Gone are the days when teens spent their summers just relaxing – if you are a college-bound high school student, how you spend your summers, and other breaks from school, could have an impact on your college admissions. Admissions officers consider each applicants’ activities outside of the classroom to better understand their passions and character, and a student who uses their summer to do something meaningful will always leave a better impression than one who spends June, July and August just hanging out.

Furthermore, jobs, programs and community service help teens develop real-life skills, build independence and further their intellectual development. Break activities are also an excellent way to explore passions or a potential career. Not only will this prove valuable in selecting a college major, but having done an internship, program or community service related to your area of study can provide an admissions edge.

Activities during breaks do not have to be glamorous, nor require traveling far from home. While there are abundant programs that send teens to exotic locales, sticking close to home and being involved in the local community can be just as beneficial. So don’t dismiss the idea of simply finding a summer job; even jobs like pumping gas or helping out in mom’s office demonstrate the desire to stay active, and are also a wonderful way to gain exposure to the real world.

But does this mean you should be filling every waking moment with activities? Absolutely not! Relaxing, hanging out with friends – these are critical to your wellbeing (and college admissions officers would agree). So be sure to give yourself time during breaks to relax and decompress, doing whatever makes you happy.

Here are a few ideas for college-bound teens to use their summers in a meaningful way:

Continue with school year activities
Many school-based clubs and teams stay active during the summer, so stay involved! Practice your instrument, hone your dance skills or teach yourself a new programming language – whatever hobby you already practice is worth devoting more time to when school is not in session.

Take a community college class
Most community colleges have a summer session that’s open to high school students. Consider taking a class to get ahead in your requirements for school, or any class in a subject you find interesting. As a bonus, a grade in a community colleges class may count as a weighted class in your high school GPA!

Do community service
It’s no secret that colleges love students who are active in helping to improve their community. If you do community service during the school year, breaks are a great time to deepen your involvement. If you don’t do community service already, consider doing some during your breaks from school.

Get a job or internship
Any form of employment, from scooping ice cream to interning at a local tech company, is time well-spent. A summer job provides valuable real-world experience and builds people-skills. An internship is a great way to explore a career you might be interested in, and gain experience to put on your resume. Not to mention, having a little extra cash is never a bad thing!

 Go on a program abroad
There are tons of companies that operate trips abroad for high school students, often geared towards volunteering in developing countries, learning a language or environmental sustainability. While traveling abroad is an extremely valuable experience, it’s important to note that these trips won’t do much to impress college admissions officers (because so many students do them nowadays), unless your activities on the trip are directly related to what you plan to study in college. So if you choose to participate in a program abroad, do so for the myriad of other benefits, not because it will give you an admissions edge.

Do a pre-college program on a college campus
Nearly every college has programs on their campus for high school students during the summer months. Students live in the dorms and get to experience life on the campus. Often these programs are designed to introduce teens to specific careers and majors; a few examples include Camp Business at Drexel University or the Health Careers Institute at Dartmouth College. Many colleges also allow high school students to take summer courses from the regular professors alongside college students, earning credits which may be transferrable to other colleges. An important note – participating in a summer program on a college campus will typically NOT increase your chances of being admitted to that college. They are, however, a wonderful way to explore a subject of interest – which reflects positively on your applications to any college.

Visit colleges
This is a great option, especially in junior year when you are building your college list. Although classes are not in session during the summer, most colleges still give tours to prospective students. You won’t get as accurate an impression as you would from visiting during the school year, but it still makes sense to use the ample time available during the summer for campus tours.   

Rising seniors: Gear up for college applications  
In the summer before your senior year, devoting time to your college applications will be time well-spent! College applications are a lot of work, so do yourself a favor and get a jump on it – draft your personal statement, finalize your college list, create a resume and filling out the online applications. When things heat up in September and October, you’ll be happy you did!