Make Your Summer Count on the Path to College

by Tonya Kerr

The so-called “lazy days” of summer for most teenagers are a whirlwind of club sports, summer prep classes and endless activities to better their chances of “getting in” to the college of their dreams, but just putting some purpose behind the last few summers at home is your child’s best opportunity for success.

University of Houston’s Executive Director of Admissions, Mardell Maxwell, says it’s easy to get caught up in the competitiveness of college applications, and while he admits the criteria changes constantly, he says every institution is on a quest for well-rounded students who are in-tune with their own interests.

“It’s never too early to ask yourself, “what interests me?” and “what do I do well?” said Maxwell.  “Kids leaving eighth grade should keep summers fun but productive.  Take a breath.  Do something that’s rejuvenating.  But start channeling your interests into things that will help you align your passions.”


Get involved in things you enjoy. 

It’s no longer a race to build a resume with a lengthy list of organizations and leadership titles. Engage early in something you enjoy through part-time work, extra-curricular activities or volunteering. 

Maxwell, who has spent years sitting on admissions and scholarship review committees, says,”The applicants who stand out dig deeper. They’re able to tell their own story of how their summer activities; course selections; volunteer hours or even part-time jobs align with their passion or interests for their future.”


Research pre-college summer programs 

Most colleges pay little attention to where or how much you paid to hone your skills, but they want to know you did something to challenge yourself.

Maxwell suggests, “Don’t fall back on the excuse that “I’m a good student but not a great test taker.” Life is less about intellect and more about learning best practices to improve your skills. You will be tested at high school, college, work, and throughout life. Prepare yourself and start building your skill set in things that matter to you.”



Giving your time on a regular basis to a local charity or business can reap valuable school and future career experience.  

“Students who have a village invested in their education typically see success in college,” says Maxwell. “Develop that support system of family, coaches, teachers and friends in your community who are invested and support your endeavors. The seeds you sow now will help you tell your story during the application process.”


Start a running list of activities and accomplishments.

Make a running list of any awards, honors, paid/volunteer work, and extracurricular activities starting the summer before high school.

Maxwell says, “Admissions departments and scholarship committees will look for well-rounded students who enjoyed their summers; took a break; and understood what they needed to rejuvenate their brains and bodies. At the same time, those summer activities should show purpose.”


Lean into the rigor.

Challenge yourself as a freshman in your academics.

“My best advice to students entering high school is to lean into the rigor,” says Maxwell.  “I’d rather see students with a slightly lower GPA who challenged themselves than perfect grades in easier courses. That doesn’t necessarily mean Advanced Placement (AP) classes, but it does mean challenging yourself throughout high school.”


Understand the nuances of weighted vs. unweighted GPA

  • 4.0= unweighted GPA and reflects your overall high school performance. 
  • 5.0=weighted GPA and illustrates your class rank and the rigor of your course load in advanced classes.  
  • Dual-credit is an option for upper classmen who choose to take college-level courses from an area community college (often free in high school).   

Maxwell reminds parents to back off and don’t push too hard on this high school journey to college.  “I’ve seen kids burn out with no interests, energy or excitement about college,” said Maxwell.  “Yes, colleges are highly selective and more competitive each year.  But the path your child takes is unique when it’s aligned with their own interests. Develop real life skills and challenge your child to master best practices in school and life.”

Bottom line, Maxwell says summertime is the best time to explore your passions and continuously develop your skills.

“During the summers, don’t stop reading and writing,” says Maxwell.  “If you love sports, regularly pick up a Sports Illustrated magazine or read the sports section in your local newspaper. Expand your vocabulary and write your thoughts down- even if it’s just a private journal. Developing your comprehension is a constructive way to spend your summers, and that doesn’t cost a thing.”

A few ideas to help “tune in” during the summer:


Area University Summer Programs for High School Students:

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