How What You Do Over Summer Vacation Will – or Won’t – Impact College Admissions

Ah summer – just relaxing in a hammock on a beach or by the pool, sipping fruity drinks and watching time pass oh so slowly. Right.

For most rising high school seniors (and juniors and, Lord help me, freshmen and sophomores), summer is a mad frenzy of activity. Somehow, this insanity has been linked to the college admissions process, with families believing, for no clear reason, that enrolling their offspring in various programs will advantage them in getting accepted into some school or another.

The reality is that summer conferences, camps, seminars, and similar activities can be incredibly educational, add great perspective, and develop lifelong and critical networks for students’ future career paths. They won’t, however, make a huge difference on a college application.

This is challenging for me to share, as I have a vested interest in feeding the frenzy. Along with being an admissions dean, I am the founder and executive director of two incredible summer programs: the Washington Journalism and Media Conference and the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment. Both are highly competitive, drawing applicants and nominees from across the country for incredible in-depth educational experiences. My university also works closely with the National Youth Leaders Conference and the National Youth Forums on Medicine and Law, making sure their curriculums are also up to our standards and evaluating student work products to enable us to offer credit for those wonderful programs.

For more than 20 years in college admissions, I have watched as the best of these programs offer truly transformative experiences. I have been thrilled when students, years after the programs, correspond with me about how those programs helped shape their career choices and inspired them to make our world a better place.

I’m fairly confident, however, that they didn’t get anyone into college.

I should qualify that bold and somewhat damaging statement. For students who may have a passion for some particular career or academic path, conferences and seminars like the ones above can offer focus and networking. Such experiences can be tremendous in helping students in their personal statements and essays for college applications and perhaps in some cases even make some difference in a college admissions decision or two. But that would be the exception.

Be seeing you.

If you read the prior posts in this blog (and you should), you’ll find I spend quite a bit of time trying to convince families that the vast bulk of the admissions decision is based on academic record. College essays and extra-curricular activities have some, but limited, weight in the decision-making process. Simply participating in and listing these activities has virtually no chance of impacting a college admissions decision, unless the institution has a vested interest in recruiting from that particular program -- a rare occurrence.

Rather than seeing this as a negative, I hope this will free families to select programs not based on some mythical faith in influencing admissions decisions, but instead on student interests and passions. I even have some faint hope that a few students might leave a week or two here or there to lounge by a pool, or rest in a hammock. Unless they are invited to the conferences I am hosting, in which case, what the heck are you doing just lying around? Your future is coming!

Be seeing you.

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