budgeting for meals, experiencing new cultures, and eating healthy to name a few. Look online to find a class and prepare yourself for future compliments!
20. Learn a new instrument
Look around the house for an old instrument or ask your friends and neighbors for one. Fortunately, there are plenty of tutorials online to get you started on the basics. If you love practicing your new hobby over the summer, you could consider joining your school band or orchestra in the fall. This will put your new talent into action, help you make new friends with similar interests, and help you get more involved at school while also having a great time.
21. Take a dance class
Shake it off! Find a class nearby at your local gym or dance studio where you can learn some dance moves. Dance can help relieve stress, increase flexibility, and keep you in shape this summer.
22. Start a blog
Writing a blog can help you grow as a person through challenging you to think critically about who you are and what you care about (plus, it will help you improve your writing skills!) You may be able to find like-minded people and build an audience. Bloggers can be heavily inspired by a cause, and writing can create awareness and initiate the change they look for in the world.
This summer, try and get some exercise. Try out the gym or see if they have any aerobic or yoga classes that sound fun. If the gym seems too daunting, pop in some fun music or a podcast and take a walk or jog around the neighborhood. Try out jump roping or some workouts online.
FYI: For a limited time, Planet Fitness is giving out free memberships to teens.
24. Make art
Pull out some paper, pens, markers, or paint and see where your creativity takes you. Craft stores nearby have all sorts of materials to paint on like canvases, lightbulbs, totes, shirts, and even birdhouses. Find a project on Pinterest to work on over the summer. DIY some new outfits and build your summer wardrobe. The summer DIY options are limitless and act as a great way to relax while also stimulating your creative side.
25. Get a part-time job
Along with earning you some money, jobs teach us responsibility, good work habits, and the essential time management skills that you learn best through experience. If you can balance a job with your commitments this summer, gaining experience can prepare you for future jobs or internships and help build out your resume.
26. Apply for internships
Explore a career that interests you or learn some new skills by applying for internships. Internships are a great opportunity for you to build connections with professionals that will help you in the future. They also help you experience a specific field first-hand. Maybe you’re really impressed by the internship, and your dreams to pursue that career are confirmed. Or maybe you feel like you should look in a new direction. Either way, the experience is important for both you and the college application process, so apply away!
27. Become a research assistant
Research is another impressive experience to have as a teenager (especially if you plan to pursue a career in a competitive STEM field). Try emailing a research institute nearby or contacting a professor or doctor to see if they know of any opportunities in research. This opportunity is a great way to get in-field experience and learn important research techniques that will help in college and future jobs.
28. Take a college course
Many colleges offer courses for high schoolers and middle schoolers over the summer. Check the college’s website to see what’s available. (For example, here’s a look at free online courses available through Harvard).
Many colleges have started offering virtual options since the pandemic, so try finding a course available through a school you’re interested in attending. A few weeks of classes will help you get more familiar with the college experience before you set foot on campus.
29. Job shadow
Ask around and find a professional in the field you are interested in. Being in the professional’s “shadow” allows you to see the daily ins-and-outs of the job. Whether your experience reinforces your future aspirations or directs you to change them, shadowing allows for invaluable experience that can help guide you toward picking college majors and career paths.
30. Start an experiment or project
Have a subject at school that really interested you? Or a specific topic or experiment that you really want to learn more about? Take the summer to delve deeper and solve your unanswered questions. Research proper experimental design or project procedure and let your curiosity guide you. Take this opportunity to learn more about what you love without the pressure of assignments or deadlines.
31. Take a free online class
Use the summer to learn some new material that could help you get ahead in the next years. Depending on the level of the course, you may be able to use it towards college credit. More importantly, it helps you focus on a topic and keeps your brain going over the summer—all at no cost!
32. Attend a college summer program or camp
Check out a college’s in-person (or virtual) summer program or camp in which you can immerse yourself with students your age under the guidance of professors or college students. Whether it be art, robotics, or computer science, competitive colleges have various offerings for different subjects, so choose the one that interests you most, and enroll in a college program this summer.
33. Start a business
Have an idea for a product or service? Start your own business this summer. Some ideas to start with are creating and selling products, tutoring or coaching, babysitting, or doing yard work. There might be some bumps along the road, but growing and learning entrepreneurial techniques are important for any field of study. And it gives you something interesting to add to your college resume!
34. Enter a contest
Sign up for contests in writing, STEM, robotics, coding, math, short film, or anything that you’re interested in. A simple online search of contests in your area will provide a plethora of options for you to choose from. Good luck!
Be a Good Human
Focusing on someone or something other than yourself feels good and also reduces stress. Find a shelter or food pantry that needs volunteers and don’t be afraid to step in and help out. You may meet some interesting people along the way and hear stories that will change your life.
36. Do a random act of kindness
Leave a loving note for mom or write a card to someone who is sick. Random acts of kindness can make someone’s day while improving your own mental health. Help spread happiness and positivity throughout your community and have some fun with it!
37. Start a book or school supply drive
Choose a non-profit or school to support and get a list of its most-needed items. Set up collection locations that are convenient for people to reach and set a target goal for your drive. Reach out to as many people as you can and try and partner with a corporation for more support.
38. Pick up litter
Prevent other animals and wildlife from coming across a potential danger by picking up some trash. Cleanup services can be quite costly, and by picking up litter, you could help save that money that could otherwise be put where the community could benefit.
39. Donate clothes
Spend a day in your closet and sort through your clothes you no longer want or wear. Set aside a pile to donate. Ask around the house, too, because your siblings and parents might need an excuse to declutter their closets. Give them to a local shelter or church and know that you’re helping out in your community.
40. Teach English to a refugee or someone new to the country
It is so important for newcomers to learn English as it helps them connect with their new community and gives them a better chance at achieving their dreams. Organizations like World Relief and others more specific to your state would appreciate more teachers and teaching assistants to help their cause.
41. Establish a sustainable lifestyle
Carbon emissions negatively impact the atmosphere, and plastic pollution is a growing problem for earth’s natural ecosystems. However, there are small, sustainable habits that you can instill to help limit personal waste and pollution. Consider using recyclable materials and thrifting instead of buying brand new clothes. Try local or sustainable products and make a solid effort to limit single-use plastic.
42. Learn CPR
In case of an emergency, it’s always great to know CPR. CPR can be the reason for a victim’s full recovery, keeping blood and oxygen flowing through the body. The American Red Cross offers CPR classes, or you could watch an online tutorial. Either way, it’s a handy skill to have, so consider learning it over the break.
43. Start a non-profit
Non-profits allow you to grow your business skills and use your talents for the benefit of your community. In order to start a non-profit, consider your goals and the type of cause you care about most. Come up with a name, find volunteers, and create an action plan to carry out your goals. Start small, and over the years—even past high school—you can continue to serve and grow your non-profit.
44. Raise money for a cause
Find a cause you are passionate about, and then find an organization you want to support. You can raise money for them through a garage sale, coat drive, or bake sale.
45. Work at a community event
Many neighborhoods and towns hold events like marathons, game nights, and fairs—they could surely use some help. Find a local organization, like a library, and ask around to see when the next gathering is. Take the opportunity to learn about and engage with your community.
46. Read to young children
Local libraries and bookstores hold book reading sessions for children, so reach out and see if you can help. Whether you like working with kids or love reading to others, this is a great summer opportunity to serve your community.
47. Tutor a younger student
Have a subject that you feel pretty comfortable teaching? Find a friend’s younger sibling or post on a community page that you’re ready to tutor. Many students need help but are too scared to ask their teachers. Tutor and mentor them this summer and give them a leg up for the next school year.
Figuring out how to communicate what you know about preferred subject to someone else will also deepen your own understanding.
48. Donate blood
Donating your blood can save up to three lives. With each donation, you will also get a free mini-checkup when they check your vitals. Just make sure to drink plenty of water and a hearty meal beforehand and feel good about the lives you’re saving!
49. Be a camp counselor
Being a camp counselor is a great way to gain leadership experience. For the weeks at camp, you are officially a leader for all your campers to look up to. Become a role model for them to follow and teach them the values of teamwork, honesty, and hard work.
Plan for the future
50. Prepare for admissions tests
It’s never too early to prepare for upcoming tests. Get ahead this summer and work on your verbal and math skills with homework exercises or see where you stand with a practice test.
51. Brush up on your vocabulary
Try some vocabulary flashcards or reading higher-level texts that will help you engage with the advanced vocabulary found on admissions tests. The language on the SAT® and ACT® tests requires time and practice to comprehend. Beginning to familiarize yourself with it now will only make you more comfortable when test day comes.
52. Start on college essays
Seniors, check college websites and the Common App® for prompts that are released in early summer. Getting a head start now will help you juggle senior year and help you plan ahead for submitting your application in the fall.
We offer a number of group sessions that allow students to get a head start on the college application process. Learn more about our Apply Now! Boot Camp.
53. Create your college resume
Building your resume takes time, so creating it over the summer break rather than the school year is a smart decision. Remember to include your leadership positions, work/internships, extracurriculars, and awards throughout your high school tenure. Even if you’re not a senior, detail your activities, as they may not be as fresh in your mind when application deadlines arrive. Remember to keep your resume short, but detailed, and be sure to continue revisiting and adding your recent accomplishments.
54. Research Colleges
Research the defining characteristics of colleges and see which ones attract your attention. Is it a smaller or larger college? Does it have a thriving Greek Life? Located in the city or suburbs? Does it offer a good undergraduate program for your major or plans for graduate school? Or unique residential colleges like the four houses in the Harry Potter series? (i.e. some colleges like Harvard or Rice University divide their students into similar groups).
Your college decision should be based on many factors. Look through college websites and see if their identity lines up with your ideal college. Start forming a list, so you can plan on learning more about them.
And don’t forget to go on college visits! The summer is a perfect opportunity to travel around and visit the colleges on your list. Walking the campus and exploring the nearby city is an important indicator of your college decision.
During the school year in the fall, you may not find a better time to leave and visit. Just be sure to check the college hours and book campus tours in advance. (If traveling far is a challenge, be sure to check out virtual college visits).
55. Open a savings account
It’s never too early to start learning about money. Most banks have tools and apps designed to teach young people about saving and opening an account. The earlier you open one, the more you can save for the long-term financial benefit.
High school comes with lots of major milestones like saving up for your first car or personal computer. Learning how to budget and save for these big purchases will teach you the discipline of being smart with your money, a skill that only becomes more valuable as you age.