Our students are currently discussing what they will do over the summer. This is an excellent time to show interest in your intended major, try something new, and recharge for the next school year. If your student is looking into highly selective colleges, Ivy-level in particular, they will need to have made an impact on a national or international level. Sound crazy? Well, too often it is true. But mere mortals also get into fantastic colleges and universities too. One way to distinguish yourself is to use the summer as a canvas for your masterpiece.

Our students have access to a list of formal programs as well as opportunities to do things locally. You do not have to spend a ton of money on a summer program to have it differentiate you. InGenius Prep has some great advice:

Last Minute Summer Plans for High School Students: Going Beyond the Usual Programs

As you plan the next year, you might think that it is too late to apply to the most competitive summer programs, or that you don’t want to attend a preexisting summer program in the first place. As a result, you’re on the hunt for some last-minute summer plans. To make the process easier, we have compiled some ideas and journeys you can embark on that show leadership and initiative, and can help you stand out in your college applications.

Strive for Leadership in an Existing Activity

The easiest place to start is with what you already have. How can you find last-minute summer plans without having to go out of your way and start something? Take on new responsibilities in something you already participate in! If you’re a member of a club that aligns with your passion, or you’re part of a community service group that is relevant to your interests, find ways to take on leadership roles in this group. If you are a member of your school’s robotics team, think about how you can build a robot that can practically help out in people’s lives. If you’re a member of the creative writing club, research how your group can get published. The possibilities are endless!

Start a Self-Directed Project

Self-directed or independent projects for high school students can take many different forms, depending on the topics that resonate with you, and what is feasible based on your location and the time you’re willing to spend. If you’d like a more concrete way to convey your skills, effort, and knowledge in a certain discipline, carrying out an independent project—usually finished by the end of the school year—would be an effective way to reflect your interest. Some example project ideas could include:

  • Creating a documentary film on a topic you’re passionate about
  • Writing poems to eventually compile a collection
  • Putting together a group of like-minded individuals who believe in a cause and start an organization around it
  • Conducting a research project on a topic that appeals to you
  • Building an app that can help others
  • Starting your own Etsy shop or your own business
  • Spearheading a fundraiser that supports your community
  • Composing or recording songs
  • Creating your own food-delivery service to help local restaurants

Start a Community Initiative

Another way to spend a productive summer and find last minute summer plans is by looking around you and assessing the needs of your school or town community. What is this community lacking? How can you help out? You might do some research into what the people of your community need. If you have a driver’s license or know people with cars, initiate a grocery run volunteer service that allows for delivery of food to the homes of your neighbors who cannot put themselves at risk during the pandemic by going to stores themselves. If you are a part of your school orchestra, reach out to local nursing homes or children’s hospitals to see if you can perform a show there. Utilize your resources!

Learn a New Skill

As part of last minute summer plans, you have the chance to learn any skill that you haven’t been able to pursue previously due to lack of time and pressure from schoolwork. Now is the perfect time! If you’ve always wanted to learn how to play the guitar, go ahead and watch video tutorials. If you’ve always wanted to learn a new language, it’s time to download Duolingo or Rosetta Stone and get started on your journey. If you’ve been thinking of picking up video editing skills on software such as Final Cut Pro, it’s time! You can then convert these skills into even bigger possibilities. For example, you can teach guitar to students in your community. Or, if you pick up video editing, you can start making high-quality YouTube or TikTok videos and gain a following that can impress admissions officers.

Start Your Own Research 

Last minute summer plans could include time to pursue your own research project if you’re a STEM—or even humanities—student. Admissions officers appreciate students who pursue this route rather than enrolling in a lab or summer program, as it showcases initiative and independence. A teacher from your school may help guide you and provide you with the resources you need.

Consider a community-based experience–such as analyzing whether your local lakes and rivers have excessive levels of a harmful chemical. A project that involves more students could inspire you to build your own research team. It might also be something more personal, such as researching the history of your family and the origin of your ancestors. Either way, develop a research question you’re trying to answer before you set out on a long-term journey.

No matter what, you’ll want to have something tangible at the end of your research–a finding that can concretely point to and capture the work you’ve done. You could present a poster or deliver a talk based on your findings, depending on the kind of work you’ve done. You could also make a documentary or write an article about all that you’ve found. For example, an oral history exploration could be turned into a podcast or an op-ed! Admissions officers will appreciate your willingness to step out of the standard course assignments at school for ambitious experiences.