Q: I hope you can answer this before school closes for the summer. It would help settle a family dispute! Our son is finishing his junior year of high school. He's a good student, B/B+ average—not at the top of his class, but probably in the top quarter. He has to apply to college next fall, and I think he needs to use this coming summer to better advantage. The last three summers, he's played baseball in a town league and when not playing baseball he's worked at a local restaurant as a busboy and server. I think he ought enhance his applications. I want him to take an SAT prep course and to get at least one internship. Our next-door neighbor is a dentist, and is willing to let our son work in his office for a month. Wouldn't an internship in a dental practice look better on his applications than a job bringing people their pizza?

A: No, not necessarily. One can learn a lot about people by serving them their meals, as well as a lot about oneself by accepting responsibility.

Unless your son's essay or other activities indicate that he has an interest in the health professions, working in a dentist's office for a month won't matter.

What you haven't said is what your son wants to do this summer. From what you have written, it seems that he is truly interested in playing baseball. That means this coming summer is the last time, probably, that he could play for your town league. Why not let him do what he wants, and let his commitment to the team shine in his application? If the ONLY evidence of an interest in the health professions is this proposed month-long internship, it will be pretty clear to any admissions reader that your son did it just to "look better" in his college applications.

But that would be an artificial "better." Applications stand out when it is clear that an applicant is committed, for an extended period, to something. It certainly looks a lot better than a sudden interest in medicine, or dentistry, or the environment, et cetera, just before the start of senior year.

And anyway, your son is not applying to dental school. He is applying for an undergraduate degree, and what he hopes to study or have as a career does not matter at this point. Let him play ball and work at the restaurant, and ask his coach and employer for letters of reference. By the way, if he wants to play baseball in college, he ought to talk to his coach now about whether he is a strong enough player to be considered for the college's division.

As for the SAT prep course, it's not a bad idea to gain a feel for the exam before taking it. Prep courses, though, are no guarantee of a score's improvement. Some people's scores go up—but they would have anyway, between, junior and senior years. Some scores go down. Some stay the same. Please remember that many schools accept scores in a wide range. Grades in combination with course choices ALWAYS count more than SAT or ACT scores.

Also, many colleges are score-optional. If a school says it is optional to submit your scores, don't send them unless they are 700 or above. If they are at that level, they might help your son's chances. But otherwise, if he has solid scores that fit into the school's parameters, save money by not sending the official scores.

Have you spoken with your son's college counselor? Do you have a proposed list of schools to which your son might apply? If not, make an appointment before the end of the semester. You also might wish, if you have the time, to go on several campus visits over the summer to schools that are likely choices. Actually seeing what the colleges look like may give your son additional ideas and may inspire his interest!