50 Fantastic Summer Activities for High School Students

The New York Times ran an article today about the National Young Leaders Conference–one of many organizations that offer high-priced summer programs for students, but that misleadingly market the programs as auspicious honors for which only a few outstanding students are selected.  It's a good reminder to be suspicious of any "honor" for which you have to pay (a lot) to receive.

You don't have to spend money on an expensive program to impress colleges.   Here are 50 fantastic summer activities you can do for free or almost free.  All of these are positive, productive and interesting to potential colleges.  Pick the one(s) you feel you could really get excited about, get going, and have fun. 

50 Ways to Spend Your Summer

  1. Take an interesting class at your local community college.
  2. Get a part-time job at the mall. 
  3. See how many books you can read this summer.  
  4. Work in your family's business.  Consider doing so for free.
  5. Think of ten people–teachers, coaches, family members, relatives–who deserve your thanks.  Write them a hand-written letter of at least one page expressing your appreciation and detailing how they've impacted you.  Tell them what you're going to do to make them proud and spend the summer doing it.
  6. Take saxophone lessons.  
  7. Coach little league.  Or basketball.  Or soccer.
  8. Work at a summer camp.  
  9. Volunteer at the local mobile health clinic, or the animal shelter, or the public library.  
  10. Tutor kids.  
  11. Start a business with your friends.   
  12. Set a goal that you are 99% certain you won't be able to achieve this summer.  Then go all out and try to achieve it as though your life depended on it.  You'll either get there or get much, much closer than you were at the beginning of the summer. 
  13. Learn how to write computer programs.  
  14. Read to the blind.  
  15. Teach something.  
  16. Learn to paint.  
  17. Pick something that really interests you and see how far you can go with it.  
  18. Take classes to become an emergency medical technician.  
  19. Learn sign language.   
  20. Pick a cause in your community that you care about.  Find groups who care about it, too.  Organize people. 
  21. Offer to intern for free someplace where the work seems interesting, like the city councilman's office, or an advertising agency, or the local newspaper.  
  22. Play guitar at coffee shops and see how much money you can make this summer. 
  23. Learn CPR. 
  24. Cook dinner for your family once a week.  Each time, learn a new dish that you prepare.  Write your recipes down and make your own family cookbook. 
  25. Volunteer to lead tours of local state parks.   
  26. Buy a college guidebook and learn as much as you can about 20 colleges you know nothing about today.  
  27. Raise money for someone or something that needs it. 
  28. Learn something that is pure fun, like bongos or hip hop dance or how to make your own purses (check out your local community colleges' "community education" programs). 
  29. Pick something you love and figure out how to use it to make contributions to others, like playing piano in a jazz band, teaching residents at a retirement home how to use a computer, or helping run the lights for a play at the community theater.  
  30. Work full time and give all the money to a charity of your choice at the end of the summer.  
  31. Pick a subject that fascinates you and challenge yourself to learn as much as possible about it. 
  32. Learn karate. 
  33. Teach karate. 
  34. Join a book club. 
  35. Organize a book club. 
  36. Go to your school principal and ask what you could do, for free, to improve the school.  You could paint a classroom, clean lockers, or refurbish the lunch benches.  Better yet, enlist five friends to do it with you.  Don't just tell colleges you want to make an impact.  Make one.  
  37. Set a goal to learn as many new things as possible this summer–facts, skills, concepts, etc.  Write a blog detailing what you've learned so you can share it with cyberspace. 
  38. Build an iphone app. 
  39. Master one subject or skill you currently don't know anything about. 
  40. Hold informal soccer conditioning workouts, or barbecues for the new student council members so you can get to know each other better, or meetings at Starbucks with your co-editors to brainstorm story ideas for the paper this fall.  Show colleges you can organize people and lead them.    
  41. Have a neighborhood bake sale for the French Club in which all sales are conducted in French.  
  42. Get a group of kids from the drama club together and enroll in an improv class. 
  43. Pick a classic author and read all of his or her works. Find out what all the fuss is about Twain or Hemingway or Plath or Dickinson. 
  44. Take the hardest college class you can find and enroll in it "not-for-credit" so you can challenge yourself with impunity. 
  45. Visit as many colleges as you can in a 30 mile radius of your house.  Take your friends with you.  Write your own reviews of each school and share them with people. 
  46. Learn to cut and style hair.  You'll be a savior during prom season. 
  47. Vow not to watch any TV this summer.  Not one single second.  Pick something cool and fun and productive to do instead.    
  48. Find a class offered at a local college that looks fascinating.  Email the professor and ask if you can sit in on a session or two just to experience what the class is like.  
  49. Train to run a 10k, or a half-marathon, or a marathon, or to do a triathlon.  And get your friends to join and train with you.  Consider raising money with your efforts and donating to a worthy cause. 
  50. Pick the five most enticing things on this list and do them.  At the end of the summer, email me at kevinm (at) collegewise.com and tell me about your experiences.  I'd love to hear from you, and if you give me permission, I'll share your story here on our blog.

Get Your Bagpipe On

Wooster There's so much to love about College of Wooster, and I'm not just talking about the fact that their mascot is the Fighting Scot and that the marching band wears kilts (though that is admittedly a very good start).

Today, I'll focus on just two things to love about Wooster.

1.  Wooster graduates fondly recount home football games in which the Fighting Scot marching band leads the team onto the field.  Thanks to the wonders of youtube,  you can now see it for yourself.  1:23 is where the mad rush to the field takes place.

2.  This isn't a school where you need perfect grades, perfect test scores, and a certificate proclaiming that you invented your own chemical to get in.  In fact, Wooster admits about 80% of their applicants.

For more information about Wooster (and my obvious affection for the Fighting Scots), here's my February 2007 blog post.

Open for business in the Pacific Northwest

It's official–Collegewise is now open for business in Bellevue, Washington.  For the uninitiated, Bellevue is across Lake Washington from Seattle and is known as a Seattle "boonburb" (a large, rapidly growing city that remains essentially suburban in
character even as it reaches populations more typical of urban core

If you're a Bellevueite (or if you live near the Bellevue area) and you'd like some help finding and applying to the right colleges, we'd love to hear from you. 

[Read more…]

5 Things Seniors Should Never Do When Applying to College

Our Collegewise counselors are in the heart of college
application season with our seniors.  And while we'll certainly help to
ensure that our applicants don't make spelling errors or mistakenly write,
"I love Duke so much, my internal organs actually ache," in an essay
being sent to NYU, there are other mistakes seniors should avoid that might not
be quite so obvious.  So this month, we're sharing five things seniors
should never do when applying to college. 

1.  Don't use an embarrassing email address.
We've seen students list some pretty questionable email addresses on college
applications.  And by "questionable," we mean that we felt
compelled to ask, "Do you email your mother from that email address?"  We're not suggesting that admissions officers make decisions
based on whether or not they like your email address.  But that doesn't
mean it's a good idea to run the risk.  It's fine to have an email address
with a little personality and verve.  Videogamer@email.com is fine. 
Britlitreader@email.com might even score you some likeability points.  And
we're fairly certain that ihatetheyankees@email.com would at the very least go
over well with schools in the Boston
area.  But if it's an email address you'd hide from your parents, get a
different one (a different address, not a different parent) to use just for
college applications.

[Read more…]

The Economic Crisis and College Admissions


Tough Times Strain Colleges

Preparing for and applying to college is
never without at least a little anxiety.  But this year, our nation’s
economic crisis is adding a new layer of college-related worry for
parents, kids and counselors.  In addition to any possible personal financial fallout, many of
you may have seen the steady stream of recent articles in the press describing
colleges’ belt-tightening plans in the form of budget cuts, hiring freezes, and
suspended capital campaigns.  Naturally, people are wondering how, if at
all, this will affect kids and their college choices. I’m writing you this post to answer some of these questions.

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Stay on Their Good Sides

All the admissions officers we've met are good people who
would much rather admit than deny kids. But during the pressures of admissions
season, some applicants' actions can drive the admissions folks crazy. Here are
five tips to make sure you don't inadvertently hurt your case.

1. Follow directions.

You can avoid most common mistakes in college applications by reading and following
the directions.  For example, if a college asks you to list your
activities in the space provided, and you send them a resume instead, you just
showed them that you couldn’t follow a pretty simple direction.  So read
the directions and do exactly as they instruct you to do. No matter how much
you think you might be helping your case by doing things your own way, you’re
always better served following directions.

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Find us a great counselor, and we’ll pay you $1,000

Collegewise is looking for the next college counselor to join our team in Irvine, CA.  Here is the job description

We wanted to give our blog readers and those in the Collegewise family a chance to chime in and refer people they think just might be the right fit for us.  So we’re offering a $1,000 reward if you find us the right person, payable after the hire completes three months of successful work here. We’d also be happy to donate the fee to whomever you choose.  And if there is no referrer, we’ll donate the money to College Summit.   

The job description link above has all the information.  Forward this, blog it, whatever you’d like.  Please send only the best people you know as we’re fairly picky.  Thanks in advance for helping us with our search.   

Rank Them Yourself

"In the Pac-10 schools, where does USC stand, academically?"

That’s the question my neighbor asked me today.  And he was surprised when I told him there was almost no way to answer it. 

He told me he thought that Stanford had to be "on top," followed by Berkeley and then UCLA.   But he wasn’t naming those schools based on the quality of the education or the success of their graduates.  He did what lots of parents and students do; he deduced that the harder it is to get admitted, the better the school must be. 

I disagree.

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The “Weakness” Question

Yahoo posted an article for job-seekers today about how to handle the "What is your biggest weakness?" question.  College-seekers need to know how to handle that question, too.

College interviewers may ask you the same question.  College applications might have sections in which you are asked to tell them if you've ever been subject to a disciplinary action at school, or to tell them about a time you failed, or to share an experience in which you learned a hard lesson.

How should you handle these questions?

First, if anyone tells you to mention a weakness that is actually a strength, like, "Sometimes, I try to hard to help people in need", tell that person to beat it.  They're giving you just plain stupid advice.  No interviewer, college or otherwise, will be impressed by your supposed strong weakness.

A better approach is to just be honest.

You've got weaknesses; we all have them.  You've made mistakes; we've all made them.  Smart, mature students know this.  They don't hide behind their mistakes.  They own up to and learn from them.  They aren't ashamed of their weaknesses.  They try their best and then stand proud of their efforts. 

Colleges need kids who are aware of their weaknesses, who can bounce back when they fail.  Why?  Because at some point in college, you're going to fail.  You'll run for a club office and you won't win.  You'll get a 'D' on a test even though you studied hard.  You'll apply for a research grant and be rejected.  I promise you it's going to happen. 

Nobody who's enjoyed a fulfilling and successful college career did so by being afraid to fail.  Colleges want those kids who are willing to put themselves out there.

So when you're applying to college and you're asked about your weaknesses, talk openly about them.  When you're asked about your mistakes, own them and talk about what you're doing to avoid making them again.

Want examples?

It's, "I got a 'D' in chemistry because my teacher didn't like me," vs. "No matter how hard I tried, I just could not get a handle on chemistry."

It's, "I was suspended from school last year because my counselor over-reacted," vs. "I was suspended from school last year because I did something stupid that I will never do again."

It's, "I didn't make varsity soccer because there were so many politics involved," vs. "I'm not the best soccer player, but I love playing soccer anyway."

Learn the lesson now, and you'll not only get a little closer to college, but you'll also have no problem handling the "weakness" question when you apply for jobs after you graduate.

Why Parents and College Essays Don’t Mix

I received an email yesterday from
the mother of a Collegewise kid.  She'd read her daughter's college
essay and made "some changes," changes she said were "not drastic."  Her
daughter, however, was not happy about Mom's involvement.  Now they
were both upset and Mom wanted my advice about how to handle the

I told her she was a great parent and that she should be applauded for her good intentions, but that she
should run as fast as she possibly could in the opposite direction away
from her kid's college essays.  Right away. 

Parents and college essays don't mix.  If you'd like to know why, I've shared a piece I wrote for our Collegewise parents here.  If you're a parent, I hope you'll give it a read (and if you're a student, pass it along to your folks).