Back in the nineteenth century, French novelist Alphonse Karr was quoted as saying: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” which roughly translates to “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” We couldn’t help but think of this quote as we read “Pricey summer programs raise fairness questions” in yesterday’s edition of “The Boston Globe.” The following are excerpts from this article that hopefully will help parents and students as they consider the value of expensive summer programs:
“College admissions officers say they certainly have to weigh an applicant’s internships or farflung adventures. But a student can have an extraordinary experience in variety of ways, not all of which cost money, they note. Bill Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard University, said high-priced internships can be ‘wonderful experiences,’ but ‘in and of themselves, they will not give a student an advantage in the admissions process because the playing field is not level. The substantial majority of high school students cannot afford to do these things. I think there are many people now who understand there are plenty of activities, for example, working a full-time job in the summer or volunteer activities, that don’t have to be in Tanzania – they can be right down the street.'”
“Gil Villanueva, dean of admissions at Brandeis University in Waltham, said that travel abroad used to be impressive but is now ‘commonplace.’ His school looks for students who – whether they travel or not – show a desire to contribute to society, he said. He casts a careful eye on an application if a student has traveled across the globe but is not active in his or her community, Villanueva said. ‘While I think that’s exciting in terms of what that person might add to the campus, it might not be nearly as much as the individual who committed hours and hours in working for their local chapter of Habitat for Humanity or worked on their Eagle Scout project to enhance a park.'”
In recent years, these expensive summer programs have become more pervasive. Parents are paying thousands of dollars for their college bound children to enhance their extracurricular involvements, while students are finding more exotic places in which to do community service. Then there are those parents who are actually paying for their children to participate in non-paid internships. What students and parents fail to understand is that these pricey programs can sometimes do more harm than good because they highlight how the family’s affluence unfairly tilts the playing field.
In our blog post, Community Service as a Factor in Admissions, we wrote that students need to be creative, to think outside of the box. They need to do something different, something that will attract attention. Students don’t have to spend $6,000 to travel to the Fiji Islands to work with preschoolers or construct a nursing station. Through their school, synagogue, church, and together with their friends, or even on their own, students can do something very significant in their own community.
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