Maximize Your Summer Activities for College Acceptance

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Empowerly Team
Empowerly Team

Our collaborative team of content writers and researchers stay up-to-date on the latest news to help you ace your applications. We hope you enjoy the blog.

Around the nation, the summer sun heralds a new beginning and change of pace. High school students ask the perennial question: “What should I be doing?” The sun beckons out to relax — and yes, relaxation is very important, but summer is a critical time to build on extracurricular activities. Time to flex your skills and get a summer job or summer internship too!

We see thousands of college applications through Empowerly. The one major theme we see lacking throughout is a personal theme formed by these extracurricular activities. Actively seeking a passion, which can lead through college, is one of the gifts that high school summers give us.

Here are three ways to pursue or find a new passion during summer:

1. Competition Gear-Up 
2. Academic Preparation 
3. Round Out

In 11th and 12th grade, we recommend a focus on one of the areas with a secondary pursuit. This fills out the time and allows our brains to function in different ways. This fosters creativity and with good time management can garner better results in both pursuits.

Here is a more thorough description of each focus, followed by two examples to bring the concept to reality:

1. Competition Gear-Up

In this method, a student will focus on getting ready for competitions that range from August-January. Dedicating your summer activities to this path will allow you to fully focus on your performance. We will break this recommendation down by general subject category.


  • Students will usually work with a professor at a local university to build a project that spans one or two summers. These projects may derive from the professor’s interest, the student’s interest based on the professor’s area of expertise, or a mutual ground between these two.
  • Competitions in science range from ISEF (Intel Science and Engineering Fair), STS (Intel’s Science Technology and Society Competition), Siemens Competition, and others. The largest competitions are for entering seniors and have deadlines from September to December. The most competitive applicants usually spend at least one summer fully dedicated to a project to submit to these types of competitions.



  • Serious contenders for the various Olympiads will start by spending the summer reading recommended books and practicing old exams. Main subjects for Olympiads are Math, Chemistry, Physics, Biology. There are competitive camps that students are selected to attend in the U.S. to push you even further! These camps tailor candidates for the various competition rounds that ultimately lead to the international level.

In this approach, students should consider their chosen path. It may be research, writing competitions, or a full focus on preparing for Olympiads. These types of competitions are usually multi-level and require more than a month of preparation.

With the second two options, we recommend that students couple writing with Round Out in the form of another activity. This means you think in different ways — not just purely writing or academic, respectively.

2. Academic Preparation (SAT prep & ACT prep)

This advice is for students who do plan to sign up and sit for the standardized tests in the US. For students in the 10th grade, I often recommend students focus on preparing for the first round of AP/IB tests along with SAT I.

I also recommend SAT I preparation for 11th graders before their 12th grade summer if they want to re-take the exam. In this case, students should aim for the November test at the latest.

A third route is for students to continue academic preparation for SAT II and SAT I after the 10th grade summer and into 11th grade. I advise this for students that want more support during the year with their classes and opt to take the SAT I early in 11th grade with plans for re-take later in 11th.

If you do decide to dedicate summer activities to studying for these tests, keep in mind that your score may not be important during the years following the COVID-19 interruptions.


Test preparation used to be one of the most important focus areas. Without solid numbers, many students’ extracurricular activities mean a lot less. However, recent trends have pushed students away from tests. Don’t stress too much about this one. In Empowerly’s strategy, we have a three-stage approach, starting with a base of academics. When in doubt, you can always reach out to a mentor for advice on this.

3. Round Out Activities

A third approach I recommend to students that want to further explore interests is something we call Round Out activities. This means finding new passions through the shotgun approach or exploring alternative approaches to an established passion.

The shotgun approach we use is to have students try 5 or 6 summer activities over a few months and report which activities they enjoyed. You can try writing exercises designed to help students reflect on why they enjoyed these particular summer activities. These exercises can inform a major theme for the student.

To solidify these ideas, here are two examples:

Example 1: Summer activities for a science student

This student has an interest in physics and has done one year of research at a local university last summer. Going into the summer after 11th grade, he wants to continue in a similar vein.

In addition to continuing research to develop into a project via Competition Gear-Up for about 30 hours per week, this student should secondarily pursue Round Out.

Therefore, we offered a route for him within Round Out:

Start a nonprofit that focuses on educating middle school students on different aspects of science. This would allow the student to demonstrate a community focus and strength in organizing people, which is not shown through his research. In addition, it would allow him to actually explore other paths in science.

Example 2: Summer activities for an arts student

This student had an interest in the arts. She had done an internship at retailer focused on fashion management, but needed to build a more robust theme after 11th grade ended. Because there are not many competitions around this arts focus, we recommended her to focus on Round Out with a secondary focus on Academic Preparation.

For her Round Out, she partnered a new initiative that combined her existing internship with a local non-profit to provide clothes to the homeless. This she would focus for 15-20 hours per week.

For the other time, she had a secondary focus on preparing for the SAT I through weekly classes and two or three sessions with a local agency per week. In addition, she took monthly classes preparing for AP/IB and SAT II in Math, which can be done at any time after students reach a certain level in Math in high school.


With a primary and secondary focus, students should allocate at least 50 hours per week to the two. Beyond that, students should explore other interests or relax.

Above, we looked at two real students that built their extracurricular portfolio during the summer and strengthened other aspects of their lives. This focus in turn helped both students with time management. Even better, they got to meet students they would have never met otherwise.

As you now know, summer is an important time for students from 9th-12th grade to prepare for college admissions.  To recap, when students ask what they should be doing, and we have three major recommendations for students at Empowerly:

1. Competition Gear-Up 
2. Academic Preparation 
3. Round Out

Students should have a primary focus on one of these areas and a secondary focus on another, with a goal of having at least 50 hours per week designated to either of these focuses. In this way, students can structure their time, stay motivated and meet new peers.

After reading this suggestion, if you want help with your summer, reach out. We love helping students dig into their interests. Summer is a great time to work closely with a counselor and work on your roadmap for the coming year.

Questions? Let us know!