Summer Planning starts now

Yes, it’s time to plan for summer – especially for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. You don’t necessarily need a buttoned-up plan by the end of the month, but I urge you to begin exploring ideas and opportunities as soon as possible.

I know it’s challenging to make plans this far in advance – but if you wait until May, there is a good chance the best opportunities will be long gone.

Most college students will be home from school by May and will have snapped up the best jobs. Many of the best test prep classes (SAT and ACT) will be filled. Many of the prime volunteering opportunities will be taken. Get cracking now!

Why is summer so important anyway?

If you aspire to be a strong college applicant, summers are important. They give you opportunity to explore interests outside the classroom. As we’ve talked about many times, colleges love applicants who show a demonstrated interest in something.

Summer is an ideal time to demonstrate what you’re interested in. The particular summer experience (e.g. paid work, volunteer work, sports camps, traveling, academics, etc.) is less important than the “story” it tells about who you are and how you choose to spend your time.

For example, if you are passionate about space exploration, it’s less important whether you volunteer to give tours at the local space museum, or enroll in a local college astronomy class, or get paid to collect tickets at the NASA annual convention. The important thing is that you are spending time exploring your passion.

Take some time to reflect on what you’re most passionate about, and build a summer plan around it (more tips on how to do this in an upcoming post).

In addition to crafting a summer experience that ignites your passion, sophomores and juniors have specific tasks worth considering:

Sophomores (going into junior year) should spend 50% of their summer preparing for their favorite standardized test (SAT or ACT). They will not want to leave preparation for this important test for their junior year.

Juniors (going into senior year) should spend 75% of their summer building a thoughtful, targeted college list. I know fatigue and burnout are inevitable after a tough junior year, but you must find the energy to keep pushing. You will not want to leave this project for senior year. Application deadlines come up quickly and there is little time for research or reflection.

What are my options?

Get Paid to Work

No matter the motivation, colleges are impressed with students who actually go out in the world and make real money. The job can be conventional (e.g. lifeguard or retail salesperson) or self-created (e.g. a pool cleaning or landscaping service). Each of these jobs has its own demands and will generate many lessons learned. Paid jobs are more legitimate when they require you to interact with adults not related to you.


Volunteer for a cause that you are passionate about – not because you think it will look good on your application. Check out volunteer opportunities here:

Enrichment Camps

Model UN, Boy Scouts of America, Youth & Government, Naval Academy Seminar  and other camps can provide fantastic experiences related to what you’re interested in.

Sports Camps/Showcases/Invitationals

If “sports” is your thing, summers represent make-or-break opportunities. College coaches do the majority of their recruiting over the summer. They don’t have the time, money or resources to travel extensively during the school year. It is important to find the summer schedule of the recruiters from your prospective colleges. Many college coaches conduct their own camps/showcases/invitationals at their schools. This is the perfect time to showcase your skills, interest, and character.


If you are passionate about a particular field of study, consider taking a college class over the summer that furthers your knowledge. Check out


Not everyone has a single burning passion that will drive their summer plans. If not, consider a few of the ideas above and “test out” some potential areas of interest. A wide breadth of experiences can be just as compelling as a sharply focused one.


Summer experiences do not have to be expensive. Don’t feel obligated to spend a lot of money on a “pre-packaged” trip to a remote country to help local villagers build a new clean water system. While this will no doubt deliver unique experiences, so will working as a dishwasher in the back of a busy restaurant.

Some colleges offer “on campus” educational/enrichment programs during the summer at their schools. While attending one of these sessions does show a level of “interest” in their school, it rarely will have material impact on admissions decisions.

Make a Plan

Like many parts of the college admissions process, planning and preparation are key. Success finds the students who have the vision, drive, and discipline to execute a plan years before it bears fruit. Practicing this type of foresight and faith will help students succeed well after the college admissions process is over.

Never stop preparing,

Phil Black