Summer 2020: How Students Can Strengthen Their University Applications Over the Break

COVID-19 has thrown many students’ summer plans into disarray. Here are some activities to ensure that they can still write outstanding university applications next year.

The summer break is a great opportunity for students. Six to eight weeks of free time can offer them the chance to work, travel, or try new experiences - all of which can contribute to a strong and well-rounded university application.

But thanks to COVID-19, this summer might be slightly different!

With everything from internships to family holidays being cancelled around the world, many of your students may be feeling dejected. As a counselor, you no doubt will have spent a lot of time drumming in the importance of a productive summer - and this might not seem possible given the current circumstances.

It's important students don't lose heart over the summer, or think their time in lockdown will adversely affect their university applications. In our digital world, there's still plenty they can do from the comfort of their own home to bolster their applications come September.

So in this blog post, we’ve collected six activities you can encourage your students to do to make the most of the break - even if they have to stay at home.

Help your students structure their summer

Download our free Summer Activities Journal to help your students think critically about their skills and experiences, and develop new talents - even if they are stuck at home!

Take an online course or workshop

If your students were planning to undertake an internship or work experience this summer, they might be feeling disappointed. Internships are a fantastic way to gain industry knowledge and develop transferable skills - but they can still learn these things in other ways.

Ask your students to create a list of skills they want to achieve, and encourage them to search the internet for online courses or events that might help them.

Here are a few of our suggestions:

Learn a language

A second language is one of the most in-demand skills in today's global marketplace.

There are loads of tools online for students to refine their language skills, whether they are continuing studies from school or starting from scratch.

For example, Duolingo has a free library of over 30 languages - ranging from Spanish and Japanese to Klingon and High Valyrian (for any fantasy fans out there!).

Of course, if you teach in an international school, it’s likely that many of your students are already bilingual. But if English isn’t their first language, summer can also be a good time to practice for taking an English Language test like TOEFL or IELTS.

Top Tip: If students are having trouble taking a TOEFL or IELTS test during this time, many universities are accepting alternatives like Duolingo. It's worth students checking whether their universities' language requirements have changed.

Use a new piece of software

In today’s digital world tech skills are highly valued not only by university admissions officers, but by employers as well. From Microsoft Office to Photoshop, if your students can master a popular piece of software, they’re well on the way to a fantastic CV!

And if they’re really tech-savvy and feeling ambitious, Codeacademy also offers a wealth of free coding courses.

Other online courses

Coursera, Class Central and FutureLearn have extensive libraries of online courses, many of which are free.

Research, research, research

Summer is a great opportunity for students to really dig into the countries/universities they want to apply to, and as you’ll know being familiar with what’s needed from an early stage is  an easy way to make sure their application is as strong as it can be.

Here are our three steps to conducting comprehensive and informative research:

Learn about the different countries' education systems

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: international applications are complex!

Each country is different, so your students should make sure they are familiar with what’s needed for their application. To get them started, we have blog posts on applying to the UK, the USA, Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Research potential university destinations

We’ve written a lot about researching universities in the past, so we won’t dwell on it too much here. But during the summer, it’s worth students spending some scoping out the admissions requirements and deadlines for their chosen institutions.

Attend virtual open days and university tours

Even if they can’t visit prospective universities in person, students have a lot of options when it comes to virtual tours and open days. These can be a great chance for students to learn first-hand what a university’s culture is like and how they can contribute to the institution.

YouVisit and UCAS have lists of global universities that are offering virtual visits. College counselor Rebecca Chabrow has also compiled a great spreadsheet of the universities in the UK, the USA and Canada who are/are not hosting virtual tours.

Do some reading

An uninterrupted summer is a great time to get stuck into a good book - or two, or three!

If your students know what they want to study at university, reading around their subject is a great way to boost their application.

For example, one of the main things university admissions officers are looking for in a UCAS Personal Statement is evidence that the applicant has knowledge of their chosen subject independent of what they have learned in the classroom. 

Similarly, the Common App and Coalition Applications often ask students to talk about a time they’ve had to reconsider their world view, and reading can be a great means of demonstrating this.

Get your students to consider which areas of their chosen subject interest them most, and to search online for things they can read relating to these topics - this can be anything from a non-fiction book to news articles to scholarly literature.

And don’t forget - it doesn’t always have to be about work!

Though it might not relate directly to their university course, reading fiction can have a lot of benefits for students - including developing critical thinking, creativity, and even compassion/empathy.

Encourage your students to take a break and read something just for fun - and if they need some recommendations, try these lists from the BBC and Time Magazine.

Free resource: Summer Activities Journal

Download our free Summer Activities Journal to help your students structure their summer learning and give them inspiration for things to do to strengthen their university applications.

Volunteer locally or online

Though they may not be able to physically volunteer for a charitable organisation over the summer, there are still plenty of ways that students can help their community.

In many countries, neighbourhoods and local governments have set up volunteer groups to run errands for those who are self-isolating, organise food bank collections, or even just have phone calls with people who are lonely.

Many charities are also recruiting remote volunteers including mental health charities, charities who are supporting the elderly or organisations that are helping the homeless.

Taking part in an activity like this is a great way for students to develop their organisational and communication skills - and of course, it looks great on a university application!

So tell your students to have a search online and see what’s available in their local area.

Practice a hobby (or learn a new one!)

Any well-rounded university applicant should have lots of hobbies and interests, as well as just academic ability! To make their applications stand out, students should think about what they like doing outside of the classroom.

As we mentioned previously, we’re living in a time where almost everything can be done online, and there are a wealth of fun events that students can undertake while they are at home.

Here are some of our favourites...

Join a class

There are loads of online classes going on at the moment, from local chefs teaching how to cook their favourite meals, to lectures on digital photography and fashion design.

TimeOut handily rounds up the best online classes to take each week - tell your students to follow them on Twitter or Instagram!

Write a blog

OK, we might be a little biased (we are writers after all!). Starting a blog can be a great way for students to show passion and dedication to a university admissions officer - whether its related to their university subject or to an extracurricular activity.

Top Tip: If you have a lot of students who are interested in blogging, it could be worth setting up a class blog - a win/win because it increases your school’s online presence as well as providing a space for students to contribute their writing!

Get active

When every day feels the same it’s easy to get stuck in a rut - and with a lot of our daily activities suspended, students may be a lot more sedentary than usual.

Encourage them to take a daily run or walk, or take a YouTube class such as yoga or interval training.

Though it might not directly impact their university applications, we promise it will help them feel a lot more motivated!

Reflect on the last year

Many students might be thinking that COVID-19 has caused their year to be wasted - but this couldn’t be further from the truth!

As you’ll know, there is a lot that can be learned during a time like this. In fact, many universities’ application essay prompts ask students to reflect on a life-changing event or a challenging time.

For students applying in 2020-21, living through COVID-19 could be their subject matter. 

And even if they don’t write about it, reflecting on a pivotal event is a great exercise to help them think about their experiences in a meaningful way - a key skill to have when writing any sort of application or CV.

So, over the summer, ask your students to consider the following questions:

  • What changes have you had to adjust to during COVID-19 (e.g a closed school, not being able to see friends)? How have these changes affected you?
  • What have you learned from having to take on a different way of life? Did you need to develop any new skills, or gain any new responsibilities?
  • How has your experience of this time changed your view on the world? Are there any obstacles you feel like you've had to overcome?

Those were our six top ideas for helping your students make the most of the summer break this year, despite the challenges and restrictions of the current circumstances.

If you’ve given these ideas to your students and want to help them structure their summer learning, download our free Summer Activities Journal.

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