Three underrated summer pursuits

College admissions anxiety has a way of ruining perfectly valid activities and involvements. Students are so driven to stand out that the benchwarmer or second chair in the orchestra or club member without an office all feel as if their contributions will go unrewarded by colleges. To be fair, those perceptions can often be valid when those same students fill their college lists with highly selective schools. But wherever you plan on applying, here are three examples of seemingly pedestrian summer pursuits that colleges will always appreciate.

1. Get a regular job.
I define “regular job” in this case as one that routinely employs teenagers. Bus tables. Cut grass. Sell clothes at a retail store. It’s almost impossible for an admissions officer not to like a kid who earns an honest dollar doing honest work. You don’t need a fancy sounding internship. You don’t have to spin it on your college application with a misleading title or description. Just prove that you have the initiative and commitment to find, get, and keep a job. You’ll earn money, you’ll add early experience to your resume, and you’ll impress colleges.

2. Take a selfish class.
A “selfish class” is one that you take for one reason—because you genuinely want to. For some students, that might be calculus at a local college. For others, it might be hip-hop or pottery or mystery novel writing taught in a local continuing education program. The value here is scratching your intellectual itch. Whether that’s basic first aid, ballroom dancing, web design, or Eastern European history, virtually any subject is a viable opportunity for you to show colleges that you enjoy learning and take advantage of opportunities to do so.

3. Find a generous opportunity to volunteer.
A generous opportunity is one where you have no personal agenda other than to make a difference. Don’t look to start or involve yourself in something because it will have a nice ring to it on your application. Go where help is needed. There are non-profits, community organizations, and even groups made up only of volunteers who would welcome a reliable contributor to join them in their efforts. Help a disadvantaged population. Improve your local community. Make a difference. You don’t have to change the world to impress colleges. Contributing to even a small change in your local area is evidence enough of the impact you can make in any environment.