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Which Summer Programs Do Colleges Like to See?

Part #1: Academic Programs

Parents often ask me me this question.

First off, summer programs that do not require acceptance are no more valuable than summer jobs, which help students earn money rather than cause parents to spend it. Jobs teach students valuable skills: independence, how to deal professionally with people of all ages, on-the-spot problem solving, time management, and sometimes mastering new technology. The opportunity to see how a business is run and even come up with creative suggestions to present to an open-minded supervisor is better stiil. Over the years, these experiences have yielded many engaging Common App personal statements and college-specific supplemental essays.

But there is a prevailing belief that a summer program, especially at a college, is better. These programs, while housed at colleges, are usually not connected to them, thus not enhancing chances of admissions (with a few exceptions). So while I don’t agree that pay-to-play programs, which are those that do not admit students based on their credentials and application, grab attention in the admissions office, they can personally benefit students who seek major/career direction while in high school, or those who have interests they would like to foster. The best programs allow students to produce something, which may include research, design, writing, working with a group on a presentation, or videos. Programs that are more passive (listening to speakers and lecturers, touring) have less value; students would do better to learn about a topic of interest by taking a free or inexpensive online course. Colleges are impressed by students who have academic curiosity, and with an online course, the point is developing knowledge.

If you want to choose a program with an eye towards admission, read about what happens in it. Choose one that is project-based. There’s still plenty of time for summer fun and exploration! Next week, I’ll focus on travel programs.


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