What Summer Activities Do Ivy League Colleges Look For?

Summer activities for the ivy league
April 30, 2024
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

Learn about the types of summer activities and programs you can take as a high school student to boost your chances of acceptance to an Ivy League school.

Want to spend your summer vacation doing something exciting and rewarding that would look good on your college applications? Colleges, specifically the Ivy Leagues, want to see an applicant who uses their free time to make themselves a stronger candidate. But you may not know exactly what type of activities schools are looking for.

Participating in Ivy League approved summer activities not only makes you an optimal candidate for college admissions officers, but it also speaks to your work ethic, dedication, and ambition for success. In this guide, we discuss the different summer activities and programs the Ivy League colleges look for. 

How Summer Activities Can Impact Ivy League Acceptance

Infographic outlining how summer activities can impact ivy league acceptance

Summer activities, also called “extracurricular activities,” can boost your chances of acceptance into the Ivy League schools. It is one of the multiple factors Ivy schools consider when making admissions decisions.

Participating in summer programs before college not only shows Ivy League schools that you are productive with your vacation time, but it also can help develop your academic skills. For example, if you decide to do a summer program at a science camp, you can learn more about biology, the environment, nature, and more.

When finding activities that suit you, you should ask yourself some questions: 

  • Is it a selective course or program? 
  • Would I need a transcript or any academic recommendations to be eligible? 

These questions will help you consider whether the program is right for you, and if you qualify for them. You do not want to waste your summer in a program that you are not having fun in nor excelling in; it has to be something recreational and rewarding of your time.

Make sure the program is interesting to you and maybe even related to your intended college major. You should also check the requirements to see if you have everything you need to participate in the activity.

Types of Summer Activities Ivy League Colleges Look For

When looking for appropriate summer activities, most of them are categorized into three types: volunteer, work, and travel. Below are a few examples for each.


Volunteering is an excellent choice when it comes to boosting your application with extracurriculars. Volunteering for a cause you care about shows authentic commitment and interest, which is favored by Ivy League admissions. Here are three examples of national volunteer programs.


ArtsBridge Summer is a national summer volunteer program that offers high school students an in-depth look at a career in the arts. It offers intensive training in many art forms with specialized application guidance for students applying for an arts program. They specialize in acting, singing, vocals, fashion designing, and more. 

VISIONS Service Adventures

VISIONS Service Adventures is a summer program where students can volunteer by doing agricultural work. VISIONS offers another unique benefit: students can travel for this program, too. Students work with communities, accomplish VISIONS projects, and create incredible lifelong connections. Locations range from Montana to the U.S. British Virgin Islands.

The American Red Cross

The American Red Cross offers seasonal youth volunteer opportunities that teach valuable lessons about handling emergencies. It teaches students how to work with people from diverse backgrounds, create a positive change, and make their communities progressive. 

Students will learn to enhance their leadership skills, create new connections, explore new interests, and thrive in a friendly and welcoming environment with impressive results. Volunteering at the Red Cross can create a lifetime of generous, honest work for a good cause.

Working and Internships

Working during your summer vacation is also impressive to Ivy League schools. It is not just for financial support; it also shows that you are willing to spend your free time working on skills in your areas of interest. Check out these three work opportunities and internships.


NASA offers work internships and fellowships for students looking for a unique opportunity. It has programs that deal with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and aims to increase the diversity and capability of applicants. Students have the opportunity to participate in research projects or other learning experiments under the guidance of a NASA mentor.

Bank of America

Bank of America has a Student Leaders program that prepares high school students for workforce success through leadership training. It is an eight-week paid internship that accepts more than 300 diverse, community-minded high school juniors and seniors from across 100 communities to gain first-hand experience working in nonprofit organizations. 

The Thurgood Marshall Summer Law Internship Program

The Thurgood Marshall Summer Law Internship Program is a New York City-based program that prepares high school students for a career in a legal profession and offers skills and development training. It has an intense selection process, with robust interviews and recommendation letter requirements. 

Its internships are paid and last  six to eight weeks, with all internships taking place between March and late August. The TMSLIP has a network of law firms, corporations, nonprofits, and government organizations that assist in teaching students about office etiquette, mock interviews, resume building, and more.


Summer programs that include travel are  interesting  to Ivy League admissions teams. Traveling shows that you are responsible, and not afraid to adapt to a different culture and put your skills to work on an international level. Here are a few of the top travel programs.

Where There Be Dragons

Where There Be Dragons is an organization that offers high school students two, four, and six week abroad programs to learn about different cultures and beautiful realities of the countries where they travel. 

Students are allowed to explore these communities and create meaningful connections, whether learning the languages, participating in events, or through a homestay. Students can filter the program they want by age and start date. Trips take place in Asian, African, and Latin American countries. 

Travel For Teens

Travel For Teens is a North American adventure program in which high school students tour the Great North; from the Pacific Northwest to the American Southwest and the Grand Canyon. Part of the program also involves trekking to the top National Parks of North America, where students can take in the beautiful landscapes and have fun adventures such as water rafting, zip-lining, and more. 

Lead Adventures

Lead Adventures is an Amazon Animal Rescue & Welfare program based in Ecuador. Volunteers can impact Amazonian animal welfare by rescuing and rehabilitating animals that have been illegally trapped, abused, or injured. 

Students nurture the rescued and rehabbed animals in safe enclosures to ensure a full recovery. This animal-loving program fights to save the Amazon Rainforest and its inhabitants; the victims of deforestation, habitat destruction, and illegal hunting and trapping of animals.  

Best Summer Programs at Ivy League Schools

You can also take part in summer programs offered by the Ivy League schools. It will give you a preview of what being a student at an Ivy League is like, and by the end, it can help inform your decision to apply to an Ivy League school. Below are some notable courses offered.


Harvard offers two programs for high school students: a Secondary School Program and a Pre-College Program

The Secondary School Program is a seven week program where high school students can take college courses taught by world scholars. With over 200 courses to choose from, students learn about interesting subjects and participate in academic activities, which they will earn college credit for. 

The Pre-College Program is two weeks and students can choose from over 100 non-credit programs. The purpose of the program is to get a feel of college life and take part in academic activities without the pressure of receiving a grade. 

Cornell University

Cornell University offers multiple summer programs for high school students through its Pre-College section. Its programs run from three to six weeks and offer diverse subjects such as architecture, business, debate, engineering, law, science, medicine, and social change. You get to explore different career choices and receive college credit for the classes you take.

Cornell also offers English immersion programs to attract international students and offer social activities such as dances, sports events, and residence hall events.

Yale University

Yale has an incredible array of summer programs that prepare high school students for college while they work on their academic skills. Students can take courses through Yale’s Schafer Scholars Program, work on their musical talent at Yale’s Morse Summer Music Academy, or work in laboratories alongside renowned scientists at Yale’s Pathways summer school program, to name a few of their many programs. 

Some programs offer credit while others do not, and the duration of each program varies as well. You can search for programs that match your interests in their summer programs section.

Stanford University

Stanford University’s Stanford Summer Session provides students a chance at obtaining transformative education and a world-class university experience alongside college credit and an official Stanford transcript. They combine academics with extracurricular activities and share Stanford’s culture of academic excellence, global responsibility, and success. 

Students enroll in a three or four-week program that focuses on a specific field of study. Stanford students act as teaching assistants, plan field trips, and other recreational activities.

FAQs: What Summer Activities Do Ivy League Colleges Look For

Have some more questions about Ivy League summer programs? It is always beneficial to be informed. Here are some FAQs that answer some general inquiries about summer programs.

1. How Do I Find Which Ivy League Summer Program Is Right for Me?

Start by researching each of your choice schools and making a list of activities that interest you. Decide if you would rather take an Ivy League summer course or volunteer or take a paid internship for an organization or institution instead. Try using order of elimination to narrow down your search and facilitate your decision.  

Start by deciding whether you want a paid, unpaid, or college credit course. Then list which programs pique your interest, then finally find out which program requirements line up with your interests and credentials.

2. Can I Apply for Employment at an Ivy League Summer Program?

Ivy League schools do not offer employment opportunities to students, but some offer paid work internships and projects for high school students to participate in. You can research the school of your choice and see if they have any opportunities. 

3. Where Can I Find the Application Process of Such Programs?

Each program has a ‘how to apply’ guide for those interested. If you need help figuring out how to organize your application or even how to apply, contact your high school guidance counselor or the appropriate Ivy League school for assistance.

4. Can I Use My Summer Program Coordinators for Letters of Recommendation?

Absolutely. Letters of recommendation can be from academic, professional, or volunteering staff that supervised you through the program unless otherwise noted by the Ivy League requirements. 

5. How Do I Know an Ivy League Summer Course Is Right for Me?

This depends on your academic skills. You will have to ask yourself if you think you can adjust to college life with the help of a summer program. Some have application costs. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do you think it is worth the money? 
  • Are you planning on going to the Ivy League school offering the program? 
  • Do the programs and college courses interest you? 
  • Do you plan to major in those subjects offered through summer courses? 

These questions will help you decide not only how to spend your summer program, but also how to properly pave your academic future; whether you see yourself as a college student on these campuses or if you want to continue with your major of choice after participating in these summer courses.

6. When Would Be a Good Time to Apply for Summer Programs?

Each program has specific application deadlines, but they usually close around March. It would be best to start doing research and prepare what you can around wintertime so there will not be much hassle getting everything in order when you get closer to the deadline date. 

7. Can I Continue My Summer Activities After Getting Into Ivy League?

If you took a high school summer course at an Ivy League, you cannot continue after getting accepted. Conversely, if you wish to continue the volunteer or recreational summer programs you’ve participated in, that is usually acceptable. This shows them that you stay loyal to your interests and invest your time not just for academic or financial gain; you do it simply because it is engaging and charitable. 

Final Thoughts

Summer vacation is an opportunity to learn, grow, and develop your skills. By attending summer programs, you are giving yourself a chance at enhancing your academia, as well as getting a unique first-hand experience of college life and rewarding research. Now is the time to make connections, get experience, and jumpstart your future.

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