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Summer Programs – the Pros and Cons

Uploaded: Jan 31, 2019
(Written by Lori McCormick, Marc Thompson and Rebecca Bjorklund from College Advising Team)

Colleges across the country offer an assortment of pre-college programs for high school aged students. These programs can be a great experience for students, as they offer insight into what college might be like, while also helping them prepare for the transition into the next exciting phase of their academic journey. The types of programs vary, particularly in duration, academic offerings, and price. Whether to attend these programs is an individual choice that should be explored by each student and his/her family, as it’s important to know what you’re hoping to gain from the experience and determine if it’s the right time to explore these options. Below is a sample of questions often asked regarding summer pre-college programs.

Why should I attend a pre-college summer program?

Pre-College summer programs allow students to explore an area of academic interest in a structured, professional, and supportive environment. Programs are usually several weeks long, thus allowing time to delve into the academic material and help students to decide if this will or will not become an intended major. There may be an opportunity for you to even earn college credit for some of the courses you are taking, always an added bonus! Students are exposed to what a college classroom looks like, how to navigate finding classes on a college campus, and building networks on campus that could be beneficial when applying to college (e.g., an additional letter of recommendation). It may also be the first time a student has lived away from their family for a significant amount of time, and/or had the opportunity to room with someone new. While these can be intimidating at first, a positive aspect of these programs is the chance to socialize with peers from other parts of the country who may come from different backgrounds and/or cultures, some with vary different interests or experiences. It can also be an ideal time for a high schooler to gain a glimpse of what college life will feel like: living in a dorm, having a roommate, dining on campus, feeling independent of your family and all that is familiar – and finding self-confidence in this discovery.

Another possible pro of these programs can be the ability to test out a school if you have narrowed down your potential list of colleges and have one in particular that you are especially excited about attending. If you are reluctant to commit to a school early, this can be a great way to see if the campus is a good fit for you.

How do I choose a Pre-College summer program?

First, many of these programs can be competitive. There are applications to complete, letters of recommendation to secure, and essays to write. If a student gets one of those coveted spots, the program chooses you, not the other way around. Program tuition can be as much as several thousand dollars, something to consider (scholarships are available but limited).

Areas to consider when choosing a program:
1. Type of program - find the program(s) that best fits your academic or personal enrichment needs.
2. Location - where in the country do you want to spend the bulk of your summer? Do you want to stay close to home and commute, or are there parts of the country you’d like to explore and spend a more significant amount of time?
3. Residential or Non-Residential - weigh your pros and cons to determine which is a better fit for you. Some obvious pros: a multi-week experiential learning program allows you to get a sense of what college life is about and helps you gain some independence. 4. 4. Cons -you or your family are not ready for you to take such a leap. You still have all of the 12th grade to mature and prepare yourself.

There is a summer program for everyone, so finding one isn’t the obstacle - it’s determining what your goals are early on and then narrowing down your options based on what is of the highest importance to you and your family. Programs range from performing arts, to anything in the sciences, to business, to theology. Narrowing down your list of interests is where the challenge lies.

Do I have to attend a pre-college summer program?

Absolutely not! While a pre-summer college program does tick a lot of boxes - residential program, hands-on learning, an opportunity to gain independence, to name a few, any experience you have over summer where you are enriching yourself is valuable. Volunteering, working, having an internship, supporting your family around the house with younger siblings or aging family members - these are all character building and life skill building experiences. A good friend of mine always says, “You do You” and I agree, it doesn’t matter what you are doing, just do something that matters to you. Outside of academically focused programs, there are myriad of valuable ways to spend your summer that do not involve a classroom or homework assignments. These options range from volunteering at a local hospital if you’re interested in the pre-med track, to traveling abroad and participating in meaningful service work in a new part of the globe. There are a variety of organizations that offer international field experience for students, and specifically support them in finding programs ranging from Belize and Costa Rica (think scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, and whitewater rafting)—to a more specialized one in the Language and Culinary Arts in France. Students also have the opportunity to earn certifications, college credit, and community service hours on their trips. To learn more about these international opportunities please visit their website.
What is it worth to you?


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