I know it’s winter, but it’s time to think about summer…

Summer provides the best opportunity for students to separate themselves from the pack.

As the number of students applying to colleges continues its upward trajectory, so, too, does the need for students to make an effort to distinguish themselves from their peers.

So how do you get noticed? Doing something meaningful over the summer is one of the most effective ways to have your application stand out. You don’t need to travel the world or cure cancer, but it is important to make sure that whatever experience you choose is substantive.

A new book, first edition, has recently been released that is a treasure trove of 800+ summer opportunities. The Ultimate Summer Program Guide for high school students, by Jennifer Williams Taylor and Joyce Wong is an 823 page hard-copy book that is a comprehensive index of summer college programs across the country.


This is a great time for some self-reflection and to identify potential academic and professional aspirations.

Academic programs: Summer programs at universities are a great way to demonstrate more serious interest in an academic area. These programs are not inexpensive and they won’t typically help a student “get in,” but they often provide very rich life experiences and can help a student test the waters and determine their level of interest in a specific major.

Internships/job shadowing: For parents, this may be a time to lean on friends and family members for an internship, or to support your child’s self-reliance by encouraging them to make calls on their own behalf. Contact human resource departments at companies and organizations of interest. These experiences can be as brief as a few days – or if you make a great impression, it might last throughout the summer and into next year.

Starting a business: The summer is a great time to be an entrepreneur. Figure out what you like to do. Do you have a special skill? Put together a plan, design a Web site, print business cards and hit the pavement. You might be surprised at the support you receive as a young, enterprising student. Even better, collaborate with a friend; half the work, half the investment and twice the fun! The skills you learn working with and for other people are terrific life skills that will serve you well in college and beyond.

Find a job: Colleges appreciate that many students need to work. Working demonstrates maturity, responsibility and often is a great source for a letter of recommendation. Some employers even offer tuition assistance programs for employees.

Community service: Opportunities are usually plentiful, and many scholarships are based on volunteer work within your community. Find a nonprofit that speaks to your interests and see what its needs are.

An added benefit of doing something distinctive this summer is that these experiences will often ignite the spark for creative essays.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.  Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com