What You Need To Know About Summer Pre-College Programs

Nowadays, pre-college programs have become one of the most popular ways academically competitive high school students spend their summers. The programs tend to involve students taking a course at a university, with most staying in the dorms throughout the duration of the course. In some cases, participants can gain college credit. If not, they are given a certificate of completion and an evaluation from their instructor at the end of the session.

During the summer of 2012, I attended Columbia University’s Summer Program for High School Students and had an absolutely amazing time. But these programs aren’t for everyone. There are definitely a few pros and cons to consider before deciding to apply.

You’ll have a lot of fun

Several of my friends have attended these types of programs at various colleges and they’ve all loved them. You get to meet new people from all over the world, live on a beautiful campus, and explore the surrounding area. Plus, it’s sort of fun to live in the dorms for some reason.

It’s like summer camp but the grown-up, college version.

It’s super expensive

The cost is usually thousands of dollars. Living in the dorms isn’t cheap. And if you attend a program in a major city, you’ll likely be tempted to do lots of touristy activities, which will just add to the bill. It’s not worth the price if you’re just looking for a fun, social experience.

However, you can decrease the cost if you choose to commute. Plus, there are shorter programs that only last for one week rather than three or four.

Writing an application is good practice

Most programs require you to fill out a set of questions that somewhat resemble a college application. You may also have to get recommendations from teachers. It’s good practice for when the real deal rolls around, but it’s also a decent amount of work.

It’s just like college! …but it’s also nothing like college

In some ways, doing the summer program is a great way to learn about a school you might be interested in applying to. You can get a chance to find out what life is like living on campus. You may also be taught by professors, so you’ll get to see what college classes are like.

But at the same time, it won’t exactly replicate the college experience. You aren’t meeting any actual students of the university, so you don’t know what the typical student is like. Also, many of the high school summer program classes will probably be a lot easier and more fun than a real college class. At a lot of programs, you don’t get real grades, just an evaluation.

Attending the program won’t get you admitted to the college

Contrary to popular belief, attending one of these programs will not make you a shoo-in for admission to the school itself. Doing the program is a good way to demonstrate interest, but it won’t play any sort of major factor in your admissions decision. In fact, colleges will probably be more inclined to admit you if you get a job, internship or do community service over the summer.

You’ll learn a lot

The main reason you should do a summer program is because you want to learn more about a subject you are really interested in. The course you take may help you advance your skills and do better in high school classes. It may even help you decide what to major in in college.

Interested in attending a program?

Here’s a list of the best ones around the country.


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  • Nadira Berman

    As a Summer Marketing Intern, Nadira is excited to help high schoolers prepare for the SAT and ACT. As a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, she is considering studying economics. In her free time, she reports for the school newspaper and styles photo shoots for the school's fashion magazine. Besides fashion and journalism, her passions include bagels, smoothies and Netflix.

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