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So your teen didn’t get into a desired summer program this year? Don’t worry!

Because top schools value uniqueness, it’s often the case that an applicant who has put together a do-it-yourself (DIY) summer wins admission to a top college over the student who has mainly enrolled in formal programs, which provide pre-made curricula leaving little to student initiative. Believe it or not, more important than attending (what many consider to be) a prestigious summer program is filling one’s summer with meaningful, deep activities that display authentic passion and growth.

Admissions officers truly enjoy learning about students who follow their passion more than about those who do things because they think it will “look good” to a college. To get into a top college in 2021 and beyond, your child will need to really stand out from the pack. Believe it or not, the DIY summer is the perfect opportunity to do so!

So I suggest you help your teen think through what they really want to explore and build a customized plan. If it’s put together thoughtfully, it will surely serve your child’s admissions case. Here are some DIY tips for choosing the right summer activity for you that will help you achieve your college aspirations:

  • Select a summer program that aligns with your student’s desired college major.
    If your student is thinking of majoring in science in college, select a summer program that has to do with science. The more specific you can be, the better. A summer program in Marine Biology or Neuroscience, for example, is seen more favorably by college admission officers than a summer program in science. Colleges prefer candidates who have a clear vision of their future plans and what they want to pursue in college. So your student should start by clearly defining what they want to study and pursuing that through their summer activities early.

  • Select a summer program that involves community service.
    Colleges aren’t only looking for students who excel in the classroom. They’re also looking for students who can make a positive impact on campus and in the broader community. Community service is an opportunity for students to show their level of compassion, leadership, and awareness and it makes more of a difference in college admission decisions than most people realize. According to a survey of 264 college admissions officers, 58% said, “A student’s community service experience has a positive impact on his or her acceptance to our higher education institution.” Most (53%) also said community service was a tie-breaker between equally qualified students when asked, “Assuming all factors are equal (such as GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and rigor of curriculum), then community service details are an important decision-making factor.”3

  • Choose a unique/unconventional summer activity.
    This doesn’t mean your child needs to enroll in a skydiving or ax throwing summer program. This just means don’t underestimate the value of a DIY summer. They are oftentimes more advantageous than a cookie-cutter summer program. Admission officers value uniqueness and students who take risks and think outside the box. So tell your student to have fun and get creative. It will undoubtedly payoff in the long run.

  • Choose a summer program where your student can showcase one or more of the 7Cs.
    What are the 7Cs you may be asking? These are the 7 characteristics that colleges look for in applicants. They are, in no particular order, 1) collaboration, 2) commitment, 3) character, 4) curiosity, 5) creativity, 6) challenge, and 7) cultural intelligence. The summer activity your student chooses should allow them to clearly demonstrate as many of the 7Cs as possible since these are the things that colleges are looking for in applicants.

If your child keeps these criteria in mind when choosing a summer activity, they will undoubtedly put together an optimal summer. Here are some examples of using the criteria above to create a balanced and powerful set of summer activities that fuel your child’s admissions chances:

Desired Summer Program: COSMOS | REJECTED

Alternative Summer Programs:

  • Online research project in Computational Biology (or another Biology subject) through SkoolMentor. SkoolMentor is a program that connects high school and undergrad students to researchers (post docs or field experts) in STEM fields. Students complete world class research projects in 8 weeks under the mentorship of these researchers – remotely.
    • Shows interest in Biology
  • Conduct your own science project at home with Science Buddies’ high school science projects. The projects are written and tested by scientists and are specifically created for high school students. Projects range from creating glowing bacteria to tracking Covid-19’s genomic and clinical evolution. There’s something for everyone. Students can choose to follow the science experiments as written or put their own spin on them.
    • Shows interest in Biology
  • Prepare for or participate in a science or STEM competition such as the USA Biolympiad (USABO), the premiere biology competition for high school students in the United States. After two rounds of challenging exams, twenty finalists are invited to a residential training program where they learn advanced biological concepts and exacting lab skills at the USABO National Finals.
    • Shows interest in Biology
  • Give virtual music classes for free to children 4-14 years old with QuaranTunes. QuaranTunes is a community of musicians who share their skills and passions with other aspiring musicians around the world for free.
    • Shows community service and interests outside of his major
  • Put together and teach a biology class to younger students through The Passion Project. In The Passion Project, students teach a class on a topic of their choosing to younger children. Classes can range from just drawing together to learning how to solve complex math problems!
    • Shows interest in Biology and community service
  • Online SAT/ACT prep so they can take test in the fall
    • College preparation
  • Working on college essay free-writes
    • College preparation

Desired Summer Program: Boston Leadership Institute | REJECTED

Alternative Summer Programs:

  • Starting a small gardening business selling “Shelter-in-place Gardening Kits” online.
    • Combines her business and gardening interests
  • Creating to her own pollinator friendly garden per the Environment California article Quarantine project: Building a pollinator-friendly garden
    • Shows her interests outside her major
  • Writes a research paper on Data Science through the Pioneer Research Program. In the Pioneer Research Program, selected students work one-on-one with leading U.S. university professors in advanced study and research of a topic of their interest, culminating in a full-length research paper.
    • Shows her interest in Data Science
  • Volunteering to teach low-income students entrepreneurship, computer literacy, and more through StreetCode Academy.
    • Shows community service and her interests in business.
  • Taking the online Edx course “Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies” offered by Harvard University to continue your education. EdX offers the highest quality online courses from top institutions around the world.
    • Shows her interest in business.
  • Online SAT/ACT prep so that she can take the test in fall or spring
    • College preparation

Desired Summer Program: Sustainable Summer | REJECTED

  • Volunteering with environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club or Earthjustice
    • Shows her interest in environment
  • Using the Earthjustice and Earth Day Network toolkits to organize an online discussion group on an environmental topic such as the increased use of single-use plastic and plastic pollution during shelter-in-place
    • Shows her interest in environment
  • Create a YouTube channel on ways to live more sustainably with weekly videos on specific actions people can take to lower their carbon footprint
    • Shows her interest in environment
  • Taking the online Edx course “Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasive Writing and Public Speaking” offered by Harvard University to continue your education. EdX offers the highest quality online courses from top institutions around the world.
    • Shows interests outside of her major
  • Using cooking skills to prepare and package meals for the sick and elderly through Project Open Hand. Project Open Hand is a nonprofit organization that provides meals with love to critically ill neighbors and seniors.
    • Shows community service and interests outside of his major

We hope these examples are helpful and give your student ideas of the many possibilities out there. Honestly, all it takes is a little creative and strategic thinking. I invite you to review our free College Planning Foundations Workbook for further explanations and exercises geared toward planning for top school admission.

If you find that you want additional help with discovering and choosing the right summer program for you, contact Blue Stars today. We would be happy to help you with the process.

About the Author: Amy Morgenstern

Dr. Amy Morgenstern, affectionately known as Dr. M, is the founder and CEO of Blue Stars Admissions Consulting. She holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and an MFA in contemporary art. A former professor of philosophy, honors program associate director, and assistant to the director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, Dr. M brings a wealth of academic and multicultural experience to her practice.

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