Summer Programs Flaunt Privilege

Avoid attending summer camp at elite universities (photo credit: Andrew Chen).

Thinking of attending a summer enrichment program at an elite university? If so, you’re likely not a regular reader of our college admissions blogs because our regular readers know all too well that fancy shmancy summer enrichment programs at elite universities are no way to go. You see, in the eyes of admissions officers, when you attend summer camp at Brown University (and summer camp is precisely how it’s perceived), you’re essentially signaling that you are privileged and you lack initiative. When a fancy summer enrichment program at an elite university costs about $10,000 — which is often about a quarter of the annual salary of some of the admissions officers reading your file — they’re not exactly inclined to root for you in the admissions process. And if you’re not inspiring admissions officers to root for you, well, then you’re not making a compelling case for your admission.

We’ve been outspoken through the years on the topic of how much we oppose these programs. Because these programs not only convey a student’s privilege but they’re not filled with genuine research opportunities that a student should pursue at local universities through their own initiative. Also, these programs explictly often say they will not help improve your odds of admission to the university. But what they should also articulate is they will hurt your odds of admission — to the school at which you’re doing the program and other universities. Imagine you don’t get in during the Early round and you did a fancy summer enrichment program at Duke University. Where do you think Dartmouth College admissions officers will assume you applied Early — whether it’s true or not? That’s right. Duke. We would much rather these admissions officers think you didn’t apply anywhere in the Early round because you were a procrastinator who wasn’t ready to commit. So these revenue-generating programs for universities really do students a great disservice. Basically, they’re great for the college’s coffers, bad for college applicants.

In fact, a piece in The Columbia Spectator this week by Zachary Shermele highlights just how overrated these programs really are. As he writes in his piece entitled “Columbia’s largest high school program raked in $20 million during the pandemic, but what are students paying for?,” “Highly selective U.S. universities have long advertised expensive pre-college programs to high school students. In fact, Dartmouth College is the only institution currently listed in the top 40 of the U.S. News and World Report rankings that does not offer some kind of high school program. Many of those programs, including Columbia’s, explicitly claim on their websites that attending will not guarantee admission to their undergraduate schools.” What these programs should say is not only will it not guarantee your admission but it will in fact hurt your case for admission. Yet that, of course, would not serve their bottom line. In any case, way to go, Dartmouth, for marching to the beat of your own drummer!

Have a question about summer enrichment programs at elite universities? Pose your question below and we’ll be sure to write back.

 
 

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