For rising high school seniors, summer break can look less like a day at the beach, and more like a nonstop college-prep crunch. While everyone wants to make themselves as desirable as possible for their dream school, there are some important things to keep in mind when considering how to spend your last (gasp!) summer break as a high school student.  

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Pursue what legitimately interests you

“The key behind summer is to do something interesting and valuable for yourself,” explains Jay Bacrania, CEO and co-owner of college prep company Signet Education. “Colleges are looking at what you do when you don’t have to do anything.”

Demonstrate who you really are and how you engage with the world, starting with what actually interests you. If you like working with kids, consider mentoring or tutoring. Want to explore a potential major? Try a summer academic program. Music lover? Spend time learning about the art of songwriting.

Committing to your own personal growth is the best thing you can do for your future, regardless of whether or not you get into your top choice. “If you focus on an interest, you’ve still done something valuable with your time,” Bacrania says.

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Consider the practical

You might want to spend your entire summer volunteering in a hospital to demonstrate your future medical prowess, but first consider your actual obligations. “Summer can be a time to shore up academic weaknesses, so if a student really bombed a class for one reason or another, they might want to retake it for their for academic future,” Bacrania says.

Likewise, If you need a paying job to save up funds, there’s no need to look down upon your work in retail. “If a student has to work, that shows a real responsibility. It’s just as impressive as volunteering.”

Avoid the temptation to “compare and despair”

Comparing your summer plans to everyone else’s only leads to second guessing. “It’s the paradox of choice,” Bacrania says. “The more choices you have, the more stressed out you can get.” So when you’re tempted to think about other people’s resume boosters, shift the focus back to refining your own skills.

Take time to reflect

A break from the daily grind of schoolwork can create space for thinking deeper about your goals and desires. “I think summer is a really wonderful time for reflection and thinking,”  Bacrania says. “‘What did I do last year? What did I enjoy? How can I become better?” Taking a step back can ensure that students don’t get swept up in a less than ideal decision. 

Don’t schedule your life away

With the amount of pressure on high school students these days, it’s easy to think that your every waking moment should be devoted to college prep. “Overscheduling would be a terrible idea,” Bacrania says. “You shouldn’t do something without a good, authentic reason.” So while it’s important to stay engaged during the summer, avoid burnout by taking time to have fun and relax, spend time with friends and just be a kid — while you still can.