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Explore Careers for High School Students: Summer Activities to Impress Colleges

Updated: Apr 5, 2022

Maximizing summer to explore career options comes with many benefits for high school students interested in college. The following article discusses summer activities to become a more impressive college applicant and how career professionals can assist in the journey.

Every school year is often tiring. High school students are busy balancing school work, extra curricular activities, personal responsibilities, and a social life. Setting aside time to intentionally plan for summer is difficult since most consider summer as a true vacation.

While summer can be time for relaxation, high school students are encouraged to exercise creative freedom to further career ambition and explore career options especially if interested in college. Colleges value students who make an effort to develop their skill sets since test scores and GPA are standard across college applications. Summer activities help students stand out against the crowd while learning about different career opportunities.

Before we discuss different summer activities, it is important to understand the benefits of career exploration so students are more inclined to maximize their summer.

  • Prepare for college: Colleges will review a senior’s entire high school journey for a clear and cohesive story of their interest by looking at extracurriculars, especially time spent in the summer (National Postsecondary Education Cooperative, 2006). Major declaration is required when applying to college which is often daunting, hence the benefit of time off in the summer is to explore what those interests are.

  • Gain relevant skills: In order to prepare for a career, students need exposure to the qualifications, rigor, and dedication required to join the workforce. By getting insights into skills necessary, students can plan their high school coursework and extracurriculars to align with these interests.

  • Improve job satisfaction: By understanding students’ skill sets and spending time exploring possible career paths, students will likely have increased job satisfaction once they start a career which saves them time and money spent on a college degree.

  • Widen network: Majority of job opportunities and internships are through chance events (Bright, 2013). By widening their network, students are learning valuable social skills and laying the groundwork for future possibilities.

The following activities are geared towards career exploration and we encourage personalizing experiences based on specific interest and skill sets.

  1. Industry Exposure: Internship, Externship, Informational Interviewing

    1. Internships are a position for a student or trainee in an organization sometimes without pay to gain work experience in a specific field the student is interested in. Places to find internships:,,

    2. Externships are an activity where students can observe and follow someone in a potential field while the professional is at work. Usually for a shorter period of time than an internshipship with less hands-on experience. Places to find an externship:, Cal Job Shadow Externship Program,

    3. Informational interviewing is a short informal conversation with someone working in an area of interest to the student. The objective is not to find job openings, but more to understand the journey professionals have taken to enter their field. Look to network with career services, teachers, community organizations, or reach out on

  2. Summer school is an educational option if students are unsure of a field, but interested in exploring possible majors for college

    1. Local community college courses will expose students to college level curriculum, explore interests in a specific major, and save money as they gain college credit. Students can sign up for courses online with a fee.

    2. Free online classes such as Coursera or edX are resourceful options if students cannot afford to pay, but do not come with college credit. These courses are usually at your own pace and not graded, but still an opportunity to learn.

  3. Create a project: Students can turn their interests into a project to explore a certain field. This enlightening option shows initiative, creativity, and dedication. If students are interested in theater, they can practice writing and publish work to journals or create their own blog. Possibilities of different project work are endless that can expand to starting a volunteer group, creating helpful resources for mental health, and many more!

  4. Summer programs focused on a certain field to develop specific skill sets put on by colleges or community organizations are widely recognized and often selective.Since these programs are competitive, we recommend applying early as the benefit will help students stand out in college applications. Some popular programs are listed in college transitions. Note that some programs require payment, but offer financial need-based support.

  5. Start a business: Collaboration, leadership, and strong problem solving skills are required in a career and skill sets that colleges also look for. Students who have a passion in a certain profession can explore being an entrepreneur by creatively beginning a business with their friends. There are a wide variety of possibilities. For example, friends can start a car wash service, cutting grass, or even walking dogs for their community.

  6. Get a job: Not all students have the luxury to consider options for their summer as some might have family responsibilities requiring income contribution. Obtaining a job gives students an opportunity to demonstrate responsibility, learn about a field, and teamwork.

Career professionals play a pivotal role in encouraging students to maximize their summer to increase future job satisfaction and prepare for a career path tailored to their interests. Planning a productive summer can be overwhelming, hence career professionals can assist by developing a structured approach and sharing beneficial resources. Students who are guided by career professionals demonstrate greater knowledge of possible professions, higher GPA, and more involvement with academic planning (Association for Career and Technical Education, 2018). Exploring career options early paves the student’s journey grounded in career curiosity and sets them up for success when pursuing a post-secondary education whether it be a four year, vocational training programs, or even a gap year.

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