Consider these breaks as an opportunity to do some exciting things you did not have the time (or energy) to accomplish during the academic year. The key is to enjoy yourself and dedicate your efforts to something that fulfills you. And it doesn’t have to be academic! Here are some examples:
Study a new language. Colleges love students that can speak different languages and can better appreciate a variety of cultures. Either through courses at a local institution, self-study methods like the Rosetta Stone or language-immersion programs, developing language skills will be invaluable.
Travel. If you have the means, don’t miss the opportunity to go abroad or even travel around your own country. Colleges value worldliness, since they take it as a sign of maturity, knowledge, curiosity and adaptability. There are some travel programs for high-school students that offer financial aid, so do your research and don’t let a tight budget keep you at home.
Participate in community projects. If you have been meaning to participate in any community activities, or to launch your own project, then this is the time. Take advantage of the lack of homework and exams to commit to something meaningful. Colleges will reward your service, compassion and initiative.
Work part-time or do an internship. Whether you decide to intern at a local hospital or work a part-time job at a fast-food chain, any professional experience will be valued by college admissions officers.
Enroll in a course. I spent my first summer in high school taking the Physical Education and Health courses required by my school. The following summer, I enrolled in an Algebra course at Florida International University. Finally, the summer before my senior year, I took a Statistics course at Miami-Dade College. Whether you want to get required courses out of the way or take courses unavailable at your high school, summer is an ideal time to develop your academic curriculum.
Read, read, read. There are some books (such as 100 Years of Solitude) that are best read in the tranquility and idleness of summer. Reading extensively will not only improve your writing abilities, but it will also make you a more attractive college applicant. It is not uncommon for college interviewers or even the actual application forms to ask you about your favorite books and those you have recently completed.
Prepare for standardized exams. Planning to take the SAT or ACT in the fall? This is your opportunity to hit the library and take practice tests away from the stress of school work. Many test prep programs run during the summer as well.
Participate in official summer programs. Many universities, including many of the most selective, offer a variety of summer programs for high-school students. These programs are an opportunity to earn academic credits, explore life in college, and enhance your chances of being admitted into a specific university. (Keep in mind that the applications to many summer programs have deadlines as early as January.)
Colleges understand that different students face different constraints. Some of you will not have the money to afford international trips or expensive summer camps, and some of you might have to stay at home because you lack a car to move around, or you have to take care of a younger sibling. It is useful to explain any exceptional circumstances either through your college essays or the personal interview, as colleges will consider your limited resources and reward you even more for any initiative.