The Zinc Blog

What’s the “Best” Way to Spend the Summer?

Some Thoughts on Love-Based Learning

We often hear from families wondering about the “best” way to spend the summer before junior or senior year. With so many great programs out there, what should you and your child keep in mind when planning ahead? 

The answer depends on what lights your child up. Keep in mind that in the evolving college admissions landscape, the candidates who stand out are those whose applications and experiences are grounded in love-based learning, and who often have valid, specific reasons for choosing the activities they’ve engaged in. “Box-checking,” or attempting to cram your kid’s schedule with all the “right” achievements, is unlikely to lead to the desired result.

If you and your child are exploring options for summer, think about what kinds of experiences will help exercise their growing sense of independence while allowing them to dig into a topic they’re curious about. Keep in mind that while there are many fabulous programs out there, only a handful are truly selective–that is, attendance at most of them is not a credential that will provide an in-road to a certain school. That doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile; non-selective programs can be enormously impactful in terms of helping kids go deeper into their passions while preparing them to be successful once they get to college. That’s an excellent and love-based reason to do them.

That said, there are also plenty of rewarding ways to spend the summer that reflect self-awareness and responsibility without going too far afield. A part-time job, putting some effort into test prep, engaging in your community through volunteer work or activism, or digging into a passion project like music, writing, or delving into books by a favorite author are also love-based ways to spend the summer break.

If you’re looking for nationally renown programs with selective acceptance rates (programs likely to be familiar to admissions offices), here are some of our favorites, grouped by theme:

Leadership + Business

Arts + Writing


Science + Research

To connect with organizations looking for youth volunteers, try these:


NYC Department of Youth & Community Development

Volunteer New York

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