Admissions Tips from a Freshman at UPenn: Differentiate yourself with interesting summer experiences

February 13, 2014

Summers are huge chunks of time that many high school students do not know how to approach, or when they finally confront the issue, have already missed desired program or course deadlines. Though most find the task of planning high school summers daunting, it is most important that you are simply utilizing your time well as opposed to lounging in front of the television day and night—and “well” as in fostering self-improvement, whether through acquiring knowledge or real-world experience. Summers, indeed, should be looked upon as an opportunity to distinguish yourself from thousands of other applicants, allowing you to stand out from the crowd and grab the college admission’s attention.

The key to successfully spending your summers is to demonstrate particular passion or commitment in a field that you are interested in. The goal of you, as an applicant, is to highlight what makes you unique, and your summer plans can be a sure way to differentiate yourself even further. Here are some of the ways my friends/classmates spent their summers:


  • A friend who was extremely interested in biology interned both sophomore and junior summers at a lab in NYC, conducting research on the neuronal source of diabetes. 
  • Another, having been a member of Model UN throughout all of high school, decided to explore this interest further by applying for and attending an International Relations program at Yale University. 
  • Still another, spent her time waitressing at a local restaurant in Vermont, gaining the type of work experience that appeals to universities 

As for me, I often travel back and forth from China, and while on vacation, take trips to various other parts of Eastern Asia. Wanting to delve deeper into my heritage and explore other cultures as well, I spent a portion of the summer working as a teacher’s assistant in an English program for high-school students, allowing me to meet similarly aged students and gain insight into their lifestyle and popular culture. 

image via
image via

After mentoring and creating new friendships over a 3-week period, I hopped on a plane to Seoul, South Korea to begin an internship at Camp Fulbright Korea, which, like the Chinese program, also mentored native Korean students. Being able to live across the hall from my campers, seeing them red-eyed at breakfast and late at night for closing activities created an extremely intimate and strong bond between us. I breathed Korean culture morning and night, day after day, and became their friend, pupil, and teacher.

Both experiences were tremendously rewarding and enjoyable—I would not recommend committing your time to an activity you do not enjoy, as you will find that acting upon your interests will lead to the most cohesive college application. Being able to establish a direction and sense of self-identify early on is beneficial (but not completely necessary) in streamlining the image you are presenting to colleges. As I highlighted my cultural interests in essays or other sections of application, this summer experience was very aligned with how I was depicting myself. Similarly, if you follow your passions and have an idea of how you want to be viewed, you can—and should—use your summers to further emphasize and highlight these interests.

The author, Mizo, is a Freshman at UPenn, studying to get her bachelor’s in business administration from Wharton. Unlock her profile to read her application essays and advice!

Browse Successful Application Files

Fordham ‘20

Accepted to American, Fordham, Skidmore, Syracuse, UC Irvine, UCSB

Hi there! I went to an American school in Hong Kong from K-12 and will be starting my freshman year at Fordham University at Lincoln Center in the fall. If you're interested in theater and come from overseas, I would be of particular help to you!
Vanderbilt ‘20

Accepted to Florida, Vanderbilt, Duke, Emory, UPenn, Miami, Northeastern, UVA, UNC, Georgetown, Rice

Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholar at Vanderbilt and art enthusiast
USC ‘19

Accepted to UC Davis, UCLA, UCSD, USC, Emory, UMich, UNC, Pepperdine

Although very hardworking, I love to socialize with friends and make time to just relax. Also, I've always been interested in cars and working in the business aspect of the automotive industry.
Harvard ‘20

Accepted to Harvard, Yale, MIT, Columbia, UVA

Lover of physics, math, and chess. Football player and bass player. California born and raised.

New Posts

Student Advice: Choosing Where to Enroll
Student Advice: Choosing Where to Enroll
March 20, 2018

It’s a great feeling when you get multiple acceptances from the colleges you’ve applied to, but it can also be a challenging time deciding where to enroll! The tables have turned! Now, it’...

Duke Supplemental Essay Prompts & Examples
Duke Supplemental Essay Prompts & Examples
March 16, 2018

Thinking about applying to Duke this Fall? Check out Duke’s supplemental essay prompts and examples from the 2017-2018 application cycle. You can expect similar prompts for the upcoming cycle.Duke Application Prompts1. Short Essay...

Student Reviews: Dartmouth College's Location & Culture
Student Reviews: Dartmouth College’s Location & Culture
March 12, 2018

Thinking about applying or enrolling at Dartmouth College? Look beyond Dartmouth’s Ivy League reputation and see what current Dartmouth students have to say about going to school in Hanover. 1. Dartmouth’s Campus & CultureStudent...

Load More Posts