Summer College Enrichment Programs Are Sleep-Away Camps

Bev Taylor

August 1, 2013

Summer College Enrichment Programs Are Sleep-Away Camps

Attending a Harvard summer program will boost a high school student’s chances of admission to Harvard. Right? Wrong! It’s a common misconception, one that way too many parents and high school students buy into year after year. In actuality, it’s not so different from little kids believing in the Tooth Fairy. Some parents and students are savvy enough to understand that attending one of these programs won’t score any additional points in terms of gaining acceptance to a highly selective college. Others will erroneously boast of how these programs will improve one’s odds of gaining admission to a top college. Some of these folks and even other savvier parents and students think that attending such a program will demonstrate 1.) great intellectual curiosity, 2.) a love of learning, or 3.) that the student can hold his or her own against other talented high school students. These parents and students couldn’t be more off the mark.

Are intellectual curiosity and a genuine love of learning important to demonstrate to admissions officers at highly selective colleges? You bet. Students who demonstrate a love of learning and a deep intellectual curiosity are the kinds of students admissions officers look to admit. But these often super expensive college summer programs don’t say to admissions officers what so many parents and students think they say. In many ways, attending these expensive summer programs is no different from attending a fancy sleep-away camp or going on a teen tour.

Do you think that attending sleep-away camp throughout a student’s high school summers will impress college admissions officers? Not a chance! In fact, mentioning that you attended sleep-away camp on a college application conveys to admissions officers that you didn’t do anything particularly productive all summer. You show no initiative, no drive and no creativity. And that’s precisely what attending the vast majority of summer enrichment programs at colleges across the country conveys. It is indeed the opposite of how you want to come across in the competitive climate of the highly selective college admissions process.

At the risk of a backlash from some of these programs (not that I care one bit), let me walk you through a couple of them. There’s the New York Film Academy with branches in New York, LA and throughout Europe and Asia. Maybe you’ve seen ads for the academy at a bus stop or on the subway. They are ubiquitous for sure. For eight weeks and for $5,300 plus expenses, students get to attend this academy for aspiring filmmakers. There’s even an application process to the program to make it seem competitive. They’re no marketing dummies. And judging by the dollars they spend on ads, the program is obviously a moneymaker.

But do you really need to go to a film academy to learn how to direct or write well? No. In spite of what USC and NYU film professors may have you believe, you don’t even have to attend a university with a film program to find success in Hollywood. You can learn to write well by reading produced and unproduced scripts. You can learn to write well by writing and rewriting your own scripts. Obviously the New York Film Academy is not one of a kind, but the point is that if the people who run these “academies” were so successful in the film industry, do you really think they’d be running film academies with ads on the subways? Likely not.

Or how about paying to serve communities throughout the world? If that doesn’t sound ridiculous, I don’t know what does. You should not have to pay to perform community service. Global Works is one such organization through which many high school students spend their summers as they pay to volunteer. From a three-week trip to Costa Rica with a service adventure to language immersion with a service adventure in Argentina, I urge students hoping to get into highly selective colleges not to participate in programs like these. No one should ever have to pay to volunteer (that’s outrageous!) and these trips are not inexpensive. As an example, a trip to Ecuador for three weeks with a Galapagos option will cost $4,595 for tuition plus airfare and other expenses. Don’t do it!

If you want to learn to cook, get some exposure in a local restaurant’s kitchen. Email Blaine Wetzel and see if he’ll let you forage for food with him on Lummi Island. Now that would be super cool! What you don’t have to do — and what you shouldn’t do — is pay to attend a cooking school in Oregon. If you want to serve your community, do volunteer work. Don’t pay to volunteer. If you want to learn how to start an online business, build a website and sell something. If you love biking, sell bike accessories. If you love jewelry, design jewelry and sell it online and at flea markets. You don’t need to go to an expensive summer camp to do any of this. Did I say camp? Woops.