Summer Pressure: The Unspoken Rule for Rising Seniors

For most students, the summer is the perfect time to relax and have fun, but for some juniors, only one thing is on their minds — college.


Madeleine Cho

In the summer before her senior year, Madeleine Cho ‘22 participated in a composting project for the Forest Hills Green Team, working with GrowNYC. “Looking back as a senior, I would have done the same number of activities. I liked my free time, and I used it so I could enjoy new experiences with my friends. I was able to use these experiences as the topic for my college essays,” said Cho.

I sunk into the low chair in my guidance counselor’s office with my heart racing and anxious thoughts circulating in my brain. “Should I start my college essay now?” “Is my GPA high enough?” “What courses should I take next year?” It was my first college counselor meeting, and I wanted to be prepared for any questions my counselor might have asked me. Interrupting my thoughts, my counselor abruptly asked, “What are you doing this summer?”

I was thrown off. I assumed this was a conversation starter, mere small talk. I told her the honest truth: I don’t know. My counselor’s face became very concerned. This was the first time I realized I needed to do something in the summer.

Before this event, I had always thought summertime was the perfect time to relax. Without school, I could do anything I wanted without a care in the world. I participate in many extracurricular activities during the school year, and I thought that would be enough. But with the college application process coming up, I realized that the summer before senior year had to be different. I had to be productive. 

Right after my first counselor meeting, I frantically asked all of my friends what they were doing this summer. The majority of my friends said the same things: an internship, a program, or a part-time job.

I was initially shocked at this realization, but as I did some research, it made perfect sense. Colleges value the extracurricular activities that students complete, and the perfect time to do those activities is during the summer. And without school, there is no excuse to be unproductive.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there is a strong, positive correlation between participation in extracurricular activities and students’ attendance, GPA, test scores, and expected educational goals. In other words, the extracurriculars you participate in can reflect how well you may perform at a college or university.

Even though the college process for me had barely started, it felt like I was falling behind everyone else. Why was it that everyone else was aware of this unspoken rule except me?

It is apparent that I am not the only person at Bronx Science that feels the same way. “I always worry that I don’t have enough extracurricular activities for college because I always had the mindset that others are doing much more than me. Since I am a Bronx Science student, I believe that my peers are always achieving more than me,” said Katelin Wu ’23.

I used to be well aware of how important extracurriculars are, but I was shocked there was additional pressure to pursue them right before senior year. It turns out, this is the last chance to pursue them.

I contacted two experts on this topic: Moises Ferreras, the Assistant Director of Multi-Cultural Engagement at the Undergraduate Admissions office at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Yulia Korovikov, the Associate Dean of Admissions and Director of Recruitment from Swarthmore College. Here is what they had to say:

Cohen: Is there a certain type of extracurricular that you wish to see in applicants?

Ferreras: There isn’t a requirement but the more you have, the more merit-based scholarships you can be considered for. So, varsity sports, student government, community service, volunteering, school clubs, and leadership roles are just a few of some good things that can help and make your application more competitive. 

Korovikov: We don’t have any specific types or categories of extracurricular activities that we look for in our applicants. Broadly speaking, we are looking for students who are engaged in their learning and in their communities. That can take a multitude of different forms including in-school clubs and activities, athletics, employment, community-based involvements, family commitments, and far more. Each student has a range of opportunities available to them, we evaluate applications within that context, including extracurriculars.

Cohen: If a person doesn’t participate in any extracurricular activities but has a high GPA, do they have the same opportunity as someone with many extracurricular activities and the same GPA?

Ferreras: Yes, they just won’t be considered for merit-based scholarships. Applications are read in a holistic sense. It isn’t just GPA and SAT/ACT scores that determine being accepted, financial aid, or scholarship opportunities. 

Korovikov: We understand that group-based extracurriculars have looked quite different over the past few years; if you haven’t been able to be as involved in structured activities, tell us about what you’ve been doing outside of that! Perhaps you got more into reading, maybe picked up a new skill or language, or we’ve noticed many students have had increased home expectations including potential external employment. We want to hear about all of that as all of that counts as extracurricular activities.

Cohen: Is it considered unwise for someone to not participate in any extracurricular activities in the summer before senior year?

Ferreras: Personally, I say it’s unwise to not participate in any extracurricular activities. The many opportunities can make your application more competitive and help you out in so many ways.

Korovikov: These past few years have been tremendously stressful on everyone, finding the time to relax and unwind if that’s an option for you is a valuable use of time. While you’re taking a beat, consider where you find your interests pulling you. Are you engaging in creative endeavors like the arts or cooking? Are you reading a ton of books about a particular topic? Have you found a period of time interesting in movies and television? These “off” times are a great opportunity to learn not only about the world, but also about yourself. We hope you’ll take this time to explore what interests you and don’t feel the only way to do that is by paying for summer programs. There are many ways to explore your interests and we have no preference on whether it is an organized summer program or utilizing the many existing free resources that exist for students in the summer. 


My anxiety over the college process lessened after these interviews. There are clearly many other factors that determine someone’s admission into a school: extracurricular activities just happen to be one of them.

I’m well aware that my worry over this process is not the standard for all students. Students like Mohammed Siddiq ’23 see the summer before senior year as an opportunity to participate in activities you are passionate about.

“This summer, I am doing bioengineering research with nanotechnology as well as volunteering. I am not doing research just to improve my college application though. Bioengineering is something I want to pursue in college and beyond. So, while yes it definitely boosts my application, it’s not really the driving reason for me doing it,” said Siddiq.

It’s also important to remember that although extracurricular activities can make a person’s college application look more impressive, it’s about quality over quantity. Miles Kross ’23 has this same mindset. “I think that a general feeling of inadequacy is common for everyone. Colleges value consistency, quality and devotion — someone with a billion activities is likely not valuing them as much and colleges can tell.”

The worst thing a student wants to feel about the college application process is the feeling that you are falling behind or overwhelmed. What’s important is to take your worry and turn it into motivation. 

“I think the most stressful part of this whole process is the lack of control; you can only show yourself up to a certain point in the process and the rest is up to the colleges. The process can be very nerve-wracking, but as long as I stay true to myself and show what I am capable of, I will end up at the right place,” said Sydney Siskind ’23.

In hindsight, I’m glad I received that wake-up call in my first college counselor meeting.

Afterward, I researched many extracurricular activities, and I came across the Girls Who Code program. I have always had an interest in coding, and I will finally be able to learn how to code this summer.

The summer between seventh and eighth grade, I went to the Kuei Luck Learning Center for SHSAT prep. I had an amazing time there, so this summer, I will be returning as a camp counselor. 

It’s easier said than done to have a productive summer, but once the college process is over, we will be grateful. For our entire lives so far, the biggest decision we will ever make is what college we want to go to. The college process seems daunting, but in less than a year, it will all be over. 

Elias Galvez ’22, a graduated senior who already went through the college application process, reflects, “I got into the college I wanted, but I don’t really know how – there’s no formula or list of things to do in preparation to get to your top choice college. Just do you and pretend you’re being sincere about it.”

No matter what college we go to, our future is determined by what we make of our situation. Many years from now, this whole college application process will seem like a distant memory.

The worst thing a student wants to feel about the college application process is the feeling that you are falling behind. It is easy to feel this way or overwhelmed in general. What’s important is to take your worry and turn it into motivation.