Summer Activities to Explore Career Options for High School Students Interested in College

By Tiffany Phu

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 as opposed to relying on high test scores and GPA, which are standard across college applications. Summer activities help students stand out against the crowd while learning about different career opportunities.

Benefits of Career Exploration

Before jumping into different summer activities, it is important to help the student understand the benefits of career exploration so they are more inclined to maximize their summer. A student's summer activities may help them:

  • 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 taking time in the summer 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.
  • Develop a wider network: the 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.


Summer Activities for Students

Career professionals and school guidance counselors may want to note and promote activities that will help students reap the benefits in their future. The following activities (and sources of information) are geared towards career exploration and it is helpful to personalize experiences based on specific interest and skill sets.

  1. Photo By National Cancer Institute On UnsplashIndustry Exposure: Internship, Externship, Informational Interviewing
    • Internships are positions 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: Internships.com, Indeed.com, LinkedIn.com.
    • Externships are an activity where students can observe and follow someone in a potential field while the professional is at work. these usually last for a shorter period of time than an internship with less hands-on experience. Places to find an externship: Externships.com, Cal Job Shadow Externship Program, Indeed.com
    • 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 to understand the journey professionals have taken to enter their field. Look to network with career services, teachers, community organizations, or reach out on LinkedIn.com.
  2. Summer school is an educational option if students are unsure of a field, but interested in exploring possible majors for college
    • 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 register for courses online with a fee.
    • 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. Possibilities of different project work are endless that can expand as desired. For example, if students are interested in writing, they can practice writing and publishing works in journals or create their own blog. Students interested in psychology may want to start a volunteer group, creating helpful resources for mental health.
  4. Summer programs focused on a certain field (e.g., math/science) to develop specific skill sets (e.g., leadership) put on by colleges or community organizations are widely recognized and often selective. Since these programs are competitive, apply early as the benefit will help students stand out in college applications. Some popular programs are listed at CollegeTransitions.com. 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 develop teamwork skills.

Career Curiosity and Success

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 involve a four year degree, vocational training programs, or even a gap year. The future for these students who are active in the summer can be made brighter by the efforts of career professionals today.



Association for Career and Technical Education. (2018). Career exploration in middle school: Setting students on the path to success. https://www.acteonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/ACTE_CC_Paper_FINAL.pdf

Bright, J. (2013), Chaos theory of careers explained. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BL2wTkgBEyk

National Postsecondary Education Cooperative. (2006). What matters to student success: A review of the literature. https://nces.ed.gov/npec/pdf/kuh_team_report.pdf




Tiffany PhuTiffany Phu is a college and career services professional and owner of California College and Career Consulting. Visit her website at www.CaliforniaCollegeAndCareerConsulting.com or email Tiffany@CaliforniaCollegeAndCareerConsulting.com


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Jennifer Phu-Le   on Friday 04/01/2022 at 02:58 AM

This is so helpful and relevant for students looking to be productive during their summer breaks. Summer is just around the corner!

Tiffany Phu   on Monday 04/04/2022 at 02:14 PM

Thank you! Glad it was helpful.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.