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Which Summer Programs Do Colleges Like to See?

Part #2: Travel Programs


Teen tour to Alaska? Mission trip to Costa Rica? Challenging hike through the Rockies?


Which has the most value?


The teen tour offers the exciting experience of seeing a striking new landscape, learning about the habitats of animals and indigenous cultures as well as greater environmental issues. Before my students leave, regardless of the destination, I tell them to keep their eyes, ears, and minds open. For many, the trips are purely social. But the tour is not a bad choice, just a missed opportunity for those unready to appreciate it.


The well-intended mission trip often spurs the classic clichéd essay: (“We went there to help poor people, but they wound up helping us when our bus broke down. I learned how fortunate I am…”) However, students who genuinely care about a specific mission’s purpose can learn how the environment and economics and politics (think supply chain) impact every aspect of people’s lives in the developing world. Students can get in touch with their power to help, as well as their powerlessness in complicated situations. They can observe how people problem solve with few resources, sometimes more successfully than those with more advantages. Best of all, students on mission trips can create relationships that transcend a language barrier and last longer than a summer.


What about an adventure trip that challenges both bodies and minds? An activity that benefits the student alone may result in a personal triumph. But when students team up, share tasks, and depend on one another for safety on a perilous hike, they bond in an intimate way that makes the joys of the experience unforgettable. These character-building personality traits put students in touch with their strength, vulnerability, and place in the universe.


Summer travels can enlighten students and spark powerful essays and interviews. It’s all about readiness and depth of engagement.






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