THE BLOG
02/04/2013 04:14 pm ET Updated Apr 06, 2013

Hey, High Schoolers! What Are You Doing This Coming Summer?

When you were in grammar and junior high school, what did teachers ask you the moment you walked into class the first day of school in the fall?

"What did you do this summer?"

Most of the time, I bet your answer to this question was pretty predictable: "Hung out with my friends," "Went to the beach or mountains," "Attended camp" or "Took a trip with my parents."

Don't Be a Couch Potato
Now that you're in high school and planning to attend college in the not-so-distant future, you might want to have a different answer, because what you do with your summers can affect your college admissions. The last thing you want colleges to think based on your summer activities is that you are a goof-off or couch potato.

Most college admissions officers not only look at your grades and test scores, but they also pay attention to how you spend your time when you're not in school. They want to know what your interests and passions are and what kind of a person you are as evidenced by what you do. Carefully choosing summer activities might help your college applications stand out from other applicants.

And you know what? What is available to high school students these days is absolutely amazing. There are more fun, exciting, meaningful, and/or worthwhile activities and programs now than any other time in history.

Here are the some options that you might consider:

Special Academic Programs
Last week's blog identified three of the best-known academic programs: Johns Hopkins' CTY, Stanford's EPGY and Duke's TIP programs. Other highly praised programs are the California State Summer School in Mathematics & Science (COSMOS), the University of Iowa's Junior Science and Humanities Symposia, the Northwestern Equinox program, and Vanderbilt's Summer Academy. Most of these programs are selective and involve applications, so you need to begin your search and application process early, like right now!.

PLEASE don't think of these academic opportunities as a grind. Not only do they offer students academically rich programs, but they are also often a lot of fun. Most students come back excited and ready to go again next year. For a listing of other programs, go to the CTY Imagine Links to Resources.

The Arts and Performing Arts
If you're an artist, musician, singer, or dancer, there are also wonderful summer programs. Take a look at the Idyllwild Arts Camp in California, the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp in Michigan, Aspen's Festival and Music School in Colorado, and Tanglewood in Massachusetts (operated by Boston University). These programs and many more around the country offer you the opportunity to have a wonderful arts experience, develop your skills, and also meet other students who share your passion. Go to the CYT Visual & Performing Arts for a listing for other music, dance, theater and visual arts and media experiences

Volunteering
These days, many students volunteer in and outside of school during the school year. However, summer is a time when you can do very special volunteering, even help to change people's lives or work to save the planet. Some examples of organizations that provide summer volunteer programs are the Audubon Society Camps, the National Outdoor Leadership School, Earthwatch Institute, Do Something, the Humane Society.

Volunteer programs abound in the United States, but there are also many located outside of the U.S. Some go on for a week or two, and others last most of the summer. Colleges are impressed when you get outside of yourself and do something meaningful on behalf of others and/or causes. For a comprehensive list of summer volunteer opportunities, go to Enrichment Alley and type in volunteer opportunities in its program search space. This remarkable website also offers idea about Low-Cost Summer Enrichment.

Summer Language Immersion Programs
Today, it is almost trite to say that we are a part of a global society. The peoples of countries other than the U.S. are often fluent in two, three, and even four languages, yet most Americans speak English only. So, your becoming bilingual or maybe even trilingual is something that will help you stand out in college applications. Language immersion programs take place in the U.S., but also in other countries. An immersion program usually involves speaking and writing only in the language you're trying to learn. Some of the better-known summer language immersion programs are through Middlebury College, American Field Service, Youth For Understanding, and the Concordia Language Villages. For other resources once again go to the CYT website, Language Immersion & Study Abroad.

Programs for First Generation or Under-represented Minorities Who Are Economically or Otherwise Disadvantaged
Many colleges are aware that first-generation students (that is, students whose parents did not attend college) and under-represented minority students (that is, students who are African American, Hispanic, or Native American, whose representation at colleges is disproportionately less than their proportion in the general population) have special challenges to face. Therefore, a number of colleges and independent groups have created special summer programs to help students from these backgrounds prepare for college and deal with challenges they bring with them.

Among the programs that are offered are the Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) at MIT, University of Michigan Summer Bridge program, Telluride Association Summer Programs, and Carnegie Mellon Summer Programs for Diversity. The Center for Student Opportunity is a great resource for first generation, low-income, and traditionally underserved students.

Summers are times to do wonderful, unusual things, but don't forget to also relax, have fun, spend time with your family and friends and just be a kid.

This post has been updated to correct the location of Boston University's Tanglewood Institute.

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