How to Strengthen Your College Application Profile the Summer Before Senior Year

Padya Paramita

How to Strengthen Your College Application Profile the Summer Before Senior Year

COVID-19 has completely shifted the college admissions landscape. With the 2020-2021 cycle being indisputably competitive, colleges have become more selective than ever. Grades aren’t enough, and standardized test scores are losing relevance by the day. To stand out from your peers, you must take extra steps to ensure that you have showcased a tremendous amount of dedication and initiative in your field of interest. If you’re unsure that you’ve done enough, there’s still time. You must take advantage of your summer before senior year of high school.

Colleges are well-aware that you spent much of the last two years in quarantine. Social distancing is absolutely necessary and you don’t have to go out of your way and put yourself at risk to succeed in your field. Colleges want to see how you’ve thrived despite the circumstances. This is why the summer before your senior year, you must make sure that you’ve done all that you can to showcase traits such as leadership, communication, collaboration, and care for your community in order to give yourself a fighting chance in the application process.

Finding a job or internship, or participating in a summer program are common ways students spend their summer. In this blog, we’ve created a list of out-of-the-box ideas that can showcase initiative and demonstrate that you’ve gone the extra mile as you prepare for college.

Strive for Leadership in an Existing Activity

The easiest place to start is with what you already have. How can you take advantage of your summer before senior year without having to go out of your way and start something? Take on new responsibilities in something you already participate in! If you’re a member of a club that aligns with your passion, or you’re part of a community service group that is relevant to your interests, find ways to take on leadership roles in this group. If you are a member of your school’s robotics team, think about how you can build a robot that can practically help out in people’s lives. If you’re a member of the creative writing club, research how your group can get published. The possibilities are endless!

Start a Community Initiative

Another way to spend a productive summer before senior year is by looking around you and assessing the needs of your school or town community. What is this community lacking? How can you help out? You might do some research into what the people of your community need. If you have a driver’s license or know people with cars, initiate a grocery run volunteer service that allows for delivery of food to homes of your neighbors who cannot put themselves at risk during the pandemic by going to stores themselves. If you are a part of your school orchestra, reach out to local nursing homes or children’s hospitals to see if you can perform a show there. Utilize your resources!

Take a Risk in the Topic of Your Interest

You’ve got some time on your hands during the summer before senior year. You can demonstrate your passion or prowess in a certain area by starting a self-directed project. Self-directed projects entail any initiative that you take up on your own — you can create a plan for it, organize a team, and brainstorm the various steps and carry them out. These projects help showcase initiative to colleges. Plus, you get to dive deeper into your interests and explore new passions. As you develop an idea that is perfectly tailored to your passions, you get to stand out with unique and tangible achievements while demonstrating strong leadership skills.

If you’re a prospective computer science major, you can build your own app. If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, you can shoot a documentary. If you wish to study creative writing in high school, why not get a head start on your first novel? do. Work hard on a self-directed project and you’ll have tangible results that’ll stand out on your activities list. Colleges will appreciate students who have gone above and beyond to succeed in their field.

Learn a New Skill

During the summer before senior year, you have the chance to learn any skill that you haven’t been able to pursue previously due to lack of time and pressure from schoolwork. Now is the perfect time! If you’ve always wanted to learn how to play the guitar, go ahead and watch video tutorials. If you’ve always wanted to learn a new language, it’s time to download Duolingo or Rosetta Stone and get started on your journey. If you’ve been thinking of picking up video editing skills on software such as Final Cut Pro, it’s time! You can then convert these skills into even bigger possibilities. For example, you can teach guitar to students in your community. Or, if you pick up video editing, you can start making high-quality YouTube or TikTok videos and gain a following that can impress admissions officers.

Start Your Own Research 

The summer before senior year is a great time to pursue your own research project if you’re a STEM—or even humanities—student. Admissions officers appreciate students who pursue this route rather than enrolling in a lab or summer program, as it showcases initiative and independence. A teacher from your school may help guide you and provide you with the resources you need. 

Consider a community-based experience–such as analyzing whether your local lakes and rivers have excessive levels of a harmful chemical. A project that involves more students could inspire you to build your own research team. It might also be something more personal, such as researching the history of your family and the origin of your ancestors. Either way, develop a research question you’re trying to answer before you set out on a long-term journey. 

No matter what, you’ll want to have something tangible at the end of your research–a finding that can concretely point to and capture the work you’ve done. You could present a poster or deliver a talk based on your findings, depending on the kind of work you’ve done. You could also make a documentary or write an article about all that you’ve found. For example, an oral history exploration could be turned into a podcast or an op-ed! Admissions officers will appreciate your willingness to step out of the standard course assignments at school for experiences that are ambitious. 

Embark on a Capstone Project

Capstone projects for high school students can take many different forms, depending on the topics that resonate with you, and what is feasible based on your location and the time you’re willing to spend. If you’d like a more concrete way to convey your skills, effort, and knowledge in a certain discipline, carrying out a capstone project - usually finished at the end of the school year - would be an effective way to reflect your interest. Throughout the project, you should make a plan, conduct research, maintain a portfolio if applicable, keep track of your progress, and finally, present it. The summer before senior year is the perfect time to pursue one. 

Brainstorming capstone projects for high school students can be difficult. Where do you even start? Narrow down topics based on your intended major, career interest, or a problem in your community you’d want to tackle. You could even find an academic approach to one of your favorite extracurricular activities! The project can take many forms. If you’re interested in studying filmmaking, you could create a short movie or documentary. If you’re conducting biological research, you could write an academic paper and try to get it published. If you’re out of ideas, check out our blog on capstone projects in high school for suggestions for different capstone projects across fields. 

As you think of unique and productive ways to spend the summer before senior year, remember that colleges want to see you stepping out of your comfort zone. Don’t take admission at a top school for granted. Use this time to work hard—and even make a difference in people’s lives while you’re at it. Best of luck!

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