Summer Programs for High School Students: An FAQ

  Andrew Belasco   Jan 12, 2017   Navigating the Admissions Process   0 Comment

leadIn the 1990s, while the rest of society was busy squirting each other with Super Soakers, listening to the Gin Blossoms, and carving Nike swooshes into their hair, colleges apparently realized for the first time their campuses were deserted during the summer. Then, in a Copernican moment, an administrator at a prestigious university had a revolutionary notion, “What if we filled up our dorms with high school students whose parents are caught up in the admissions hysteria and charged triple our normal tuition rate for the privilege?” Hence, the college summer program for high school sophomores and juniors was born.

Cynical pseudo-historical accounts aside, the merit of summer programs varies greatly from campus-to-campus and it is important to do your homework before reaching for that Visa card. The following Q & A seeks to address the most frequent queries we receive from parents on the topic.

How much do they cost?

Most elite schools charge between $2,000 and $3,000 per week for the privilege of sleeping in their dorms, sitting in their classrooms, and having a few idle faculty members impart wisdom about the transition to college life. Programs abroad can be even pricier. On the other hand, some programs are actually free-of-charge, and can be far more valuable both in the experiential and admissions sense (more on this in a moment).

Will they help my child’s chance at admission?

In most cases, no. A summer spent strutting around a storied college campus in a borrowed tweed jacket will be viewed by an admissions committee as equal in merit to spending your break restocking Horsey Sauce packets at an Arby’s in a mall food court. Admissions officers know that very few students have the resources to drop ten grand on a four-week equivalent to summer camp and will not grant favor to those who attend. Doing so would be as absurd as NASA deciding to send a group of Space Camp attendees into orbit. Never mind that this scenario actually occurs, albeit by accident, in the 1986 Hollywood mega-flop, Space Camp.

Do they have any admissions-related value?

Indirectly, perhaps. As with any experience a young person undertakes, a high-cost summer program could indirectly have a positive impact on a future application. For example, a summer program attendee might work on a project that ignites a passion which becomes ideal fodder for a future application essay. In some cases a student may impress a faculty member to the point where they are willing to write a glowing, committee-swaying letter of recommendation.

Yet, it is critical to be aware that the programs with the highest admissions-related value are actually the ones that are cost-free and highly selective. Identifying the programs that are competitive, rewarding, and will actually impress an admissions committee can be tough—fortunately, we can help…

Competitive Summer Programs for 2017

Students interested in STEM have a bevy of excellent choices including Michigan State’s HSHPP Program, the RSI Program at MIT, or the PROMYS Program at Boston University.

Those pursuing study in the field of economics or business would do well to check out Wharton’s Leadership in the Business World Program, Economics for Leaders which is hosted by a number of different schools, or MIT Launch.

Excellent opportunities also abound in the disciplines of journalism, global studies, and mathematics. For those unsure about their exact area of future study, programs like Notre Dame’s Summer Scholars offer a wide array of topics from 1960’s Activism to Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

Click here for a comprehensive list of College Transitions’ Best Summer Programs for 2017, and be sure to also visit the Build Your College Knowledge section of our Dataverse to access additional college lists.

College Transitions’ Bottom Line:

If you have unlimited resources and your son or daughter feels they would benefit from the experience, there is absolutely no harm in attending a high-end summer program. However, it is important to be realistic about what you’re paying for. Some “elite” programs accept as many as 80% of applicants. Again, we recommend first exploring more selective, cost-free programs that are merit-based and geared toward a discipline of genuine interest. And, if all else fails, don’t underestimate the value of a normal teenage summer experience. After all, you have to admit, the Sisyphean task of Horsey Sauce packet replenishment would make for an original essay topic.

Andrew Belasco
A licensed counselor and published researcher, Andrew’s experience in the field of college admissions and transition spans more than one decade. He has previously served as a high school counselor, consultant and author for Kaplan Test Prep, and advisor to U.S. Congress, reporting on issues related to college admissions and financial aid.

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