How to Build Your College Resume this Summer
By Tonya DuBois
Summer is the perfect time to work on enhancing your college resume. The first thing you’ll want to do is consider your personal brand. What are the main threads that will run throughout your entire college application? What is the academic or extra-curricular area that interests you most and that you are most passionate about? Whatever those common themes are going to be throughout your application, they should be reinforced with your summer activities. If well-aligned with your personal brand, these summer activities will enhance your resume and demonstrate to the college that this interest is authentic. Plus, if you are doing what you love, the activities will be fun, engaging, and lead to self-improvement.
You’ll note that most of the ideas I mention below have online alternatives available if in-person activities aren’t possible for you this summer. Every high school student is facing the same challenges you are so be creative, go virtual if necessary, but definitely don’t use our current circumstances as an excuse to skip participating in valuable summer activities.
Here are some summer activities that can boost your resume:
• Summer Camps – There are all sorts of camps available – local, online, or college camps – with various themes from academic subjects to the arts or athletics.
o It possible, I encourage you to consider an online or in person camp at a college that interests you – you will get to experience the college, build a relationship with professors, demonstrate interest to the college, and there will be a record of how you performed in that camp if the admission office wishes to access it. If it’s an athletic camp, you will get a good look for potential recruitment and you’ll see if the coach seems to be a good fit for you.
o Otherwise, consider any camp that will help you to enhance your knowledge on a subject of interest, develop an existing skill, or build a new one.
• College Classes – College courses can be taken online or in person, at a college you may wish to attend, or at a local college near you. Assuming you do well, a college course can help you demonstrate college readiness.
o If attending at a college you are considering, it offers many of the same advantages mentioned above, enabling you to get a sense of the school, develop relationships, demonstrate interest, etc.
o If you are taking a course at any college, there are so many benefits – deeper content knowledge on a subject of interest, experience on a college campus or in a virtual learning environment, learning how to interact with professors during office hours, and working with college-level students on group projects.
o If traditional college courses are a bit too costly, then consider a site like Coursera.com – this is a fantastic resource for all sorts of FREE courses on various subjects.
• Internships or shadowing opportunities – An internship is meant to provide practical work experience for beginners in a particular occupation (it may be paid or unpaid). And, shadowing allows you to observe professionals doing their job.
o Not only do internships and shadowing experiences look good on your resume, but they help you determine if you are going down the right path for the major or career you are considering.
o Keep in mind your hours per week and weeks per year. A 20 hour/week internship for 8 weeks of summer is preferable to a one-week shadowing opportunity, and shows a deeper level of commitment.
o A good place to find these opportunities is through family friends, the local chamber of commerce, a local college career office, or cold calling businesses that may fit your particular niche. Even online job search platforms, such as Indeed.com, often post internships that are available in your area.
• Part-time job – Any job that is a significant commitment (20+ hours per week) is held in high regard by admission officers, especially if you are also working during the academic year, which may or may not be possible.
o If you are artsy, work at a craft store; if you are athletic, work the front desk at a gym; if you are a techy, work in a web design role. Whatever you pick, try your best to find a job that aligns with your personal brand. And, ideally, one you can do all year round.
• Community Service – You’ll want to pick a worthy cause that aligns with your personal brand and allows you to engage with your community in a meaningful way.
o If you want to be a political science major, then volunteering on a political campaign is a great idea; want to be a vet, volunteering at an animal shelter is smart; or a teacher, volunteering at a summer camp would be a great idea.
o Once you decide on an organization that fits you well – stick with it for multiple summers or multiple years, if you can – it’s both more personally fulfilling and also makes for a better resume, showing a significant commitment to one organization or cause that aligns with your interests.
o If you are not sure where to find local service opportunities, I suggest your local United Way website, or your high school guidance office.
o You could also consider starting a service project of your own – a popular one this year was making and donating masks. Starting your own service endeavor demonstrates leadership, initiative and takes doing community service to the next level.
• Learn a new skill – Any new skill is a plus, especially if it aligns with your brand!
o Suppose you want to be a fashion designer but don’t know how to sew, or an architect but have never used Revit or AutoCAD. What if you’ve always wanted to learn to speak Russian, but they don’t offer that language at your school. Or, maybe you want to add expert cake decorator to your culinary skills, or learn a new instrument. These can all enhance your resume.
• Learn professional skills – There are some practical business skills that you simply don’t learn in high school.
o If you want to go into finance, for example, you are going to need to become an expert at Excel, so take a class. Or, if you want work in public relations one day, you may want to take a course in public speaking.
o Check out Lynda.com for reasonably-priced professional courses.
• Engage in Academic Research – By working with a local professor you may be a part of research that gets published in an academic journal – this would be a very powerful summer activity for a high school student!
o Reach out to local college professors in your area of interest and see if they need summer assistance on any research in your future major. It may just be data entry, but still wonderful experience to be involved in research in the subject area that may be your future major. Plus, you have a new contact in your area of academic interest.
• Become an entrepreneur – Running any business is a wonderful learning experience – having both successes and failures to learn from – working on a diverse set of practical skills, such as marketing, sales, and accounting.
o Dog walking, yard care, tutoring, or jewelry making might be fun choices, if they align well with your personal brand.
o A way to take your business to the next level is to start a website or social media pages, develop a business or marketing plan, and track and analyze your data – how many customers did you reach, how many people did you engage through social media, how much money did you make, how many events did you host, how many products did you sell – Keeping the data helps you tell a really good story (and, it also helps you to measure your success).
• Get certified – There are all sorts of certificates that demonstrate commitment that are available to teenagers.
o Become CPR/first aid certified, become lifeguard or get SCUBA certified, or earn certificates in various Microsoft products.
o Check out LinkedIn’s learning certificate courses available online; they cover a wide range of topics that may interest you.
• Enter contests – If you can be competitive and earn awards in a state-wide or even national competition it will give your awards and honors section a significant boost.
o Creative writing and photography lend themselves particularly well to online competitions. But also consider competitions in science fairs, robotics, trivia, or digital design.
• Travel – Perhaps your family spends a lot of time traveling over the summer and you are wondering how you can leverage that for your college resume.
o If you experience a new culture, journal or blog about what you’ve learned.
o Consider creating a travel channel on YouTube or a photo journal of your travels on Instagram. You will have a whole body of work that demonstrates that you’ve deeply reflected on the experience and you could also demonstrate your marketing skills, if you get the kind of reach and number of followers that are impressive.
o Additionally, there are often service opportunities that you could do with your family while traveling abroad, through reputable companies. Volunteerforever.com is a great resource.
• Start something new – Any time you start something new, it shows leadership and initiative.
o Depending on your personal brand, you may want to start a neighborhood book club, or a weekly chalk walk, or a community movie night.
o Think about a succession plan so the activity has good leadership and lives on even after you go off to college.
• College Research, SAT/ACT Prep, Online or Campus Visits – while these may not enhance your resume, per se, don’t forget to budget yourself some time for these important college-related tasks, too!
I hope these ideas help you consider ways that you can build your college resume over the summer. I recommend picking approximately 2 of the types of activities I suggested above, do them fully and do them well. Otherwise, if you try to do too many, you’ll spread yourself way too thin. Do not wait until the summer before senior year to get started. Every single summer of high school should be approached strategically with self-improvement, personal brand, and the college application all in mind.