Will Taking Summer School at an Ivy League College Improve My Chances of Admission There?
The short answer is “No and Yes.”
Summer academic programs, sometimes called “pre-college” programs, provide no edge for admission to most colleges. For one, though these programs are sometimes run by the colleges themselves, at other times they are run by independent companies. Whatever the case, admissions reps openly admit that the programs provide no admission edge. (Apparently, though, there is one exception: Carnegie Mellon.)
For the rest of the programs & colleges, here’s what the summer pre-college programs do.
First, inspire. They can give important specific shape to a student’s general interest in a field, through the coursework and any resulting projects. This specific shape allows the student to speak convincingly and concretely about his academic direction, not just at that college but any college.
Second, summer programs make it possible for the student to speak concretely about that specific college in the “Why Us?” supplemental essay. The student has campus reference points and may know about many of the options at that campus. She has more material than just a website with which to distinguish that campus from others.
Third, summer programs can deepen the student’s intellectual engagement back at his high school. After the program, he might show more purpose in his classes, which can help him reap the rewards of a better teacher recommendation for college. (Teachers notice and will comment on genuine intellectual excitement.) To receive this benefit, students would need to attend the program between sophomore and junior year.
Fourth, a summer program may clarify for the student whether she wants to attend that particular campus. Perhaps she will find that the dorms are just too shabby to bear. Or perhaps she will find going to school in the countryside duller than her brother’s YouTube channel.
Fifth, attending a summer program has a minor effect on the “Interest” factor, which is now more considered in admissions than it was. But I stress that this effect is minor; it applies only if the student is otherwise a top candidate for that college. And that does not apply to most students attending pre-college programs. Too often, parents try to use these programs to compensate for underachievement and thus make the student appear like a top-tier candidate. However, attending a summer program never has this effect on an application.
Finally, one advantage of summer programs at colleges is that many of them offer high school academic credit. Each high school reserves the option to grant that credit or not, but if they do, it will appear on the student’s transcript.
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