Ahh, summer vacation. It brings to mind sandy beaches, poolside parties, picnics in the park, camping, and so much more.

But for aspiring college students—particularly those in their sophomore and junior years—summer vacation can be more than just fun in the sun with family and friends. In fact, it’s the perfect time to leverage the extra time into activities that will enhance your student’s life and boost his or her college prospects.

So, given that college admissions officers pay close attention to how applicants spend their unstructured, non-classroom time, how can you help your homeschool student come up with some imaginative ways to spend summer vacation?

A general rule of thumb is to pick activities carefully—and don’t try to do too much and get overloaded. Ask your student to think critically about where his or her heart lies and what they are most passionate about. Then take a look at the opportunities and decide which ones would most strengthen a college application.

To help out, we’ve compiled a list of 10 suggestions:

1. Get a job

Whether it’s waiting tables, mowing lawns, lifeguarding, or delivering newspapers before the crack of dawn, getting a job not only helps pay for college, it allows admissions officers to see your student’s self-discipline and drive—traits that correlate highly to success in college.

2. Volunteer

Depending on where you live, finding a paying job can sometimes be a challenge for high school students. If so, volunteering can be a great option. Whether it’s finding an unpaid internship in a field that interests your student, or helping build a house for Habitat for Humanity, volunteer opportunities in most communities are extensive. Here are a few other ideas:

  • Tutoring younger kids in summer math or reading programs
  • Serving as a camp counselor
  • Volunteering to walk dogs or clean kennels at an animal shelter
  • Visiting senior citizens at a nursing home or assisted living facility

3. Complete a major project

In a sense, summer vacations are like mini-sabbaticals. They offer a precious—but limited—time frame to not only refresh and rejuvenate, but also complete major projects that serve as building blocks for the future and really add some “oomph” to a college application. Maybe your student has always wanted to write or illustrate a book? Or perhaps start a small business mowing grass, making jewelry, or baking cookies to sell at summer festivals? Again, the sky’s the limit here. Other creative ideas include:

The Ultimate Homeschool Guide to Creating a High School Transcript
  • Learning a foreign language
  • Completing 4-H and FFA projects
  • Writing a weekly column for the local newspaper
  • Taking photography classes
  • Building a treehouse
  • Setting up a neighborhood recycling program
  • Earning the highest rank in your local scouting organization

4. Work ahead on a high school transcript

Another great thing about having some down time during the summer is that both homeschool parents and students alike have a chance to work ahead on that all-important high school transcript. You can shore up admissions essays and college application personal statements, plus line up recommendation letters from teachers, coaches, and mentors.

And given that these tasks are typically time consuming, getting ahead of the curve here really helps to minimize last-minute stress—resulting in higher quality college applications and improved odds of acceptance into your student’s top-choice school.

5. Attend a summer college for high school students

While some college admissions officers dismiss student participation in summer college enrichment programs as elitist, some experts see great value in these opportunities and recommend them for students with specialized areas of interest like theater, film, music, writing, architecture, and the arts. Given this, you should contact the admissions departments at the schools your student is interested in to get a feel for how these programs are viewed.

6. Study for standardized tests

Let’s face it—during the school year there’s a lot students have to juggle. From the rigors of weekly coursework and exams to extracurricular activities, sports, and the routines of family life, finding extra time to study for the all-important standardized tests can be tough. That’s why the more relaxed pace of summer offers a perfect opportunity for your student to stay on top of the study prep required to score well on the ACT, SAT, or PSAT/NMSQT.

Here, students who dedicate a weekly block of time over the summer to study for these tests are more likely to retain, maintain, and improve their knowledge base between school years—and perform better when it comes to test time. For more information on mastering the ACT, SAT and PSAT/NMSQP, click here.      

7. Visit colleges

While many students and their parents cram a series of college visits into their busy routines during the spring semester of their junior year, there’s a lot to be said for taking time during the summer break to schedule campus tours.

For starters, summer sessions at most colleges are more relaxed and carefree. Because of this, many professors and academic advisors can take more time to chat with your student and answer questions about programs and degree requirements.

Not only is summer a less distracting time for your student, it’s also a great time to talk to current students and peer tour guides, check out housing options, gather information about scholarship and grant opportunities, and get a feel for the college’s surrounding community.

8. Apply for scholarships and grants

For many parents of rising juniors, the thought of applying for college scholarships and grants seems a year too early. And while this is probably true for most scholarships and grants, it’s not too early to at least start researching every possible opportunity that your student might qualify for—and become familiar with their requirements, procedures, and applications deadlines.

Then, during the summer when your student is a rising senior, he or she will be prepared to take the necessary steps to do what it takes to apply for—and hopefully win—as many scholarships and grants as possible to help offset the costs of attending college.

9. Read (often and widely)

What better time to catch up on some extra reading than the dog days of summer? And for every subject matter—and just about every college—there’s a recommended reading lists that your student can get a jump on.

10. Travel abroad or go on a missions trip

For students that really want to stretch themselves during their summer break, travelling abroad as part of a church mission trip or a family vacation can offer a great way to really get out of one’s comfort zone and recharge the batteries. And depending on the opportunity and how it’s structured, gaining international experience can be appealing to college admissions officers—particularly to the degree that you can show how it develops empathy, compassion, resiliency, and adaptability in your student.

Final thoughts

It’s OK to slow down and enjoy life a little during summer. Take a vacation. Go to the pool. Hang out at the beach. Sleep in. Go fishing. But at the same time, build some productive activities into your student’s summer that will enhance the chances of getting into his or her top-choice college.