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Summer is the best time for students to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Wherever students apply to college, lots of other students applying look just like they do with similar standardized test scores and identical GPAs. As the number of college applicants increases, so too does the need for students to set themselves apart.

This doesn't mean that students need to intern at a nuclear reactor, start a multimillion-dollar online business or even travel the world. Everyone needs to remember that 15- to 18-year-olds need downtime, too. School can be stressful, and part of the summer should be dedicated to de-stressing and having some fun. But they do need to do more than play video games or hang out with friends.

So what should a student do to get noticed?

*Explore an interest: Follow an academic or nonacademic passion by taking a course, finding an enrichment program or interning with someone in a career field of interest. Unpaid internships often provide great learning experiences for students. Contact the human resources department at companies or organizations and ask about internship opportunities. Start now because frequently there may be applications, interviews and training sessions.

*Get involved in community service: Identify several nonprofit organizations and find out about the kinds of summer opportunities they offer to volunteers. Think outside the norm and contact theater groups, nursing homes, animal shelters, preschools/camps, political organizations, environmental groups, etc. A number of college scholarships are geared toward community service involvement.

*Be a leader or entrepreneur: Colleges like leaders because student leaders in high school frequently transfer their skills to college. Start your own business, find a niche that is unmet in your neighborhood or identify a cause that you care about. Work on your own or collaborate with a group of friends -- create a logo and fliers, design business cards and a website, write a business plan and then execute it. Adults are always impressed with young energetic entrepreneurs -- use your youth to your advantage. The kinds of skills you hone over the summer are life skills that will stay with you and will serve you well in college and beyond.

*Focus on a sport: Play on a summer travel team because college coaches scout players at tournaments and showcases.

*Get working: Colleges appreciate students who work and contribute to their family's household income or pay for their own expenses. Paid employment demonstrates responsibility, dedication, time management and teamwork skills. Receiving a strong letter of recommendation from an employer can help a student's candidacy. Additionally, some employers offer scholarships or tuition assistance to their employees.

As an added benefit, whatever type of summer experience a student chooses to do, it will probably provide good material for college essays.

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Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.