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College Admissions

Summer Programs (Part 1)

While summer vacation used to mean long days at the beach, in this era of intense competition, many students now ask how they can use that time to enhance their prospects for college admission.

For those who would like to get a taste of college life, attending a summer program on a college campus can provide invaluable experience. Students have a chance to study subjects that are not offered in high school, and to explore possible college majors, while earning transferable college credit.

Attending summer school at a college also allows students to see what it’s like to live far from home and to try out schools they might be considering. Spending four to six weeks at Boston University, the University of Chicago or Georgetown is a great way to find out if urban life is as exciting as it sounds.

For those who prefer a more scenic environment, Cornell has a terrific summer program and a beautiful campus, complete with a gorge and nearby waterfalls. In addition to liberal arts courses, Cornell offers seminars in architecture, biological research, business, law, veterinary medicine and more. Cornell also has a special three-week program for sophomores.

Students who love the arts might enjoy Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs, a charming New York resort town. During the summer, there are daily literary and music events, in addition to a nice selection of college courses. Skidmore also offers an art program with both college-credit and noncredit workshops for talented high school students.

These are just a few of the many summer college programs available to high school students. Some of these programs are competitive, requiring at least a “B” average, PSAT/SAT scores, essays and teacher recommendations. But it’s still much easier to get into Harvard or Stanford as a summer high school student than as a college freshman, so if someone wants the experience of attending a prestigious college, even for a short time, here’s an opportunity.

College admissions officers will tell you that attending their summer school does not guarantee, or even increase, a student’s chance of admission. While this is true at the most selective colleges, at some schools there may be a subtle advantage if the student has done well in their summer program, because admissions officers know that the student is familiar with the school, has had a successful experience and may therefore be more likely to matriculate.

There are many good reasons to attend a summer college program, but if the sole purpose is to enhance college applications, students may be very disappointed. Attending a summer program will not compensate for poor grades in high school. This is serious school, and students need to be motivated to spend two or three hours in class and then study several hours every day. But if a student loves history and is excited about taking a college course in ancient Greek civilization, her genuine intellectual curiosity will make the workload worthwhile. If she does very well in the class and impresses the professor, it may be possible to get a letter of recommendation, and that can’t hurt.

While summer college programs are expensive, often costing more than $1,000 a week (financial aid is limited), for motivated students, they provide a head start on the transition to college. Learning how to do research in a university library, how to live with a roommate, even how to do laundry, can help students feel more independent and self-confident.

Students can also take summer courses at community colleges and earn college credit at much lower cost. While they won’t have the experience of living on campus, they can study a subject that’s not offered in high school, explore a possible college major and demonstrate a commitment to learning.

Attending a summer college program is just one of many worthwhile summer activities. In my next column, I’ll discuss more ideas for summer.

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