Long summer days may seem distant, but they are coming. Helping students figure out how to spend precious vacation time – in ways both restorative and productive - can be challenging. Your daughter may have received an avalanche of glossy brochures of ‘pre-college programs’ held on college campuses, and some are pretty expensive.
You may wonder, are these programs valuable? Do they give students an advantage as they apply to college?
First, know that colleges value all kinds of experiences. Students benefit when they explore their interests, try new things, develop skills, experience greater independence and responsibility, and are exposed to new ideas and places in ways that feel appropriate and good to them. This is true whether it happens in our city or across the country. It is also true whether parents pay a high price for the experience, or if it was available at low or no cost.
Many students have family obligations that do not allow for travel or leaving home, even for a short time. They might need to care for younger siblings or have a job that covers their clothing budget or contributes to family income. Colleges value these experiences. They provide evidence of a student’s character, priority for family, and willingness to work hard. A regular babysitting gig with a neighbor where the sitter is proactive about planning activities for the little ones can illustrate initiative, leadership, responsibility, and time management. College admissions officers want to know about these responsibilities and experiences – students should list them in a resume or list of extracurricular activities as part of their college applications.
If you are considering camps, service or volunteer work, academic or other enrichment programs, here are criteria you can use to evaluate a summer option:
- Will this be truly interesting, compelling, or valuable to this particular student?
- Does it grow her knowledge and experience in practical ways?
- Does it offer the chance to improve an academic skill she needs to work on?
- Is there a class in a subject that intrigues her, one she would enjoy studying in more depth?
- Is there a career she would like to explore?
- Is the offering of high quality – are teachers or leaders experts in their field? Are facilities unusual or especially well equipped?
- Is the amount of time, structure of the program, and supervision adequate?
- Does the program fit the family budget? Is financial aid available? (Many programs offer aid.)
Programs hosted on college campuses give students a taste of dorm life and the chance to meet other motivated students. Applications for programs that require transcripts and/or recommendations, give students a taste of what it will feel like to complete college applications. This experience can help students see themselves going away to college. When evaluating pre-college programs, consider whether the college itself offers the program and if that school’s faculty teaches it. For-profit companies operate some of the more expensive summer programs; they rent space from (often prestigious) hosting institutions. Frequently, there is no formal relationship between the program and the college other than use of buildings and facilities.
Here is a link to a list of summer opportunities to consider. It is not exhaustive, and we do not endorse specific programs, but we will update the information a few times each year. Please send suggestions for inclusion to Carolyn Gazeley, and check in with your college counselor if you would like to talk more about summer plans.