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    How Summer Programs Can Boost College Applications

    Posted December 19, 2023, 10:00 am by TeenLife

    Summer programs are a great way to explore new interests, follow your passion, and make new friends. You can participate online or in-person; stay overnight, or just attend during the day. You can experience a summer in the woods, in the middle of the ocean, or in the hallowed halls of some of the finest academic institutions in the world.

    But a question remains: will a summer program boost your chances on your college application? If so, how? What kind of summer program should you look for? How can you use your experience to make you stand out?

    Summer Programs Can Help Your College Application

    Yes, summer programs can help your college application. But how it can help is up to the applicant and the school they’re applying to. Kate Sonnenberg from KS College Success emphasized that “the program itself matters less than what they learn about themselves and how they grow from the summer experience – whether it’s domestic or international service, a pre-college academic program, or an internship…”

    However, she made it clear that “students must do things that interest them for the intrinsic benefit because it is always impossible to predict what will ‘move the needle’ in college admissions.” In fact, the biggest takeaway students and their families should walk away with is that “[a]ny growth experience is a good experience, as long as the student can explain it to colleges in their application.”

    “Growth” is a constant running theme in college admissions. No matter the year or the incoming freshman class, college admission boards across the country want to know how their future graduates grew or will grow into their own on campus. However what is considered growth and meaningful isn’t a “one size fits all” situation. Growth depends on the individual, their interests, and their personal shortcomings.

    Additionally, Ms. Sonnenberg points out that students can use summer programs as a chance to push “themselves out of their comfort zone” and to be “in community with others” as a way to show growth and the positive impact they had on others. 

    Dr. Eric Endlich, founder of Top College Consultants, suggests you can also use summer programs as a chance to get a sneak peek of what college life could be like. You can attend your dream college’s pre-college program where you can live on campus and socialize with other, like-minded students. While attending a college’s pre-college program does not give you an automatic “in” that school, it does show colleges that you are serious about taking the next step to higher education. 

    The experts agree: summer programs can make a meaningful and positive impact on your college applications. So how do you make sure it comes through?

    How You Mention Your Summer Program Matters

    There are many ways you can mention your summer program in your college application. Dr. Endlich points out that platforms like Common App or the UC Application ask you to list activities you participated in during high school. This can be “a great place to spell out how many hours you spent in the program and what you accomplished,” but the space is limited. 

    Not every college or university conducts interviews for incoming freshmen. If you do get an interview, then you have a chance to mention your summer program. However, Dr. Endlich and Ms. Sonnenberg both emphasize that it’s important to mention your summer experience if it is related to the question. Whether it’s an oral interview or an essay, it’s important to focus on answering the question and finding a natural way to mention your experience. 

    What Types of Summer Programs Will Boost My College Application?

    While everyone hopes for a clear answer, the truth is that the program that will “boost” a student’s application is wholly dependent on the student. 

    For example, Dr. Endlich points out that students who are applying to a program that requires a portfolio (like art school) will want to look for a summer program that can improve their portfolio. He also mentions that students who have a field of study in mind, like becoming a physician, may want to see out programs that do a “deeper dive” into that field. Taking a pre-med program for high school students can indicate a long term commitment to your future. 

    In general, if you are eyeing a highly selective college or university, then summer programs with admissions requirements are considered more favorably. This would be a pre-college program that has an application, essay, letters of recommendation, high school transcript, or some combination of those requirements, and not all students that apply get accepted. 

    Three Ways Summer Programs Can Help Your College Application

    College admissions experts Kate Sonneberg and Dr. Eric Endlich have weighed in. What are their key insights and advice?

    1. Pick a summer program that can give you insight and a headstart on the next stage. If you need to build up your portfolio or get a sneak peek at life in your future career, then find a summer program that can do exactly that.
    2. Don’t force it; mention your summer program if/when it comes up naturally. Whether it’s in an interview, activities list, or an essay, make sure your summer program is mentioned in a way that isn’t forceful. It is a part of your application and not the focus. For example, you could describe your leadership, conflict resolution, or other skills and how the summer program you attended helped you to develop them.
    3. Selective summer programs are great, but you need to show growth in the end. While selective programs are indicators to colleges with low acceptance rates, it is not the biggest requirement. Showing that the program resulted in greater self-awareness and personal growth is what matters. 

    TeenLife’s Summer Program section is a great place to begin your search for a best fit program. Start by choosing several interests to explore and then use the remaining filters to narrow down the options. Then, when you have 2 to 4 good options, reach out to the programs for more information. We strongly encourage you to ask to speak to a past participant before making a final decision. 

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    For more information on this and other great programs for high school students, go to www.teenlife.com.