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Hooray, it’s Summer! It's Time to Boost Your Common App Activity List

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

Make the Best Use of Your Summer

Classes are out! It’s time to relax, enjoy the sun, and have some down time. Hitting the pool, hanging out with friends, and going to the movies are always a good way to enjoy your summer. And you should definitely take time to enjoy these things. Just make sure they are not the only things you do.

Colleges see your personal time as a choice. And they want to know that you chose to spend your summer by taking initiative, giving back to the community, improving your skills, or trying new experiences. The key is to spend time doing things that will help you grow as an individual. Admissions Counselors also want to know what your passions are. Summer is the perfect time to pursue your interests with greater depth to show colleges what makes you unique.

When completing the Common App, you will need to list out your extracurricular activities for each academic year from 9th-12th. Summer is a great time to grow your list by adding meaningful experiences that you don’t have time for during the school year.

Here are some tips and suggestions for Activities that make your summer count, along with their Common App category. In addition, many of these experiences can also be great topics for an application essay. Colleges love a good essay about personal growth.

Just be sure that the activity you choose takes a significant amount of time—it should occur several hours a day for several weeks rather than just a week or two.

1. Give back to the community. (Common App Category: Community Service)

If you find the school year is too busy with homework, sports, and other major activities, the summer is a great time to get in some volunteer hours. Choices can include reshelving books at the local library; working in a community garden; signing up for Habitat for Humanity; volunteering at an animal shelter; working at a food bank; and serving as a big brother, sister, or buddy to a younger child in need. The possibilities are practically endless. Volunteering is a great way to learn the same skills as you would in a paid job, while also stirring personal growth from a meaningful experience.

2. Take on a paying job. (Common App Category: Paid Work)

In the past, colleges would place greater emphasis on volunteering than on paid work. But this practice has changed. Colleges now realize that not everyone can afford to work for free. Plus, having a job conveys to schools that you show up on time, follow instructions, and can work independently. Perhaps the greatest skills you will acquire, though, are related to customer service. Dealing successfully with customers shows colleges that you can solve unexpected problems as they occur and get along well with others, even those who are difficult to deal with.

3. Increase your family responsibilities. (Common App Category: Family Responsibilities)

There is perhaps no job with greater responsibility than caring for younger siblings. Skills used when babysitting younger family members include creatively re-orienting problematic behavior, administering medicine, cooking/preparing food, managing time and routines, and tutoring. In short, if you can do these things responsibly, you are definitely ready for college.

4. Travel. (Common App Category: Cultural or Foreign Exchange)

Not everyone can afford to travel, and that’s okay. But if you can, make the most out of this privilege. Go to another region of the U.S. or other another country to learn about its religions, traditions, history, and social culture. There is perhaps no greater gift than seeing how the world is broader than just your hometown or even the United States. You just might be surprised to learn how other people view the world differently than you do—and it might even challenge your own beliefs.

A great way to travel internationally is to participate in a foreign exchange program. This option reduces your overall expenses because you live with and are fed by another family. But the best thing about foreign exchange is the total immersion in language and culture you will experience. Keep in mind that many programs will expect you to host a fellow student the following summer in return—which is a double bonus!

If you can’t travel, you can always sign up to host a foreign exchange student for the summer in your home. This is also a great way to learn about different languages, cultures, and viewpoints.

5. Try a new cultural experience (Common App Category: Cultural)

If you don’t have the finances to travel, don’t panic. There are plenty of ways to learn about other cultures. Never been to a mosque or synagogue? Try attending services, or better yet, ask if you can volunteer at these faith-based organizations. Want to learn about another country? Get involved in local non-profit organizations that have a mission of promoting a nation’s language and culture through educational and cultural programming. Or, dedicate your summer to learning about foods from various regions of the world by taking cooking classes. Options like these show colleges that you are open to new experiences and ways of seeing the world.

6. Learn new things. (Common App Category: Academic or Various Others, such as Dance, Music, etc.)

Similarly, you can spend your summer learning something new. Love languages? Use an app to learn a new language in addition to the language you’ve studied in high school. Ever wanted to know how to knit or sew? There are plenty of You-Tube videos out there to teach you. Or, better yet, take a formal class. Many businesses in your community offer computer, music, dance, crafting, and other courses.

Did you know that many colleges offer free online classes? These courses, known as MOOCs (Massively Open, Online Courses) have very large enrollments and are more like independent self-study than ones led by a teacher. There are classes on almost any topic you can think of, and they are offered by many of the most selective universities in the U.S. such as Harvard, Stanford, Georgia Tech, Michigan State, and University of California. Just be sure that before you enroll, you have verified that the college is reputable and accredited.

7. Pursue your passion. (Common App Category: Various, such as Art, Theater, Music, Dance, Computer Technology)

If you are a person who can lose all track of time when doing something that love, spending your summer creating something could be a good option for you. What’s your passion? If it’s writing, take the summer to write a short story or a novel, a play, or an editorial for a newspaper. If it’s Computer Science, write a program or video game. If it’s music, compose new songs. The bonus of passion projects is that they can be submitted to a college or university as part of your application via a portfolio, a link to your personal website, attached as a .pdf document, etc. These projects will certainly give colleges a sense of who you are and what you love to do.

Need help planning your summer or creating your Common App Activities List? We are always here help! Contact us at

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