What do I need to do in my summers to make my application look strong?
Contrary to popular belief, there is no “right” summer activity that admissions officers want to see. You should have two main choices:
If you need to earn money, find a summer job. Scooping ice cream is just as valid an activity as any if you need to earn money. If you need to take care of siblings or baby-sit, you should feel confident that these are important and valued. Do not feel the pressure to do something “meaningful” if there are other more pressing priorities.
Follow your interests and explore.
This can mean taking that summer class in psychology that your high school does not offer, or travel or summer camp. You should pick activities you love and pursue them to their maximum. Do not waste your time on something merely “résumé building.” You will not be judged by your activities, only by a lack of activities. Fill in that space of summer activities with something every year, but do make sure you are also taking a small break; admissions officers do want you to have a break!