How you spend your summers can influence your admission to college. While summer activities will not compensate for mediocre grades and poor test scores, careful planning can tip the scales in your favor. Let’s look at the kinds of experiences that can make a difference.

Colleges across the U.S. offer summer programs for high school students. In some cases, students take regular college summer courses for credit alongside college students and participate fully in campus life. Often, the high school students live together in supervised dormitories and participate in special activities and seminars designed for them. You can earn three to eight college credits in programs such as those offered by institutions such as Harvard, Syracuse, Brandeis, Cornell, Brown, Ithaca College, and UC Santa Barbara. Shorter programs offering intense study in just one area, often focused on specific careers, are also available. You can learn about Veterinary Medicine at Tufts, study Marine Science at the University of Miami, investigate military careers and engineering at the U.S. Air Force Academy or Naval Academy, work on your portfolio at Skidmore, or engage in scientific research at Boston University. Non-credit enrichment courses that also provide students with the experience of living on campus are offered to high school students at schools like Barnard and Columbia. Attending a college’s summer program probably won’t influence your admission to that particular college, but your willingness to spend part of your summer vacation in serious learning indicates your level of commitment and thus may affect admissions. Good grades in your summer courses and a glowing letter of     recommendation from your instructor are also a plus.

It’s not necessary to leave home, however, to craft a productive summer. Interesting or unusual volunteer work can also provide opportunities for personal growth as well as become the focus of a unique essay. Teaching adults to read through a literacy program, giving sailing instruction to disabled youngsters, working with abused children, helping to build a house for a low-income family or teaching computer literacy to the elderly will teach you patience and compassion and allow you to give back to your community. Whatever you choose to do, do more than just hang out. Colleges look to fill their student body with interesting, motivated young adults. By making good use of your summer vacation, you become a more attractive candidate for admission.