Summer Programs and College Admissions: How to Make the Most of Vacation

Students often spend summers doing things they did not have time for during the school year. This often means lots of time on a beach or on a hobby like gardening, for instance. Now, think of doing these things but as part of a semi-structured 5-8 week enrichment program at a university. That is pretty much the idea behind summer programs. You take a passion or interest in a subject and explore it with others to ensure maximum benefit. 

If you want to sharpen your skills in French or Russian, then apply to a summer language immersion program like the one at Middlebury College. If you want, instead, to become an engineer or a computer programmer, then apply to go to the Ross Mathematics Program at Ohio State University. The point is that there are many options for you to explore and there will certainly be a program out there for whatever your interests are. This will ensure that you are socializing with like-minded peers that share your curiosities about the world and have similar life goals. In this post, we will explain the pros and cons of participating in these kinds of programs and their role in the college admissions process.

Let’s begin with the benefits. For one thing, these programs are difficult to access. That means that if you do go, you will be part of an exclusive experience available only to a privileged few. It will most certainly make you a more worldly person. You will learn and get lots out of whatever program you choose, not least because you get to choose the theme and apply to those that you are actually invested in. Moreover, what you learn during summer programs usually expands the horizons of your in-school material. It will either push the boundaries of stuff you’ve covered, or it may actually introduce new concepts and ideas you have not seen in your education yet. The summer programs we reference here are for high school students, so in some cases this experience may help you skip general ed requirements in college. They are rigorous and elevate your thinking to new levels of clarity and sophistication. And, of course, by participating in a program you get perks: potentially becoming close with an instructor that later writes letters of recommendation, actually learning what life is like at a university campus, and so on. 

However, there are some things to consider if you want to go through with applying to a summer program like the ones mentioned here in this post. For one, these programs can be costly. For example, Yale’s Young Global Scholars program charges $6,500 for two weeks. Some programs do in fact offer financial aid, but others don’t. In other words, if you are from an economically disadvantaged group, these programs may not be feasible. However, if you are able and willing to pay, then this may not be a deterrent. 

Bear in mind that attending a summer program at a university or college does not guarantee entrance to that institution. While there is no doubt that these programs are an enriching experience, the competitiveness of summer programs often do not reflect the competitiveness of the host institution. Of course, your participation in a summer program may increase probability of acceptance, but not on the basis of this accomplishment alone. This is especially true since most admissions counselors are aware that students with summer programs on their resumés are likely from affluent backgrounds. Admissions counselors want to see a well-rounded application that demonstrates the candidate’s merits in many ways.

With that being said, these specialized programs offer an educational experience that is not easy to replicate and will likely influence your thinking for years to come. Not to mention the opportunity to travel to places that you may never have gotten the chance to know. When it comes to summer programs and college admissions preparedness, you should see it as the means with which to craft and curate an application file that is thematically coherent. This will help demonstrate your commitments to long-term educational goals. It is a way to signal to admissions counselors: “I’m ready for college. I know how to contribute and be of service to this community!”


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