By: Contributor On: April 29, 2016 In: Applying to College, High School, Internships, Jobs, Summer Comments: 0

One of the questions I’m most often asked is, “What should I do over the summer to impress colleges?”

Here’s the problem: All students are unique and have varying interests. An incredible summer for one person might be a total waste of time for another.

What’s most impressive to college admissions committees is when they see someone with a summer experience that does BOTH of the following:

  1. Aligns with their interests and ultimate goals
  2. Generates positive growth and maturity

These are the two most important things above all else, especially if you decide to write a college essay about your summer experience.

Forcing yourself into an experience that doesn’t align with your interests, simply because you think “college acceptance rates are uber competitive… and THIS will look good on my application,” is never a good idea.

I can guarantee that no matter how hard you try, turning a disingenuous experience into a winning application essay is next to impossible. Let’s look at two opposing examples to illustrate this point.

George The Fainting Finance Major (Two Thumbs Down)

George is a student with a strong interest in a future career in finance, but he heard from someone that “colleges love it when you volunteer at hospitals!” Despite the fact that George absolutely can’t stand the sight of blood, he decides to spend his summer volunteering at the local emergency room.

He witnesses some truly moving experiences—life, death, even an emergency birth of a premature baby. Problem is, George spends most of the summer passed out on the floor, fainting at the sight of maladies large and small.

In the fall, George sits down to write an essay about this experience, but he fudges the details to make it seem like he was a heroic, leading volunteer in the emergency room. The college admissions committee, consummate experts in sniffing out deceit, don’t believe a word of the essay and summarily reject George’s application.

Michael The Ice Cream Prince (Two Thumbs Up)

Much like George, Michael is a student who is also interested in pursuing finance in the future. Instead of forcing himself to do something he hates, Michael takes a smarter route with his summer.

Michael’s uncle Buster owns a small business, an ice cream truck that drives around town providing cool treats in the summer heat. Michael spends his summer helping out his uncle and learning the ins and outs of the ice cream truck business. It’s tough work at times (it can get pretty hot in that little truck!) but Michael persists, taking away valuable lessons about supply & demand, customer service, and basic accounting.

When it comes time to write an application essay, Michael has an easy time recounting this meaningful summer experience. After all, it aligns perfectly with his future plans, and even though he wasn’t doing something huge like interning at a major bank, Michael was still learning the foundational lessons of finance.

The college admissions committee reads this essay and is doubly impressed; it’s honest, endearing, and reveals a lot about Michael’s character. With an overall solid application package, the essay puts Michael over the top, and he’s offered admission.

See how simple that is? Michael chose a summer activity that:

  1. Aligned with his interests
  2. Led to growth and maturity

And that’s the winning combination!


Jon FrankAbout Jon Frank
Jon Frank cofounded Admissionado in 2007 with one goal in mind: to inspire the next generation of students to “go to the best schools they can get into.” He attended Brown University and Harvard Business School and currently lives in Chicago. In his spare time, Jon can be found jet-setting around the world to give speeches (in Asia, especially), indulging in Chicago’s rich selection of ethnic restaurants, or keeping up with politics alongside his trusty cat, Buster Douglas.

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