On both the Common Application, the University of California application and many unique college applications there is a section to list and/or describe your accomplishments, including summer activities. If it is on the application, it is safe to assume that it is important in the admissions process. Admission departments do not create unnecessary work for themselves and most do review each part of the application.
Students should focus on depth rather than breadth and aim to immerse themselves in three or four substantive activities both in and outside the school environment. Students should find opportunities to pursue that they find both exciting and challenging. These can be projects, activities, employment or college-level coursework or other academic enrichment not readily available during the regular high school year.
Younger students are still forming their interests and I advise parents to grant wide breadth to wholesome activities for their children to experience. For example, a student may want to volunteer for an animal rescue foundation over the summer, but may show little or no interest in becoming a veterinarian. And that is to be encouraged. Everything a student does should not be judged as good or bad depending on whether it fits an adult’s idea of meaningful or career-focused or something that will ‘look good’ on a college application. In my experience those are surefire ways to kill passion in a child before it has a chance to even take root.
On the other hand, an older student who believes she wants to go pre-med should demonstrate an active interest in clinical medicine by volunteering in a healthcare environment or finding an internship at a hospital, medical clinic or public health department. Shadowing health professionals and documenting your experiences is also a worthwhile enterprise. If you are really passionate about the healthcare field you could formalize your experiences and share with others, for example, create PowerPoint presentation to show to younger students at your high school through the college and career office.
It is important to understand that you do not have to travel or spend a ton of money for your summer to have an impact. Here is a list of possibilities:
Good luck and have a “meaningful” summer break!