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How to Choose an Academic Summer Program

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choosing summer program

You might be thinking, “Why would I want to go to an academic summer program?” School will be out and you’d probably prefer to spend your summer at the beach catching up on Netflix shows with your friends.

Still, there are several reasons signing up for a summer program is worth your time. High school summer programs usually take place on college campuses, with participants sleeping in dorm rooms. These summer programs are available in just about every area of study: creative writing, international diplomacy, engineering, medicine, environmental studies, foreign languages, drama, and many more.

Benefits of summer programs include:

  • Getting a preview of the college experience
  • Expanding your knowledge of a subject area/career that interests you
  • Gaining hands-on experience in this area of interest
  • Building friendships with others who have similar interests
  • Enhancing your college application

To maximize these benefits, of course, you’ll want to choose an excellent program that’s a great fit for you. Here are some important factors to consider

Matching a summer program to your interests

Before even starting your search, make a list of the subjects and careers that interest you. Don’t limit yourself by assuming there won’t be a program based on one of your interests—you might be surprised.

There are top-notch summer programs in common areas of interest like art, computer programming, and foreign languages, and there are also great options for more specialized interests including forensic science, entrepreneurship, social justice, and even international diplomacy. And if none of these ideas interest you, what does? There’s most likely a summer camp for that too.

So, take a few minutes to brainstorm all the subjects and careers that excite you. List anything that comes to mind—no overthinking or second-guessing.

What story does your summer program tell?

Admissions experts advise that college applications should have an overall narrative. Think about what yours will be as you choose a summer program. For instance, your college application might tell the story of a STEM-enthusiast who also loves to play the guitar. Or maybe you’re a Star Wars junkie who wants to study astronomy or an athlete fascinated by the relationship between science and sports.

You get the point. Whatever your story is, it’s helpful to choose a summer program that further demonstrates your motivation and passion in that area. And since your story should be based on your interests, the list you created in Step 1 probably applies to this step too. Just remember to zero in on those that connect to your story as you search for a summer program.

Do you want a selective summer program?

Most high school summer camps can be divided into two categories: merit-based and money-based. Consider the following:

  • Do you have to fill out an application for the program?
  • If so, how extensive and thorough was the application?
  • Is there a limited number of seats available?
  • How costly is the program?

Many high school summer programs carry a hefty price tag, and some of them will accept anyone who’s willing to pay. This tells college admissions officers more about your resources than about your abilities.

Consider applying to a selective program that accepts a limited number of students based on merit. Some of these may still be costly, but some will be low-cost or even free. Often, scholarships, financial aid, and payment plans will be available.

It’s also essential to conduct some research on the reputation of the programs you’re considering.

Learn more about summer programs in the TeenLife Guide to Overnight Summer Programs

Will the summer program provide you with unique, hands-on experiences?

One of the main benefits of summer programs is that they often offer hands-on experiences it would be hard to find anywhere else. Look into the unique experiences provided by each summer camp you’re considering.

Depending on the subject/career area, a good summer program might allow you to:

  • Conduct research projects with a mentor
  • Make a pitch or complete a business case project
  • Cover news or sports events
  • Participate in debates, presentations, or performances
  • Meet and talk to professionals in the field and/or take behind-the-scenes tours of relevant sites and organizations

Most summer programs have at least some cost associated with them, so you want to make sure it’s worth it. What experiences will you gain? What will you learn? Will you participate in activities and events that you might not get a chance to participate in otherwise?

These experiences could give you valuable insight on a career or field that you’re interested in, helping you determine whether it’s truly a good fit for you.Plus, meaningful hands-on experiences make great anecdotes for your college application essays and personal statements.

Location, location, location

Location is another important factor to consider. How far away from home are you willing to travel? Remember that you may spend three to six weeks at this location.

Are you interested in traveling somewhere familiar, or would you prefer somewhere you’ve never been before? Do you want to spend several weeks of your summer in a big city or a rural area? Does it matter if the camp is located near a beach, in the mountains, close to scenic trails? These factors may or may not be important to you, so weigh them accordingly.

Also, it’s a great bonus if the program happens to be located at a college that you might be interested in attending. Spending several weeks living in the dorms, eating in the dining halls, and potentially meeting professors and students is a best-case scenario for gauging if the college is a good fit. While you’re there, you can gather insight and details to share on your application to that school.

Program costs

As we mentioned above, the best programs aren’t necessarily the costliest. In fact, a super expensive price tag may be a sign that the program d is not especially selective or merit-based.

However, most of these programs will carry a cost, and some will be quite expensive. After all, they’ll be feeding you, providing accommodation, and spending money on the materials and travel expenses for your activities and field trips. And if you have expert guest speakers, the camp will be paying for those too.

So, before you get too excited about a summer program, consider your budget. How much are your parents willing to contribute? If it’s not the full price, how will you make up the difference? Does the program offer payment plans, financial aid, or scholarships? Choose a program that’s affordable.

Final Thoughts: What to Consider When Choosing a Summer Camp

Summer programs are enriching, exciting learning experiences that can give your college applications a boost. To choose the right program for you, consider:

How well it fits with your interests and your college application “story”Whether the program is selective and merit-based, or merely profit-drivenIf the program will provide you with unique, meaningful hands-on experiencesLocationCost

By considering these factors, you’ll find an impressive academic summer program that provides you with important insights, memorable experiences, and maybe even lifelong friendships.

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Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college admissions assistance and mentorship company. Transizion donates a portion of profits to low-income students in need of college and career assistance. Jason has been featured in the Washington Post, NBC News, BBC, Bustle, Forbes, Fast Company, Fox Business, Reader’s Digest, and a number of other outlets.