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College Admissions: How to Make Your Summer Activities Count

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how to make your summer countIt’s no secret that most colleges and universities, especially the selective ones, have to deal with more academically qualified applicants than they can possibly admit. By academically qualified, I mean your test scores, rigor of courses you take, and the grades you receive in those courses. But many colleges take it a step further and look for something else.

What is the “Something Else” that colleges look for?

Colleges are really interested in understanding you as a person. Who are you? What have you done outside of school that gives them a clue as to your interests and talents? Colleges care about the kinds of people they admit, so they look to see what you do after school, during weekends, and especially during the summers. You see, what you do tells them a lot about how you might act on their campuses.

It Doesn’t Really Matter What You Do

There are so many different ways students use their time. The most important thing is that you love or at least enjoy what you choose to get involved with.

One student with whom I worked was an enthusiastic reader and set up a summer teen book club at her favorite local bookstore. Another student was an avid surfer who organized his town’s first high school surf-a-thon to raise money for a fellow surfer who was diagnosed with diabetes. A football player took his fellow players to an orphanage in Mexico during the off-season to teach the children (boys and girls alike) to play American football. When colleges look at your activities, what they notice are patterns of behavior that signify commitment, passion, and persistence.

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Quality vs. Quantity

Many students believe that the more they do, the more colleges will be impressed. That’s not really the case. Quantity of activities isn’t as important as quality.

You don’t have to be or do something incredible in order for colleges to take notice. In other words, you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete or a Hollywood actress to impress admissions offices. For the most part, colleges select students who have consistently participated in one to three school or out-of-school activities and have performed very well in them.

Follow Your Passion

Above all else, it is important that you are involved in activities that you are passionate about. One student that I counseled, for example, became interested in cooking when he was three years old. He cooked up a storm in the family kitchen throughout elementary and middle school.

Guess what? He was admitted to a prestigious university. As a freshman, he met the Dean of Admissions, who said, “Oh, so yo’re the cook we were lucky to get!”

Whether it’s cooking, cycling, volunteering, or performing, just do it! There is no better way of demonstrating who you are to colleges than by doing what you love.

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Check out Fiske Real College Essays That Work to learn how you can turn your summer activities into a great essay!


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Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz is author of adMISSION POSSIBLE: The “Dare to Be Yourself” Guide for Getting into the Best Colleges for You, and founder/director of, a free college admissions information and resources website. An award-winning author, speaker, and professional counselor, Hansen Shaevitz is a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultant’s Association (IECA) and a Unigo Expert Network columnist. She is a former member of Stanford University’s Parents’ Board and chair of the Advisory Council for Stanford’s Institute for Women & Gender. She spent twelve years as a trustee for La Jolla Country Day School. Hansen Shaevitz has a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from Stanford University, was Orientation Officer at the East West Center, a member of the Dean of Students staff at Stanford, and directed the College Re-Entry Program at the University of California, San Diego.

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