Summer vacation is an ideal time for rest and relaxation, but also learning and self-exploration! Attending a summer program is a great way to get outside your comfort zone and get a taste of college life. The right summer program will not only help your college applications and essays shine, it will also give you exposure to subjects and new experiences that may not be accessible during the school year. While summer may feel like it’s ages away, many competitive programs are already open for applications with deadlines in the early part of the year.

As you start looking at what is available, you may find that the options are overwhelming. To help you understand and tackle these choices, here is the why, what and how to single out the best options for you!

Why do a pre-college summer program?

Perhaps the best place to start is to understand what you want out of a summer program. Students engage in these programs for a variety of reasons, the most common ones being:

  • To explore your academic interests

Are you considering a major or future career in a subject that you have never been able to study at school? A summer program can help you gain exposure to specialized fields like medicine, architecture, and engineering! Often these programs provide a deeper, more hands-on approach than available in most high school classrooms, and include travel, fieldwork, and other experiential components. This kind of first-hand experience is important before making a long-term commitment to any course of academic study.

  • To demonstrate intellectual curiosity and commitment to particular subject

For those who already know what they want to study, it is important to show colleges how you have pursued those interests independently. Taking summer classes, and gaining perspective that transcends your school syllabus, can provide you with meaningful experiences to add texture to essays and demonstrate commitment to a particular major.

  • To evaluate what kind of college environment would meet your academic needs

You might choose a particular pre-college program in order to experience particular campus settings and environments. You might want to gauge your preferences for an urban or rural setting, liberal arts college or large research university, etc. with the intention of using the experience to make informed decisions about the colleges you will apply to.

What are your options

Unlike the summer camps of the past that often featured a lake, bunk beds and mosquitoes, today’s options are more sophisticated with hundreds of available programs in almost any subject, all intended to broaden the student’s perspective. It may be best to nail down your timeline, location, and budget during the summer months first. Once you have a clearer picture of these parameters, you can start identifying what sort of program is the best fit for you:

  • Residential vs. commuter programs

Pre-college courses are more immersive than campus tours and open days, allowing students not only to take classes, but also get a taste of college life. Most of these programs are residential, providing the students with living arrangements in campus dorms, and involve daily social events as well as activities to explore the surroundings. If you don’t want to stay on campus, students may be able to select commuter programs.

  • Online courses vs In-Person

While in-person courses are more immersive, they will not fit in everyone’s summer schedule. But don’t let that discourage you! Many universities and independent course providers have expanded their offerings to include a wider variety of online classes, which are often much more cost-effective. Online courses are either live, meaning that students will be attending classes in real-time, or pre-recorded, which means that the student can access the course and materials at their own convenience.

  • Academic vs non-academic

Most students assume summer programs must be academic to add value to an application. However, there are excellent fine arts, performing arts, and outdoor education programs that provide meaningful experiences to showcase in your applications and essays. In fact, you are more likely to personally benefit from taking a course that reflects your interests and passion in a subject, whether it is academic or not!

  • Non-credit vs. for credit

For students who want to get a head start on college, there are programs that award college credits upon completion. It may be worth noting, however, that most colleges have a limit on the number of credits transferable to their institution and, even if a course does offer credits, not all colleges will recognize or accept them!

How do I choose the best program for me?

When it comes down to making your final decisions for the summer, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What college majors are you interested in pursuing? Summer programs are a great way to test drive your options.
  2. Will you be traveling over the summer and will this allow you to attend in-person or, in any way, inhibit you from attending online?
  3. Do you know which colleges you might be applying to? You may want to pick a program at that college to give you a feel for the campus and surroundings.
  4. How will this add to your profile as an applicant? Will this summer program help tell the story of who you are and what you are passionate about?
  5. Will you require a visa to attend in person? How long will it take to acquire?
  6. How much does the program cost? Summer programs vary greatly in terms of cost! Make sure to understand whether accommodation and meals are included and if scholarships / financial aid are available.
  7. Particularly relevant for live online courses, what is the time difference? You may not be too thrilled to wake up at 3:00am to attend class.

Based on the answers to these questions, you can hopefully narrow down your options to a best-fit selection!

Summer programs are a great taster experience for students who want to understand more about the independence of college life, while broadening their outlook on the world. However, it is important to remember that:

  • Attending a summer program will never guarantee a student acceptance to a particular college!
  • For the most part, pre-college programs are not extremely selective (with some exceptions). Being accepted to a summer program at a highly selective college rarely has any bearing on your college applications.
  • Be aware that some colleges lease out their spaces to other providers which means the college may be the venue, but not actually teaching or organizing your program. As a precaution, it is always advisable to pay attention to the fine print!

Give yourself plenty of time to select a course that works with your summer plans and if you would like to discuss your summer program options, please do not hesitate to contact us.