Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that the summer was starting? And now, you’re right in the middle of the action. Volunteering, traveling, interning, working. Camps, projects, summer classes, SAT prep.

With all that’s going on, it’s easy to feel like you’re frantically rushing through your summer. And you wonder, will this be enough for my dream college?

But at this point, college admissions officers are not impressed simply by the activities you complete. They pay more attention to how you show up for them.

It’s easy to feel like an academic camp or job is something on your to-do list. But if that’s the case, you’ll be more focused on getting it done rather than getting the most out of your time there.

Here’s what I mean: you can take control of your experience.

You get to choose what you’ll walk away with and how you’ll show up each day. In other words, instead of checking boxes, you get to decide what success looks like for you this summer.

Do you want to meet other high-achieving students? Are you going to develop your time management skills? Will you focus on going through each day with confidence?

When you proactively decide what you want out of each activity, you can walk away with much more excitement and pride.

Here are three strategies to make the most of your summer and create unique experiences to share with your top-choice college.

1. Set Intentions

It feels so empowering to decide what you want to get out of an experience. You’re saying, “This is what success looks like to me.”

For each big activity you have planned this summer, decide where to focus your energy before you start.
Is it about building relationships with other students? Is it about being resilient in the face of a challenge? Is it about helping others? Making your intention clear ahead of time trains your brain to notice opportunities to follow through.

Again, make sure this doesn’t look like a to-do list item. It should be aimed more towards how you’ll grow or what you want that experience to be about.

2. Focus on Mindset

How you show up each day makes a HUGE difference in how your summer plays out.

Even just one day can go very differently if you’re energetic instead of grumpy or enthusiastic instead of critical.
So when are you at your best? What does it look like for you? Select three to five qualities that you possess when you’re in your best mindset. You might be attentive, thorough, happy, analytical, motivated, compassionate, or open-minded. Pick qualities that are true for you.

Then, write them down and tape them to your mirror or above your desk, where they’ll serve as a reminder.
For example, remembering that you want to be enthusiastic (even when something goes wrong or you’re doing a task you don’t want to) is going to make a big impact on your summer.

Choosing how you want to show up each day is a clear path to making the most of these next couple months.

3. Reflect Regularly

As the summer flies by, it’s so easy to forget the cool ideas, interesting takeaways, and magic moments you’ve had. That’s why it’s so important to capture them right away. Plus, we actually get more out of an experience when we pause and reflect.

Designate a notebook or a Google Doc to your summer. With each big activity you do, pick a regular time to sit and jot down everything that comes to mind about your experience, even for just a few minutes. Whether it’s each night before you go to bed or every Saturday morning, just be consistent. That’ll make it a habit.

It’s helpful to pick one question to focus on every time you journal, especially if you’re able to do daily reflections. Here are a few examples: What’s something interesting that happened today? What surprised me? What was I curious about? What did I learn? What do I want to remember from today?

Whatever you commit to, make sure it’s simple enough that you’ll follow through consistently. Even spending five minutes each night to reflect on one question can make a huge difference in how much value you take away.

While it’s easy to rush straight through your summer, remember that you can take control of your experience. Be clear about what you want to get out of each activity, bring your best qualities to it, and capture your insights. Not only will that be impressive to your dream school, but you’ll also feel much more accomplished.