Summer vacation is in sight, and for parents looking to maximize the time off to best showcase their teenager’s worldliness, intelligence, compassion, and other amazing qualities for the sake of the all-important college application, the possibilities are endless.
For the right price, teenagers can spend time just about anywhere doing just about anything. And many do.
But area college admissions directors have a few words of advice for parents worried that their offspring will be at a disadvantage if they pursue something more mundane and closer to home.
Relax, they say. It doesn’t matter what teens do during July and August, it matters what they get out of it.
“It’s a misconception to believe that what one does with one’s summer vacation is the key to getting into school,’’ said Andrew Flagel, senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis University in Waltham. “What we’d like to see is kids being productive.”
A random trip to Europe isn’t going to pique the interest of too many admissions officers, but a student finding an activity that matches his or her interests might, according to Flagel.
Across Greater Boston, from an art museum docent program in Framingham to a STEM career internship in Newton, and from working at a food pantry on the North Shore to spending the summer on the ice at a rink in Quincy, high school students are finding ways to challenge themselves and learn lifelong lessons close to home.
For Brad Ajay Beckles, now 22 and a 2014 graduate of Stonehill College in Easton, his summers spent teaching hockey skills to youngsters through the O’Sullivan Hockey Academy gave him leadership skills that he says are helping him through the process of being accepted into the US Army Officer Candidate School.
“I found a home on the ice,” he said. “The skills I learned, leadership, and a quiet confidence, I learned it all at O’Sullivan Hockey.”
Beckles has worked at rinks in Quincy, Rockland, Hingham, and other communities around the region every summer, teaching kids as young as 6, since he was a 16-year-old from Dorchester going to Catholic Memorial School.
Kaity O’Brien, 24, also started working summers for O’Sullivan, and is now making coaching hockey and softball her career.
“I learned a lot of life lessons on the ice, teamwork, sportsmanship, discipline, time management, accountability,” she said.
Academy director Stephanie O’Sullivan, a Boston police officer and former member of the US National Women’s Hockey Team, says she looks for more than just excellent hockey skills when she selects kids to work at her summer clinics. (The pay ranges from $10 to $15 per hour, depending on experience and level of play.)
“You obviously have to be reliable, but you also have to care, and you have to be passionate,” she said.
It is no coincidence those are just the types of things that, when put on paper, can make a college essay memorable.
“We’re looking for how an experience shaped and molded the person into who they are today,” said David Tobias, dean of admissions at Stonehill College.
“It could be doing a service project in Honduras, but it could also be a student working to help support their family,” he said. “For us, it’s about how the student was impacted and how the student chooses to express that.”
Whether it is a passion for hockey or another sport, science, or the arts, there are opportunities to get hands-on experience by working or through internships in a variety of settings.
At the Danforth Art museum and school in downtown Framingham, there is a docent program for students in grades 9 through 12 who are interested in art.
The program, which accepts just 10 to 15 students for each summer training session, gives teens a chance to learn how to speak in front of a group while giving them a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes of an art institution, according to Robin DeBlosi, the museum’s marketing and membership manager.
Danforth also has a summer internship program for youths interested in working with art students.
Sixteen-year-old Abby Bridgemohan of Sudbury spent a few days a week last summer interning at the museum, and plans to intern again this year.
“The largest part of my time was spent in the classrooms as a teacher’s assistant,” she said. “With the younger kids I helped with their artwork, but the kids in the seventh-grade drawing classes were better artists than I am, so I helped the teacher get the room and supplies ready.”
High school students can also volunteer working with children at the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton.
“The kids assist with all of the activities, hiking, crafts, and whatever the camp theme for the day is, bug hunting, and all kinds of fun stuff,” said museum official Gail Janeczek .
In Newton, Mayor Setti Warren wants to open the door to careers related to science, technology, engineering, and math to kids from all kinds of backgrounds, especially those who have the potential for the fields but not necessarily access to summer internship programs.
The STEM High School Internships program started three years ago with six students working at four local businesses, and has grown to 30 students from the city’s two public high schools who will work at a variety of area businesses.
At the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead, a leadership training program gives high school students a chance to work with kids at the facility’s summer day camp, and participate in community service days.
The service projects may include stocking shelves at a food pantry, or working with adults with intellectual disabilities at Northeast ARC, according to JCC staffer Leigh Blander.
“It’s so meaningful,” said Blander. “It’s really wonderful.”
For Doug Mears, 17, a senior at Beverly High School, a trip through the Robert I. Lappin Foundation’s Youth to Israel program was a turning point.
“That trip really triggered a sense of community for me, and I felt a real need to get involved in helping people when I got home,” Mears said of his visit to Israel; the subsidized summer trip is open to all Jewish high school sophomores and juniors in the 23 communities in the Salem-based foundation’s service area.
Once home, Mears said, he got involved with the North Shore Teen Initiative, traveling to North Carolina to work with Habitat for Humanity, helping to cook at a Lynn homeless shelter, and volunteering to help clean and spruce up an elementary school in Lynn.
Mears admits that although he felt a sense of obligation to give back to his community after his trip to Israel, he was also definitely trying to fit in “all this stuff” to help with his college application.
It worked. When he got accepted at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., Mears said, the letter specifically mentioned his work at North Shore Teen Initiative.Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.