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10 Productive Summer Activities For College-Bound Teens

Productive Summer Activities For College-Bound Teens

Are you wondering how your college-bound teenager can spend their summer wisely? Are you worried about letting the time expire with no added value? 

Summer is the time for your student to venture outside the normal curriculum and explore new opportunities for self-development. In this blog, we’ll share 10 fun and productive summer activities for college-bound teens. With this in mind, let’s start by talking about how to encourage your teen to make productive use of the freedom summer offers.

How Structured Should Your Student’s Summer Be?

It might be tempting to take over and over-structure your teenager’s summer for them. Afterall, a common mantra is that “a busy teenager is a good teenager”. 

But once they go off to college, your teen will have a wide-open schedule. They’ll need to be able to manage their self-freedom. If they don’t learn to manage some freedom under your roof, they may find it difficult to do so in college. 

On the other hand, you don’t want to go to the opposite extreme either and leave them without any guidance over the summer.

Provide A Scaffolding

Instead of over-structuring their summers or leaving them completely on their own, provide scaffolding for your teenager. This strikes a balance between giving them freedom and setting goals for them. Ask your teenager… “What do you want your summer to look like – spirituality, socially, health-wise, and academically?”

Above all, the most important thing is that they do not waste the summer season.

Ways To Avoid Wasting The Summer

Summer is a really special time of year. It comes with a combination of energy and laziness. Help your teen avoid wasting the summer by encouraging them to explore and rest.

Find Time For Rest

Some students might be full of energy by the time summer comes around. In contrast, other teens might be exhausted. That’s okay! Taking rest will help your teen…

  • Center themselves
  • Reflect
  • Nurture creativity
  • Practice gratitude

As your teen grows into a self-sufficient and successful adult, they’ll need to build healthy boundaries between work and rest. Summer is a great time to practice boundary-setting! 

Set Ground Rules

Before summer starts, it’s important to set some ground rules. 

When we were quarantined during the COVID-19 pandemic, I told my grandchildren I have only 2 rules:

  1. Have fun. 
  2. Be safe.

These 2 ground rules worked very well. Believe it or not, teens are no different than toddlers when it comes to complying with rules. You must keep the rules simple and crystal clear, with no ambiguity. Establish your ground rules, and then watch your teens flourish. 

Set Goals

After ground rules are in place, help your teen set goals for their summer. 

In our college consulting sessions, Bright Futures Counselors work with each student to develop goals. They identify major goals that a student wants to achieve throughout their tenure as students – and summer is no exception.

Once your teenager’s goals are clearly defined, it will be much easier to explore activities that will set them up for success. 

Decide On A Budget

Whatever activities your teenager chooses to do, there always has to be a budget. You aren’t made out of money – even if we (and they) wished that it was true! 

Figure out your budget, and hold firm to it. If your teenager wants to do something more expensive, have them accept the financial responsibility to pay for it. For ideas about having hard financial conversations with your teen, read our blog post here.

Now that you know the basics to avoid wasting the summer, here are 10 productive summer activities for college-bound teens to get ahead.

10 Productive Summer Activities for College-Bound Teens

Summer is a place to create, do, and try. While this summer may look different due to COVID-19, these activities can apply for every summer – in the middle of a pandemic or our new normal.

1. Sign Up for an Educational Program

With so many educational programs available, there is plenty of variety! Here are a few for students interested in…

  • Health or medical school. The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) has a two-month long educational outreach program. It is highly competitive but free upon acceptance! They’ll learn about career paths, take facility tours, and participate in interactive learning.  
  • Outdoor adventures. Texas A&M Galveston hosts a summer sea camp. Your teenager will learn about the ocean through hands-on experiences on vessel research trips and explore oceanographic equipment and laboratory facilities. 
  • Competitive debates. The Texas Debate Collective is a great program hosted at UT Austin’s campus every summer. Although it will be a virtual program this year, this camp typically offers students a chance to live on campus, meet professors, and get exposure to other like-minded students.  

Not only are these educational programs fun and local, but they often offer need-based scholarships too!

2. Conduct an Independent Project

Productive Summer Activities For College-Bound Teens

Another productive activity is for your college-bound teenager to pick up an independent project. You student may:

Over my 40 years of counseling, it is clear that once teens are driving themselves around, it is super difficult for them to focus on completing an independent project. As a result, I highly recommend such activities for teenagers who have not gotten their drivers license yet. 

3. Get a Job

Another productive option is to work. In fact, your teen can get several part time jobs! 

For many families, teenagers don’t have to work to pay their bills. Nonetheless, earning money teaches financial responsibility and may make them less demanding of your pocketbook. They might consider…

  • Catering or delivery jobs
  • Babysitting, pet sitting, or house sitting
  • Lifeguarding
  • Cashiering
  • Working as a construction worker or laborer

Beyond the financial benefits, getting a job is a great opportunity for your teenager to learn the following:

  • What they like – and more importantly what they don’t like
  • How to work responsibly and with integrity
  • Effective communication skills
  • How to create their own schedule

4. Build a Business

Getting a job over the summer has lots of value. Likewise, summer is also great for building a business. Encourage your teen to adopt an entrepreneurial spirit around something they’re passionate about! Here are a few ideas to spark that spirit:

  • Open an Etsy shop to sell hand-made products
  • Mow lawns
  • Teach swim lessons
  • Clean cars, houses, or boats
  • Tutor or mentor

Starting a business will teach your teen plenty about becoming a self-starter.

5. Get Creative With a Performance

Is your teen into theater or performance? Performances can be held virtually over things like Facebook Live. Artists can even take free online classes to improve their skills or learn new ones. 

Your teen might also be interested in sharing their skills with others. One of my students taught computer coding for processing and animation. 

Think outside the box and put technology to use.

Productive Summer Activities For College-Bound Teens6. Start a Youtube Channel 

Speaking of creative performance, your teenager can create their own YouTube channel. The best part is that anyone with a phone can easily film something. 

By starting their own channel, your student will be practicing cinematography, writing, and even marketing. It can be a source of income too. 

If your teen is interested, ask them the following questions to help them prove their concept:

  • Can you think of at least 5 potential subscribers?
  • What do your subscribers want?
  • What do you need to develop about yourself before you start?

7. Find a Mentor 

If you’ve read other Bright Futures blogs, then you know I’m a big fan of mentorship. Encourage your teen to build a list of potential mentors. Then, have them reach out to them over email, phone, or in person. It is an incredibly valuable experience for everyone involved! 

Sometimes, students can feel awkward reaching out. If you have colleagues (or even competitors), offer to pass skills to their young adults. Likewise, ask them to mentor your student. 

8. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way for your teenager to build relationships with people in your community. Ask your student, “What is an issue you are passionate about, what skills do you already have, and how can you make an impact?”. They can volunteer to…

  • Work in daycares or church camps
  • Sew masks
  • Work in food banks
  • Help local seniors with house or yard work

9. Get Ahead in Credit

Have your teenager take classes at community college to get credit for basic classes. This will save you expensive 4-year college hour costs! Social studies is a great subject because it’s not sequential in curriculum. Many school districts offer summer school to students who need to take a class again AND for those wanting to get ahead. 

10. College Prep and Planning

I saved the best for last. College prep is an essential summer activity that any college-bound teenager should make time for – especially if they’re a rising senior! 

Summer is a great time to…

  • Research colleges
  • Visit campuses (virtually or in person)
  • Prepare for SAT or ACT tests
  • Write application essays 

Read about how to help your student prepare, or listen to the podcast version here

Your teen might want summer to last forever, but those few months go by quickly! Once you talk about some of these productive summer activities, help your teen prioritize their goals by building a summer scaffolding. Remember, they are your teen’s goals – not yours.

Building the Summer Scaffolding 

There are three things parents should evaluate to support their teen’s summer plans…

1. The Schedule

Once your teen has listed the activities they want to achieve this summer, look at the schedule and help them map it out. 

Be realistic with time commitments and avoid over-scheduling. Remember, it’s okay to schedule some down time!

Here are two scheduling strategies to keep in mind:

  • Keep it local. Most colleges have summer programs. Don’t discount community colleges! By staying local, you’ll cut down on time and costs for travel. 
  • Know your student. If they aren’t an early bird, encourage them to find a job or program that has a late start. Really set them up for success!

2. The Value

When choosing what goes into the summer schedule, it is important to evaluate the value of a program. 

There are “pay-to-play” programs where 3rd party companies host a program at a college campus, but are not associated with the college. They’re expensive and usually include outside experts. Conversely, there are programs based on your student’s merit and are usually low-cost or free. 

When researching a summer program, look at a sample schedule to learn exactly what the student will be doing or learning. Ask about the mentors or leaders of the program, and consider what skills or knowledge your student will gain from the camp. 

Ask yourself, “what value am I going to get in return for my investment?”. If it isn’t what you want or expect, look for another option.

3. Career Exploration

Consider how your teen’s passion projects can turn into careers. They may not be viable as a job this summer, but that’s okay! If it is, your student can learn valuable skills during a passion project that is relevant to, or will lead to, job opportunities later on. 

Allow your teenager to create and explore.

No matter what your teenager decides to do this summer, the key is to make this summer fun and productive! If you hear them say “I’m bored”, use this blog as a guide to see if any of these 10 productive activities light up their eyes.


Summer planning? Check out some of our summer deals to get ahead and implement activity #10 into your schedule.

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