The summer between your junior and senior year of high school can be some of the funnest months of your life.

But did you know it can also be a pivotal time to help you get into college? Yes, okay, I know… the last thing you want to think about during your summer vacation is school. But don’t worry, it’s not all work and no play. Some of the most exciting things you can do with your summer can actually be the best for your college chances.

Long before you decide how many colleges you should apply to, you need to start thinking about what you'll say in your application. That part starts now!

Here are 5 ways you can use your summer to improve your chances at getting into your top pick schools.

1) Go Broad… or Abroad

Being well-rounded can mean a lot to a college admissions committee. They want to see that you’re a person of the world! Someone with an open mind and an interest in exploring and learning new things… since that’s what college is all about, afterall.

Some students show off their curious minds by talking about their travelling experience. It’s not unheard of for students to spend their summers abroad, immersing themselves in another culture and using that experience as fodder for their college essay.

“You don’t have to travel abroad for a great essay about experiencing the world.”

But don’t worry, you don’t have to travel abroad for a great essay about experiencing the world! Have any closer-to-home family vacations, road trips, or even visiting friend and family this summer? Even a camping trip can be an important experience.

You don’t have to go overseas to learn something meaningful about yourself and your world -- just make sure to take note of any experience you have during the summer that exposes you to people, places, or customs that are different from yours.

Key takeaway: Seek out experiences that shows you’re willing to move outside your comfort zones.

2) Focus on Mastery

You can get an edge on all the other well-rounded applicants by demonstrating your mastery of a particular issue, topic, or skill.

This is a valuable thing to show because it proves that you have both passion and dedication. You’ll definitely impress an admissions committee if you can show you care about something important to you, and actually have the discipline to become great at it. There’s not a college out there that doesn’t want a student willing to work hard at becoming good at what’s important to them.

So the question is, what’s important to you? You don’t have to become the world’s foremost expert in advanced cybersecurity or learn 52 languages in 3 months (but if you do, definitely put that in your essay.)

The list of potential things to show off here are endless. Maybe you spent your summer at football camps, training for next season. Or maybe you learned how to edit video making goofy summer movies with friends.

Remember, the thing that matters most is the fact that you cared enough about something to become good at it. Whatever it is, work hard at it, and be proud!

Key takeaway: Dedicate time to becoming great at something you love.

3) Put Your Job to Work

It’s not uncommon at all for high schoolers to work a job during the summer. But did you know that admissions committees actually might like to hear about it?

Bagging groceries might seem pretty boring to you, but I bet if you thought hard about it, you could come up with some important lessons you’ve learned at your summer job.

You don’t have to pretend that you’re working a summer job for anything more than a paycheck, but an admissions committee would like to see that you’ve got an active mind, able to learn from your environment.

“Don’t be afraid to reflect on the experiences in your life that you might think are totally boring.”

Even if you’ve got the boringest, dirtiest, most monotonous summer job in the world -- is there anything you’re learning? At the very least, it’s probably good motivation for you to go to college and get a degree.

Don’t be afraid to reflect on the experiences in your life that you might think are totally boring. If you can find an important lesson or learning in them, you’ll be sure to impress the admissions committee.

Key takeaway: Look for opportunities for insight in surprising places, even your summer job.

4) Give Back

You’ve heard this one before, and it’s still true. You should spend at least some of your summer doing volunteer and community service work.

Why? Admissions committees want to see that you care about the community you live in -- it’s a good indicator that you want to do something meaningful in life, and are motivated by more than just personal rewards.

You don’t have to start a foundation to bring water to drought-stricken countries, or raise millions of dollars to help families in need. Even spending a couple hours a week volunteering at a soup kitchen, or a retirement home, or doing highway cleanup can help give you a more well-rounded summer experience.

Plus, it’s just a good thing to do.

Key takeaway: Show that you’re a conscientious person who cares about their community.

5) Have Some Fun!

Well it’s summer, of course you should have some fun!

Don’t waste your summer doing things you hate just because you think they’ll help you get into college -- not only will you regret how you spent your summer days, but it’s hard not to reflect that resentment in the essay you eventually write.

“Don’t waste your summer doing things you hate just because you think they’ll help you get into college.”

Ideally, all the things you’re doing should be fun for you in the first place. If it’s not fun for you, consider trying some other activity instead, or get a few more friends involved with you.

If you’re having fun while you’re doing it, that will naturally come out in your essay. It’s that kind of honest emotion that will help you write an essay with the best chance of getting you noticed.

Key takeaway: If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing the right things!

Ready to make the most of your summer? Check out these 8 fast tips for writing the perfect essay, for when it comes time to actually put it all down on paper.

Authored by Jared Meyer

Jared specializes in communication in higher education. He writes about getting into college and succeeding once you're there. He's the editor of the American Honors Blog.