Everybody knows that the colleges care about more than GPAs and standardized testing. They look at curriculum strength, essays, teacher recs and, in particular, extracurriculars. It is no secret that the admissions committees are very concerned about what you do with your spare time -- be it volunteering with lepers in India or interning as a trapeze artist with Cirque du Soleil.
And it is equally important that you do not begin a brand new extracurricular activity during your junior year. The admissions committees will not be impressed with your story unless you have demonstrated a lifelong passion for your extracurricular of choice.
This makes it a challenge to choose a summer activity for the summer between junior and senior year of high school. Theoretically, it is best to be chosen for a prestigious, competitive program related to your passion, a program that ideally you can position as an award or scholarship on your application. Unfortunately, there are only seven of these programs, and four are for New Jersey residents only. And, if you're anything like most kids, you missed the deadlines, or your robotic skills are so rusty that you probably wouldn't have qualified anyway.
That means you will be faced with a mind-boggling choice between the following:
--A CHALLENGING SUMMER COURSE AT AN IVY. Schools like Brown, Columbia and Cornell offer fascinating classes for pre-college students -- courses in Great Books, Genomes or Globalization. Unfortunately, these programs cost $5,000-$8,000, and although the colleges like keeping their dorms filled, they are not particularly impressed when they see these classes on your resume. They might assume you settled for Genome Studies because you couldn't get into a more prestigious program.
-- A LIFE-CHANGING TRIP TO A WAR-RIDDEN, DEVELOPING COUNTRY. These excursions, which often involve shelling out $8,200 to shadow a bunion surgeon in Mongolia or train villagers in Guam to grow sustainable kale hydroponically, take high school students out of their comfort zones. The participants live with local families in mud huts and come back with a new appreciation for the lavish after-parties they attend at home. But sadly, the colleges don't like to hear about these adventures. They want you to wait until you're IN college to go on expeditions to the rainforest, because then their own institutions will benefit from the research results.
-- AN OUTWARD BOUND EXPERIENCE BACKPACKING BLINDFOLDED IN WEST VIRGINIA. Again, the colleges once respected students who spent their summers eating bark. But now they look at these programs, some with price tags of $3,625, as magnets for troubled teens.
-- AN INTERNSHIP ON YOUR UNCLE BRAD'S NEW PILOT FOR FOX. Don't even think about it. Stinks of privilege, especially if the show is picked up.
That leaves just one desirable summer activity:
-- A JOB AT JAMBA JUICE. This, my friends, is what the colleges want to see. All the better if you don't actually get to operate the fresh press and you spend eight full hours a day peeling carrots and mopping up. But landing one of these coveted assignments is not as easy as it sounds. I'm sorry to report that most summer Jamba Juice positions have already gone to recent cum laude Entrepreneurial Studies graduates.
That's where the Summer Conundrum Counselors come in: For a mere $6,500, less than it will cost to go to Ghana or Cornell, these essential members of the college process support team will personally arrange an UNPAID INTERNSHIP at a Jamba Juice for high school students. Although there is no compensation, they will make sure that you encounter severe traffic, rude customers and rancid protein powder -- a plethora of excellent essay material... and all in all, the kind of experience that jumps off the page. Apply soon -- opportunities are limited. You don't want to spend your summer doing something questionable like studying International Relations at Columbia.