Summer Programs for “Undecided” College-bound Teens

It’s perfectly OK if a high school student doesn’t know what they want to major in during college! The most popular major for college freshmen is “Undecided”. In fact, when a high school student is so fixated on a particular major, that’s when I start to worry.


Anyone who has researched summer programs knows there are plenty of options for students interested in medicine, pre-engineering students, and those interested in business majors. Well, if you’re not so sure about which major interests you or just plain want to explore different fields, there are many summer programs that cover a range of topic areas through courses, cultural immersion, and community service.


For my high school students who are unsure of a major for college, I recommend that they try something totally new to get an idea of what they like or don’t like. We set basic program criteria, like the length of program, location, or extracurricular activities to focus our search for summer programs. Whether we focus on academic courses or community service depends on whether there are gaps to fill on their activities resume. The key is finding a summer program that’s a good match for exploring and discovering new interests.


Here are several summer programs that have different program options to choose:


Wake Forest Summer Immersion Institute – while Wake Forest offers many programs focused on specific future majors, there are also ones that are more general, such as health & well-being, leadership, technology and writing for life.

Putney Student Travel – whether a student wants to study abroad or do community service, this program has a range of options. Students may choose to do community service, or language learning, in addition to studying on a college campus.

Northwestern College Prep Program – available in two formats (IN FOCUS for in-person and E FOCUS for virtual) participants get access to professors during a variety of 2-week programs. 

LEAD Global Summer Institute – in this 3-week hybrid program (one week online and two weeks in person) participants will end the program equipped to “think differently” about how they learn and how to apply it. 


What general summer programs have you found to spark new interests?


Will this activity help my teen get in college?

extra activities apply to college

When a parent asks me “Should my child do this activity?” I usually cringe. This question is bothersome because it’s a rather loaded question in that what parents really are asking is “If my child does this activity, will it help their college application?”

That’s the wrong question for 3 reasons:

  • There is only so much time that a teen has outside of school. Some of that outside time will be spent sleeping, spending time with family and friends, homework, ____. Given the limited amount of time left for doing the activities that a teen enjoys, then the focus of that extra time would best be spent on what the teen actually enjoys doing.


  • Because college is one of several pathways on an educational journey, determining the best colleges for any teen starts with why that teen wants to go to college and what their interests and needs are. The activities that a teen participates in therefore should not be determined based on what the college wants.


  • Colleges base their admissions decisions on their own institutional priorities. With 2,500+ colleges and universities across the US of all different shapes and sizes, it’s very hard to create an activities resume that will be right for every college.


So then the thing that a student should “do” to get in college is to be their authentic selves. The right activities then will be those that a teen is genuinely interested in doing and wants to do.

So when I get that first question, “Should my child do x?” I respond with “Is your child interested in doing x?”

If the response to my question is yes, then I applaud that child for their effort in participating in that activity, whatever it may be. Here is a range of activities that my students included on their resumes . . without concern for it being solely to get in college:


  • Camping
  • Cheer
  • Coding
  • Dancing
  • Fencing
  • Knitting
  • Model UN
  • Painting
  • Student government
  • Tutoring


And all of these students were admitted to colleges of all shapes and sizes where they are thriving. A common thread among all these activities is that students had depth, not just breadth. For example, the student who knitted did so through organized groups and summer experiences. The painter showcased his art at schools, attended extra classes and even presented a portfolio to colleges. . . although he’s not an art major.


If the response to my question is no, then my answer is “It’s not worth the time.” When a teen wastes time doing an activity just for the sake of doing it, it will be challenging for that student to find the colleges that are the best fit where they can thrive.


What activity does your teen enjoy? How does your teen determine their extracurricular activities?


Your teen doesn’t need to be “well-rounded” to get into college!

During this time of year as teens are getting more involved in school activities, a question that many students and parents raise is whether it’s best to be more “well-rounded.” The term “well-rounded” refers to a student who has experiences in a range of varied activities. “Should I(my teen) be “well rounded” often translates to ‘”Will this help me(my teen) get into college?” The concept of “well–rounded “ was born in hindsight from a 1980’s myth of how students got accepted to most selective colleges.

My question back to them is “What’s your goal?” It’s not meant to be a smart-alecky response but the emphasis on every aspect of the college admissions process is the student. colgate campus

My recent e-newsletter shared what colleges today want and many parents were abuzz about what this means for their college-bound teen. Colleges want engaged, curious learners. This new revelation can be unsettling because it’s the opposite of “well-rounded”.

Over the years, I’ve read thousands of applications and spoken with numerous admissions officers about what they seek in prospective candidates and “well-rounded” isn’t just dead among the most selective colleges but an even broader landscape. The activities resume filled with 15-20 activities may show busy-ness, but too often lack evidence of these qualities:

    • Interest – are you really that interested in an activity that you’ve only spent a few hours doing in 9th grade? Based on your activities resume, what are you interested in?
    • Commitment – where is the evidence of your commitment? College communities thrive on student commitment.
    • Impact – what difference was made by your participation? do your activities show what impact you made on your school or community through your involvement? When a student is doing an activity for the sake of appearing “well rounded” then they may not be around long enough to take a leadership role, influence the direction, mentor other students, or make any impact at all.

In closing, I go back to my initial response, “What’s your goal?” The entire college admissions process is about the student NOT the college. If the student is doing an activity just for the sake of getting into college, it will come through in their laundry list of activities and especially their application essays. When students focus their time and efforts on those activities they enjoy, have an interest in pursuing, and make an impact on others involved with them . . . that’s when students have the best chances of getting in and getting money for college.