Bill O’Neill TeenLife.com
This article appears in Summer Camp magazine 2019.
A classroom might seem like the last place high-schoolers would want to spend those precious few weeks of summer vacation, but there might be all kinds of benefits.
There are hundreds of pre-college summer programs, many on college campuses, that offer both credit and non-credit options that range in length, cost and intensity. Many offer day and residential options. They offer high school students the chance to try out life on campus and even get some college credits under their belts.
Courses range from the arts to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and from entrepreneurship to foreign language. Some last a week; other last several weeks and offer college credit.
“Taking college courses during the summer can be a great way to start to get a feel for the academic expectations of a college classroom and can enhance the rigor of your high school curriculum,” said Mike Lynch, director of undergraduate admission at Emerson College in Boston who meets high school students when they attend Emerson’s summer programs. “Doing well in a college course can help admission officers begin to answer the question, ‘Is this student ready for college-level work?'”
A way to explore new ground
Summer courses should be about exploration or enrichment, said Andrew Palumbo, dean of admissions at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.
“What we don’t want is students trying to impress the admissions committee and guess what we’re looking for,” he said. “There’s not one formula that’s going to lead to admission. At a school like WPI, we’re completing an individual, holistic review for each student that’s going to take into consideration their personal context.”
Summer courses won’t make or break admission for a student, he says, but having them on your resume will give admissions officers some insight as to things that are important to you.
“High school summers are a finite resource. How students choose to use the summer tells us a little bit about that applicant,” Palumbo says.
Show that you love a challenge
David Dollins agrees that taking college-credit courses can be advantageous for high school students. Dollins is assistant vice president of enrollment management at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. He’s also worked in admissions at Northern Arizona University and Colorado State.
“It shows hard work and dedication, and that grit component is something that a lot of admissions officers are looking for,” he said. “College has highs and lows during the four years. Summer courses show they can do college-level work, but also that they’ve challenged themselves and they are motivated. Faculty members love students who are engaged in the academic experience.”
Classes in an overnight summer program can give future college students “a confidence boost,” said Palumbo.
“One of the most difficult parts for most college students is the transition to a residential experience,” he said.
But students who have participated in overnight summer programs on college campuses learn more than academics and have an advantage over other incoming freshmen.
“They’ve gotten over the hiccups of how do you engage with other students when you don’t know anyone,” he said. “What is it like to have some back-and-forth with a college professor? They’re having some of these experiences earlier, so they have a little comfort that their peers don’t.”
Check whether credits will count
One advantage, especially for STEM students, is that taking a course or two for credit before college can help them progress to hands-on projects and upper level courses earlier in their college careers, says Palumbo.
But that’s not always the case, he warns. Some colleges want to be sure students all have the same foundation in a course.
“A calculus class should be a calculus class, but, in reality, colleges and universities make decisions, whether it’s calculus or physics, about what’s going to be offered in an introductory course and how that supports all of the coursework that students scaffold on top of that foundation,” he said.
That’s why it’s important to check into whether you’ll be able to transfer credits you earn over the summer.
“There’s no foolproof way of knowing,” said Palumbo. “It’s going to be different for every institution. A lot of schools have a credit-transfer database on their website. It will list what colleges and courses have received credit at that institution.”
And course credit may not be the most important takeaway from a summer program.
“From my perspective, the real value of a summer course is the experience. The secondary value is the potential flexibility it brings with credits,” Palumbo says.
If you do want to rack up some advance credits, general education courses are going to be most beneficial, says Dollins.
“They will help you advance through the general education curriculum more quickly and get into your major sooner. College level math, English 101 and 102; just knock that out of the way.”
Palumbo encourages students also to explore something new.
“Particularly in the STEM world, there is a hyper-focus on the major,” he said. “Maybe applicants are great at math and science, but they’ve also challenged themselves and excelled in the social sciences or a language or English. We don’t want them to lose that interest or that skill set.”
The best part of taking summer college courses, Dollins says, is that it helps to demystify college course work.
“There’s an impression that college is going to be more difficult. It is more challenging, but it’s very doable for students,” he said. “Summer courses help you build the confidence to succeed during your first year and beyond.”
If you’re looking to explore academic summer programs for high school students, you might want to check out these:
- ACLU Summer Advocacy Institute, Washington, D.C.: aclu.org/issues/aclu-summer-institute
- Boston University Summer Term: bu.edu/summer
- Brown University Pre-College Programs, Providence, Rhode Island: precollege.brown.edu
- EF International Language Campuses: ef.edu
- Emory University Pre-College Program, Atlanta: precollege.emory.edu
- Envision Experience, nationwide campuses: envisionexperience.com
- Georgetown Summer Programs for High School Students, Washington, D.C.: bit.ly/2FxqPd1
- iD Tech Camps, nationwide campuses: idtech.com
- Middlebury Interactive Languages, Vermont: middleburyinteractive.com
- Quarter Zero, nationwide campuses: quarterzero.com
- School of the New York Times: nytedu.com
- Sotheby’s Pre-College Summer Programs: sothebysinstitute.com/new-york/summer-study/pre-college
- Stanford University Pre-College Studies, California: spcs.stanford.edu
- Summer@Wellesley/Wellesley College, Massachusetts: wellesley.edu/summer
- UConn Pre-College Summer, Storrs, Connecticut, precollege-summer.uconn.edu
- UMass Summer Programs, Amherst, Massachusetts: umass.edu/summer/precollege.html
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