10 Things To Do In Summer To Prep For College

Written by Eva Goetze
Published on August 6, 2023 · Updated on August 30, 2023

10 Things To Do In Summer To Prep For College

Written by Eva Goetze
Published on August 6, 2023 · Updated on August 30, 2023

During summer and fall, there are ways to both enjoy your time in the sun while also taking steps toward preparing for college. I know your time is valuable, so here is a 10-step guide to get ahead for college during your high school summer.

10 Ways High School Students Can Prepare For College In The Summer

1. Narrow down your list of colleges

Create a list of 40-50 colleges you would consider attending. Here’s what you should focus on to help narrow down your list:

  • Potential majors and programs available - Is your major available for your desired career path
  • Location - Is it close or far enough from home
  • Class size or Professor-to-student ratio that’s best for your learning style
  • College culture - Do you want a big school with sports teams and lecture halls? Or, do you want a small college with a religious focus or somewher in between?
  • Diversity that best fits your comfort level
  • Financial aid - Does the college offer any financial aid that you’d be eligible for?
  • Other factors that are important to you 

I like to create a chart and check off which colleges have my top 3-4 wants (for example: major, location, class size, and financial aid). Use these to narrow down your college list to a top 20 and ensure it’s well balanced. 

What’s a balanced list? 

Instead of choosing the most competitive programs, divide your list into 4 tiers: 

  • Reach/Dream Schools (acceptance rates around 3-15%)
  • Highly Competitive Schools (acceptance rates ranging from 15% - 50%)
  • Target/Match Schools (acceptance rates around 50-70%)
  • Safety/Likely Schools (acceptance rates of 70% or higher)

When researching majors and student profiles, explore the university’s website, academic departments, faculty, and informational webinars. Reach out to students or alumni to ask about their experience. Take notes and keep track of your feedback for each college (this will come in handy later when you’re applying and writing your college application essay). 

*PRO TIP*: Create a separate college email to keep track of your college information. Plus, if your current email is something fun, a new college email will help you look more professional.

2. Create Your Fall College Calender

Some students are extremely busy balancing athletics, musical performances, academics, and school leadership activities. Create a calendar so you can time block and plan when to do each of these things:

  • Research a college
  • Watch a webinar
  • Call the admissions committee for questions
  • Research programs on social media
  • Go on a college tour
  • Do your extracurricular activities
  • Participate in clubs
  • Study
  • Keep track of important application deadlines - This is vital when applying for scholarship applications and grants. 

Sophomore year fall college calendar example


  • Study PSAT practice tests
  • Take as many rigorous classes as possible 


  • Take PSAT
  • Participate in clubs and leadership activities


  • Start your own club
  • Start taking practice ACT/SAT tests 
  • Research colleges online


  • Attend 3 college webinars and learn about programs
  • Apply for research internship with a local professor


  • Take a free SAT/ACT bootcamp online course (think Khan Academy)
  • Watch 3 college webinars to learn about their programs and culture

Junior year fall college calendar example


  • Take ACT/SAT test
  • Start rigorous AP courses
  • Participate in an extracurricular activity that relates to your potential college major (for example: STEM related project)


  • Meet with the robotics teacher and ask about college programs you’ve researched. Ask about potential projects you can help with. 
  • Research 3 colleges more in-depth - contact admissions committee online and attend webinars


  • Visit 3 colleges in-person with guardians
  • Restudy ACT/SAT to improve score
  • Continue working on robotics project
  • Research other leadership opportunity to gain more experience
  • Get a tutor for classes if needed/attend library/school tutoring sessions


  • Take ACT/SAT test to improve score
  • Start a club related to your major and get students involved
  • Study for tests, projects, and papers

3. Take Your Standardized Tests Seriously

Summer is the perfect time to get ahead on your standardized tests (PSAT and SAT/ACT). 

Did you know if you study and obtain a high PSAT score (1400+), you have a chance of becoming a National Merit Scholar?

Though some colleges no longer require the SAT/ACT, performing well on the test has many benefits. For instance, even though many universities have made test scores optional, scores still consider them as part of the admissions process. 

Submitting a strong score can enhance your application and set you apart from non-test-takers. In addition, test scores can be used to qualify for scholarships and merit-based aid…who wouldn’t want some financial assistance (aka free books and partial tuition)?! 

Finally, taking your test seriously can increase your skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, and time management, which will help you a ton in college and your future career.

4. Improve Your Study Habits & Working Environment

Reflect back about something you wish you would have had time for during your previous school term. Establishing effective study habits and organization skills during summer can set you up for academic success. 

From developing strong study routines to setting daily and weekly goals, to cleaning out your closet and bookshelf so you have a more conducive learning environment, all these count! Don't be afraid to get real with yourself and explore where you need to prioritize. Here are a few ideas below to help simplify:

  • Set extremely clear priorities - What do you want to accomplish today and why?
  • Manage your time better - Hide your distractions or utilize “do not disturb” for more focused studying
  • Create a better study schedule - What do you need to say ‘no’ and ‘yes’ to better your study hours?
  • Set early deadlines - Get things done ahead of schedule. Some things, like funding for scholarships or other financial aid you qualify for, can actually run out early, so it’s better to apply early.
  • Reach out to an accountability buddy or group to ensure tasks are completed
  • Use a paper or online planner to be more efficient to keep track of your due dates
  • Break your goals down into smaller stepping stones and assign them timelines
  • Reward yourself when you keep track of your assignments and due dates
  • Schedule breaks to give your mind some well-deserved rest

5. Get Involved: Volunteer, Intern, Or Get A Job In Your 2-3 Fields of Interest

Gain experience to show colleges you are already taking steps to become a leader in your field. Explore out-of-the-box ideas and use your network. For example, ask your parents if they have any friends working in the field you are interested in (or searched on LinkedIn), create a resumé, and get valuable experience that aligns with your academic goals and career passions while also helping someone. In addition, build your LinkedIn profile to help stand out from others seeking the same.

6. Start Brainstorming Your College Essay Early

Get a head start on your college essay by starting the brainstorming process early and keeping a journal to capture compelling experiences, stories, and thoughts that arise daily, focusing on lessons learned, your impact on others, and moments of personal growth and leadership. 

*APPLICATION PRO TIP*: Create a list of the top 7-10 commonly asked essay questions by colleges, such as "Why Us?", and jot down 5-7 unique reasons why each college stands out to you, considering aspects like programs, majors, community, professors, and experiences from your work, internships, and personal life. Keep track of your insights for reference when writing your college essays. 

7. Dive In: Research Previous Essays And Applications

Summer is the perfect time to explore sample essays from admitted students, especially if you have your sights set on a particular competitive college like UPenn. Analyze 15-20 essays to discover the topics they tackled and the profound self-discoveries they made along the way. 

  • What did these students experience? 
  • What did they learn? 

Chart recurring themes and use them as inspiration to craft your own unique and captivating essay. Researching what others have done can unleash inspiration for your writing voice. 

Bonus: Read this Bacon essay here for inspiration. This is one of my personal favorite essays.

Warning: Make sure it’s YOUR story you are telling in the end! No copying.

8. Explore New Avenues

Use this summer as an opportunity to explore interests beyond academics and internships. Is there something you've always wanted to do but haven't added to your resume yet? 

Volunteer in a new field alongside a family member, try a sport like pickleball, start a passion project supporting children in need, or create a club to expand your knowledge in marine biology or environmental science. 

Engaging in these unique experiences can have a positive impact and demonstrate your versatility and passion for learning to college admissions committees.

9. Finance 101

Take control of your financial future by understanding college costs, scholarships, and financial aid options so that there aren't any surprises. Here are 6 avenues to explore to learn more about your financial options:

  1. What is the total cost of: attendance, books, living on-campus, living off-campus, food, gas
  2. What are common ways to get free money? Find scholarships and grants using our scholarship tool to make a list.  
  3. Are there part-time employment or internship opportunities to help cover expenses?
  4. How can I effectively budget and manage my finances during college?
  5. What financial aid options are available for me/my parents, and how can I determine my eligibility?
  6. What are the repayment terms and interest rates for student loans?

10. Get Real With Yourself

Preparing for college applications may require a heart-to-hear with yourself this summer. Create a realistic self-assessment and a commitment to your personal growth. Identify areas that need improvement (for example: email communication, public speaking, writing skills, math tests scores, or achieving a higher GPA), and focus on developing those skills. 

*PRO TIP*: Read "The One Thing" by Gary Keller to gain more clarity and narrow down your focus. Embrace challenges in your life and ask questions. How can you be more curious at work? Where do you need to seek help? If you can dedicate yourself to continuous improvement, you’ll see all aspects of your life improve. 

By embarking on these proactive steps during the summer, you'll distinguish yourself from your high school peers and pave the way for a smoother college application journey. Whether it's delving into college exploration, refining study habits, or summarizing your financial options, this prep time will help you make more informed choices, highlight your strengths, and enhance your prospects for admission to your dream institutions.