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Last updated June 27, 2023

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What to Do Summer Junior Year of High School: A Guide

Key Takeaway

The summer after junior year of high school is crucial. Whether you choose pre-college programs, summer programs, extra coursework, internships, research, paid work, volunteering, or passion projects, it's important to demonstrate reach, magnitude, and impact in your activities.

You did it—your junior year is finally over! Now’s the time to rest, right?

Well, yes. But it’s also important that you make your time off school count.

When it comes to college admissions, your junior year is the most important year of high school. The summer after your junior year of high school isn’t any different.

If you’re aiming for top schools, you’ll need to use your time off wisely.

But not all “productive” summers look the same. You’ve got several different pathways.

Let’s jump in.

Why does having a productive summer matter?

One of the biggest differences between high school and college is that you generally have a lot more “free” time on your hands because your classes don’t take up your whole day.

When admissions officers read applications, they want to find students who know how to take initiative and get things done.

Remember that admissions officers are admitting you as a community member, not just as a student. And they don’t want to admit a community member who will simply sit in their residence hall all day.

Whether you pursue paid work, follow a passion, or advance your academic chops is up to you. The most important thing is that you’re out there doing something.

Pre-College Programs

Many colleges put on pre-college summer programs open to high school students. You typically have to apply to them, and admission to the pre-college program does not guarantee admission to the college or university.

Pre-college programs often give you a taste of college life by having you take classes, engage in co-curricular activities, and live in residence halls. Some programs target students from different backgrounds or demographics. You can find them at schools with lower acceptance rates, like Harvard and Brown, but you can also find them at schools higher acceptance rates, like University of Oregon.

The downside of many pre-college programs is that they often have high costs.

Summer Programs

Like pre-college programs, summer programs help you extend your learning beyond the four walls of your high school. Summer programs often revolve around a specific subject—like math, coding, or writing—and help you delve deeply into a topic you’re passionate about. Examples include Awesome Math and the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio.

Extra Coursework

Some students opt to take additional coursework during the summer. They may do this through their school, through a local community college, or through a dual-enrollment program. Taking additional coursework can show your commitment and initiative.

If you’re not able to enroll in a course, you can also pick up a free course on sites like Coursera to keep your mind sharp throughout the summer. These courses aren’t typically as impressive to admissions officers, but they can still show good initiative.


Internships are temporary jobs with a company, usually awarded to students without much work experience. They can be paid or unpaid, and sometimes you can earn course credit for them.

Companies often post internships just like they post jobs, so do some deep dives on LinkedIn or company websites. Also use your network to get connected with people you may know in your desired industry.


Some high school students are able to reach out to university professors and engage in college-level research over the summer. Others access research opportunities through targeted programs (like this STEM TRIO program at the University of Washington, for example).

Reaching out to professors may seem intimidating, but it can be worth it in the end. Try contacting professors in relevant fields at smaller colleges near you, or plan ahead and ask your teachers if they can get you connected with anyone in the area.

Paid Work

You can’t really go wrong with paid work. As an admissions officer, it’s always nice to see that a student has taken on the responsibility of a job, especially when they earn promotions.

Admissions officers are also aware that many students have to work for financial reasons. If you’re stressed about the type of job you’re able to land, don’t sweat it. Work hard, learn what you can, and focus your application on the impact you had.

If you’re able to do some job hunting, you can look for a job that aligns with your interests and contributes to your cohesive application narrative, but admissions officers know that isn’t always possible.


When I say “volunteering,” I don’t mean simply dedicating a single weekend to a park restoration project or helping out at your local animal shelter once a month. I mean sustained, long-standing volunteer work. The bigger your time commitment and impact, the better.

Volunteering should be something you’re dedicated about, not something you’re doing for the accolades. Find a cause that relates to your passions or interests, and run with it.

Passion Projects

Passion projects or independent research projects can be a fantastic way to pursue a personal interest, develop important research skills, and show admissions officers that you’re ready to do college-level research.

Passion projects can also help you demonstrate clear interest in a subject, even if you haven’t yet had the opportunity to get involved in a formal capacity. A passion project might look like conducting an oral history project with elders in your community, devising your own statistical analysis, or organizing a fundraiser or farmers market. The possibilities are endless!

How do I choose?

What you choose to do with your time is up to you and your circumstances. If you need to earn money or catch up on coursework, then your decision might be made for you.

But if you have more flexibility or extra time, remember that for any extracurricular, admissions officers want to see clear reach, magnitude, and impact.

You might also find it helpful to think about your cohesive application narrative to make your choice.

We like to think of your application narrative as the “thesis” of your application: Who are you? What do you stand for? What do you excel at? Who will you be on a college campus?

Maybe you’re an avid linguist who loves to cook the cuisine of the language you’re studying. Or perhaps you’re an aspiring physicist who has a passion for space junk. Maybe you’re an English and theatre nerd who knows all of Shakespeare’s plays by heart, or a chemist with a keen interest in the beauty industry.

Whoever you are, consider what your summer options will communicate about you to admissions officers.

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