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How to spend your summers (what college adm is looking for)
Written by Jack Delehey on May 27th, 2022
Summer is right around the corner. This time of year, I receive a flood of inquiries all more or less asking the following:

“What should my high schooler do over the summer?”

This blog will answer that question.

But before I get to that, let me say the following:

If your high schooler is a junior (about to be senior), they should have one focus beyond all else this summer: outlining, drafting, revising, and finalizing their Common App Personal Statement 650 Word Essay.

In my program, each of my students have a no-excuses deadline for finishing their college essay: Labor Day of senior year. This means we go through a fairly strict 6-week essay writing bootcamp the summer before senior year. Senior year is hectic. The last thing my students need is the most important essay they’ll write hanging over their heads. We knock that thing out before they return to school senior year.

Anyway…assuming we understand this, let’s continue.

How should a high schooler (Grade 9, 10, 11) utilize their summer? What do college admissions look for?

To answer this question, I am going to introduce you to a phrase that I often present to my students. It’s an important one to understand for college admissions…but honestly is also important for life in general, whenever an application (college, grad school, job interview etc. is pending):

Oftentimes, when your goal is impressiveness, different is greater than difficult.

This is so important I’m going to state it again:

Oftentimes, when your goal is impressiveness, different > difficult.

Gone are the days when colleges actually thought your 13 different clubs, 8 different “leadership activities” and involvement in 14 different community service organizations were impressive…and led to acceptance.

In the 1980s that worked. Now, the trend has nearly flipped.

These days, colleges want to see the following: In your free time, not in school (aka summer!), colleges want to see that you can take one single passion of yours…and dive deep, exploring this passion in a manner that is beyond the way a typical 15, 16, or 17 year old would. (If you don’t know what I mean by this, let me tell you, it wasn’t that long ago I was 15. 15 year-olds are very good at picking up “passions”...and letting them go quickly…just ask me about my guitar playing at that age…)

Not convinced? I understand. Perhaps this book and this book might do the trick.

And yes, I do spend a lot of time reading up on current admissions trends like this, assessing patterns so I can bring this insight back to my students. To prove it, here are just some of my notes I took when reading “Who Gets In And Why”:

To wrap this up, how should high schoolers spend their summer?
Pre-scheduled summer programs are fantastic and internships are great. These will add to a student’s impressiveness. But if the cost of a summer program is prohibitive and an internship is unattainable (as is the case for most 16 year olds)...I ask you another question:

What is your high schooler genuinely passionate about?
And a second question:

Could your high schooler spend their summer somehow exploring this passion one level deeper than most high schoolers do?

If they are able to accomplish this task…it might not be difficult for them…but perhaps it might be different than what most high schoolers are doing with their summers. And that, alone, might just be the college admissions ticket.

Want to read about several high schoolers who took this exact route on their way to an ultra-successful college admissions process? Cal Newport’s book “How to Become a High School Superstar” highlights these exact students. I hope the book helps.

Could your high schooler benefit from some “different > difficult” style college-coaching? Or perhaps this blog has given you the motivation to get started with this whole “college planning” thing? Feel free to reach out. I’m here to chat…for free!

Enjoy the summer!

Jack Delehey

Jack Delehey (Vanderbilt '14) is a college admissions expert originally from Concord, MA and now resides in Denver, CO. It is his goal to pass on his college admission knowledge, strategies, and unique perspective to high school students in a young, fun, relatable, older-brother type manner.

The college application process is often confusing and stressful. But it just doesn't have to be that way! If you are interested in gaining clarity, peace of mind, and a detailed step-by-step program to help your child through the college application process, reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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