College Summer Programs

University Summer Programs, Ivy League Summer Programs, College Summer Program

Don’t feel pressured to send your child to a fancy college summer program. Parents who think these programs are the ticket to the best colleges are misinformed.

There was an article in “Bloomberg” recently by Mary Camille Izlar entitled “Harvard Summer Program Recommendations Come at Hefty Cost” that discusses the price parents will pay to send their children to expensive college summer programs. They do this of course to improve their child’s odds of getting into the highly selective colleges of their dreams. The article references how students are charged $10,490 to attend a summer program at Harvard and, in exchange, these students will seek out Harvard professors to write letters of recommendation on their behalf as they apply to colleges (not just Harvard).

Many parents and students really believe that these college summer programs are the admissions ticket. We’re here to say that they’re just plain wrong, and we’ve been saying this for over 20 years. Do you know what it says when an applicant attended an expensive summer program? It says that mommy and daddy are wealthy and that their child is uncreative in that he or she can’t think of anything else to do for the summer but participate in an organized program that’s not that dissimilar to attending sleep-a-way camp or a teen tour. This type of program is not all that dissimilar to going to sleep-a-way camp or going on a teen tour. How do you think that comes across to admissions officers? Are they more likely to admit the children of privilege or the underprivileged? Unless that child of privileged is a legacy or a development case, the underprivileged kid is always going to win in highly selective college admissions.

These college summer programs are a major money-maker for universities across the nation. And they’re only growing in popularity. According to the “Bloomberg” piece, “Filling the dorms for the summer is a common method for colleges to make money, said Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, an organization that works to expand student access to higher education. ‘Colleges and universities are facing lots of budget pressure, and many of these programs draw $5,000, $7,000 or $10,000 per student in a few weeks,’ Merisotis said. ‘That’s pretty good money from the perspective of the universities.'”

So if you don’t want to pay for your child to attend one of these college summer programs, don’t do it. It could hurt their chances of admission to highly selective colleges. Should they be doing nothing all summer instead? Absolutely not. They should be working, pursuing their passions (intellectual, athletic, etc.), researching, and you get the idea. They should not be sitting on the beach tanning!


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  • Kristine Mears says:

    Some college summer camp programs are wonderful opportunities for students. Unfortunately, many do not deliver what both the student and parents expect in terms of quality education and experience. What they do provide the student is a week away from home, the thrill of independent living, and the opportunity to fall in love with a particular campus, to wit it’s lovely Gothic buildings, or perhaps the wide variety of comestibles in the dining hall. Hence when the time comes to develop a list of colleges to which the student will apply, the lovely memory of independent living at X University comes to mind.

  • It seems to me that this article is a bit simplistic. IMHO, a distinction needs to be made between “for-credit” summer programs for high schoolers (such as the “Summer Honors Intensive” or “Summer College” programs at Georgetown) and programs which, while fun, are not particularly academic or rigorous. As for the former (for-credit programs), how is competing for top grades with current students of the host university equivalent to a “teen tour” or “sleep-a-way camp”? I know that, if I were an admissions officer, I would be impressed by a high schooler who competed successfully with current students of my university during summer courses. Furthermore, I believe that your “sleep-a-way camp” claim ignores the rigor of (non-credit) language immersion programs like those run by Middlebury, in which the kids are prohibited from speaking English for one month.

    Just my .02

    • Bev Taylor says:

      Mr. Wickman,

      Thanks for writing! Middlebury does indeed offer a great language immersion program. Certainly a student can improve his/her language skills through this program. But one can also improve one’s Spanish language skills by creating an intensive tutoring program in which a student teaches ESL courses to new immigrants. That’s just one idea. We can go on. The larger point is that these summer programs (no matter what you or anyone else calls them) aren’t as impressive to admissions officers as many think. What they do say to admissions officers is that mommy and daddy have money and the student needed something to do over the summer. In that respect, these programs aren’t much different than sleep-a-way camp and teen tours. We stand behind our statement but respect your stance.

      • Steven Wickman says:

        Thanks for the reply, Bev. Our personal experience differed from the “sleep-a-way camps leading to admissions officer disdain” scenario.

        Our “unhooked” son, who will be an entering freshman (RD) at Stanford in September, did intensive academic (Spanish, Arabic, Middle East History) study programs every summer beginning in the summer preceding 9th grade. The admissions officer commented on how his passion for languages caught their eye.

        I do agree, however, that there are a lot of “fluffy” summer programs out there that look more like “fun camps” than academic challenges. I guess that it is really a matter of choosing a program that is challenging and that thematically “fits” with the student’s interests and aptitudes.

  • Vansh says:

    I am a high school senior from India. If I attend the credit summer courses, will it help my profile ?

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