Health & Family

How you spend your summer vacation is important

Thankfully once students reach high school, they are no longer required to write the often painfully boring “what I did over my summer vacation” essay. But that doesn’t mean that what they choose to do over summer isn’t important.

A key component of strong college applications is how students set themselves apart from their peers. Summer presents opportunities to do that. It can be challenging for students to distinguish themselves during the academic year because every student at their high school has the same opportunities to take the same rigorous classes and participate in the same clubs, organizations, sports and activities.

So summer jumps out as a great opportunity for a student to do something different from the pack.

Think of summer as an open canvas and then start filling it with what’s important to you as well as things you want and need to do. I usually suggest creating a patchwork quilt of different summer experiences.

If possible, it is a good idea for students to pursue their academic interests in a college environment. This demonstrates an intellectual curiosity that colleges value. Don’t be misled into believing that taking a course at “Selective U” guarantees an acceptance letter down the road. However, spending a week or two on campus and going into more depth in an area of interest will absolutely be helpful as a student tries to determine what colleges should remain on their list and which ones should be eliminated.

What else can students do besides academic enrichment?

1. Help out. Summer is a wonderful time to become more engaged in your community through service projects.

2. Get a job. Paid work experience is extremely well-regarded by colleges because it requires maturity, responsibility and dedication. Don’t look down your nose at entry level jobs in supermarkets, restaurants or retail; they are great training grounds.

3. Train for a leadership role. I tell families that “leadership is the most transferable skill from high school to college.” Colleges are continually seeking students to replenish the roles within clubs and organizations that are left open after students graduate. There are an interesting variety of leadership training programs offered.

4. Get a taste of the real world with an internship. Internships and job-shadowing can be a great way for a student to test the waters. Seeing the day-to-day life in specific careers will often be life-changing.

5. Be entrepreneurial – start something new. Create a business with a friend and make some money.

6. Prepare for next year. Think about a club you might like to create and do the legwork over the summer to get it up and running in the fall.

7. Invest in the college process. Prep for standardized tests, finalize your college list, visit campuses and begin writing your college essays.

8. Oh yeah: Have some fun too!

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;