College & Workforce Readiness

Range of Summer Experiences Can Benefit High School Students

By Caralee J. Adams — July 29, 2015 2 min read
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As the calendar soon turns to August, high school counselors say it’s helpful for students— particularly rising seniors—to think about their summer experience and reflect a bit.

Whether it was interning at a design firm, working a minimum-wage, food-service job, volunteering at an animal shelter, or caring for an elderly relative, there were likely moments of growth over the summer that could shape students’ career paths and make for possible college essay topics.

Students don’t have to take an elaborate trip abroad or attend an expensive college program over the summer to have something worthy to write, said Phil Trout, a school counselor at Minnetonka High School in Minnetonka, Minn., and the president-elect of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in a phone interview.

Trout suggests students look back on the direction their summer took and ask: Where were there surprises? Where did they challenge themselves? What did they discover (positive or negative) about themselves?

“Some young people are missing the point by spending far too much time worrying that other peers are getting ahead of them as opposed to finding where the joy is in their set of summer experiences,” said Trout.

College admissions officers recognize that the vast majority of students can’t afford to travel, take an unpaid internship, or participate in an expensive college-enrichment program, notes Trout. And students who hope taking a course on campus for a few weeks in the summer will increase their chance of acceptance might be disappointed—at least if they were hoping for an edge with their application at Brown University, according to a recent report on WGBH in Boston.

For those who do find a meaningful internship in high school, the experience can be a valuable stepping stone, according to findings from a recent survey of students and employers. When making hiring decisions, research shows that employers value work experience more than grades or where a student went to school.

Still, experts say there is no one best way for students to spend their summer to gain insight into their future or get an edge in the college admission process. Trout recalls one student who spent the summer with his aging grandmother, learning practical life skills and valuable lessons in caregiving. While not typical, Trout said the experience provided a treasure trove to examples that he could mention in a college essay. Better than a broad narrative, counselors suggest focusing on a specific nugget or turning point when writing about a job for an essay.

Even if students summer jobs weren’t stellar, Trout notes that at least they gained some exposure and began to build a network. Too often, students may have an aptitude for science and math, for instance, but have no idea of what an engineer does until they spend time on a job site. One of Trout’s students who aspired to be a teacher realized after working in a summer parks and recreation program with 3- and 4-year-olds that she was still interested in education, but leaned toward teaching high school-age students.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.