Looking for a differentiator in your college application? Check out college summer programs. Your activity list matters in the high-stakes college admissions process, especially if you choose a test-optional application route. Highly selective colleges throughout the country have received record levels of applicants over the past two admissions cycles and they need ways to evaluate you — beyond your outstanding GPA and impressive standardized test scores!
Most families do not recognize the significance of activities or consider college summer programs without college planning guidance. Perfect grades and high standardized test scores are simply the beginning. An impact-driven list of activities increases your likelihood of acceptance.
Aside from enhancing your application, there are endless benefits to college summer programs. Let us go over twelve key benefits, feedback from students about their experiences, and walk through over thirty summer programs to put on your radar.
Benefits of College Summer Programs
What are the benefits of college summer programs? Let us dive into the fun. You will see how college summer programs can add a shot of espresso to your résumé and bring your activity list to show-stopping levels.
Benefit 1: It strengthens your college application.
Admissions officials are not simply looking for well-rounded students, they look for well-rounded specialists to make up their incoming freshman class. College summer programs do that — they help applicants craft a specialization edge in their applications.
A college summer program can show them your intellectual curiosity, drive, leadership skills, and specialization in a major, especially when a college summer program dovetails with other related activities. Many students “say” they are interested in engineering or artificial intelligence, but a summer program experience actually demonstrates that interest. Summer programs can be strategically integrated into your activity list.
Applicants can list up to ten activities in their Common App activity section, which serves as your résumé to colleges — be sure to make each activity count!
Benefit 2: It safeguards the college investment.
A modest investment in one college summer program could pay dividends compared to the annual cost of a college. Students who get immersed in a particular major can ascertain if that area of study is truly an interest or if they should consider other majors.
If you can test-drive learning opportunities, you can save time and money. When students switch majors, they often delay graduating, which ultimately costs more for classes, additional semesters living on campus, and compounding loan interest. It also creates a loss-of-income situation because students must delay their career wages as they spend extra time on campus to complete graduation requirements.
Benefit 3: You can explore your passions.
Maybe you have a calling for marine biology but your school has limited classes and learning opportunities. Envision a marine biology research program along with SCUBA diving and living on a catamaran in the Caribbean. Summer programs like Broadreach or SeaTrek can check off all these boxes and improve your college application.
One of our clients attended these exact summer programs and it was key to her acceptance into the University of Miami’s Marine Biology and Ecology Program. Being able to craft key achievements from this experience was huge for her because the 2020-2021 admissions cycle turned out the highest undergraduate application volume ever. (Note that the 2021-2022 admissions cycle will set new records as well!)
Our client arrived at the University of Miami with a clearer focus of her academic interests in marine biology and dove into research opportunities right away.
Benefit 4: You can access research opportunities.
Why wait until college to dive into research projects? College summer programs can help you start meaningful research projects early.
There is no question about it: You will have a competitive advantage when you add research to your college activity list. Research projects demonstrate a high level of academic curiosity, drive, and self-discipline. MIT even reserves a section of its application for students to upload research projects completed outside of high school.
Polygence uniquely provides students with a one-on-one research project opportunity. Students are matched with a mentor based on their career interests and they can develop a research project over the next three to six months. Best of all, Polygence provides research opportunities for a wide range of disciplines beyond STEM fields.
Benefit 5: They offer unmatched personal growth.
Summer programs do not guarantee that you will be admitted to your dream school, so it is important to prioritize a growth experience. This may mean stepping out of your academic comfort zone, meeting new people from different backgrounds, traveling to a new city, and/or taking on new responsibilities.
The opportunity to experience residential life on a college campus presents its own outlet for personal growth. You will learn to balance freedom and academic responsibilities. Staying in a dorm room, bonding with a roommate, eating in a dining hall, studying, and having a little fun on campus will get you acclimated to college life!
Benefit 6: You can build your network.
Learning from software engineers at Google, Disney and Volvo can enlighten you and build your network. (Check out iD Tech.)
Always make a point to foster connections with professionals or professors during your summer program. You would be surprised at how easily you can create meaningful networking connections and possibly even land an amazing letter of recommendation.
One of our recent clients, Neev, received an impressive letter of recommendation from the CEO of iD Tech, Pete Ingram-Cauchi. Neev attended multiple summer camps at elite universities such as Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University and completed over 270 hours of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data science project-based learning.
Check out a paragraph of our client’s letter of recommendation from Mr. Ingram-Cauchi — it helped his engineering application go from ordinary to extraordinary:
“Neev has proven skill mastery that only 372 out of 305,261 students have achieved. This is an extraordinary accomplishment. To reach this elite status in our program, each student must have proven dedication and technical mastery while demonstrating outstanding soft skills including teamwork, problem-solving, and leadership.”
Benefit 7: It gives you a test run for the college application process.
You have to apply to college summer programs, though they are fairly straightforward. Some selective college summer programs require an essay, transcript, letter of recommendation, and résumé. You may even need a portfolio for an architecture or art application requirement such as the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design programs.
If you want to attend a selective college after high school, you will learn to manage college summer program admissions requirements while balancing sports, activities, and friends. It can be harder to juggle than you realize. It helps prepare you for the college application process because you can:
- Develop time management skills
- Revise essays
- Work ahead of application deadlines
- Deal with disappointing news at times
The amount of work involved in college applications can be like adding another AP class to your schedule, so get prepared with college summer program applications.
Benefit 8: You hit college essay content gold.
It is easy for admissions officials to detect which applicants are genuinely excited about the path they have been creating for themselves. Passions are unmistakable in college essays, especially when they connect to meaningful experiences and projects.
College summer programs can add another dimension to your application. You can add these elements to your essay:
- Transformations you gained personally or academically
- Overcoming adversity
- Turning points in learning subject matter
- Unexpected outcomes
When you are ready to get serious about your college essay writing, check out these twelve essay tips!
Benefit 9: You can choose from in-person or virtual college summer programs.
Many college summer programs will keep their virtual options available. Students who prefer a virtual learning environment will not miss a beat.
For example, the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio Residential Program will be entirely online in the summer of 2022. You can craft some compelling prose and enjoy the camaraderie of other writers online.
Benefit 10: You can keep your skills sharp.
Want to keep up your reading, math, writing, and problem-solving skills over the summer months? A college summer program can help you avoid summer learning loss from any academic ground you gained in your junior year. Spending too much time without a structured and challenging learning environment can negatively impact your senior year.
You may have a fall SAT or ACT testing date, which means you will have to submit a strong score with November 1 college applications. You may have also stepped up the academic rigor with your senior year classes and need to be ready to start the school year strong!
Benefit 11: You can earn college credits.
Looking for a summertime incentive with a little learning in your favorite subject? Take your interest in your favorite subject to the next level with hands-on labs, group projects, and guest lectures. Many college summer programs offer the same curriculum and learning experiences as an undergraduate class, which means you can also earn college credit.
Summer programs usually have smaller class sizes, which leads to more discussion and dialogue. Another bonus: Courses are generally taught by professors, which will help you understand the rigor needed to be successful in college. Curious about a liberal arts education summer opportunity? Check out Skidmore’s pre-college summer program.
Benefit 12: You can keep costs down.
An Ivy League or any college summer program will not guarantee you admission to the university, so do not feel as if you need to break the budget to attend. You can find many programs available at various price points that can provide a tremendous learning experience. Michigan State University offers reasonably priced summer programs. Be sure to inquire and research colleges in your region!
Some programs even offer scholarships or aid to offset the cost. Carnegie Mellon University offers full scholarships for tuition, housing, and dining for applicants who demonstrate financial need.
Make it a Summer to Remember!
Have a few questions about navigating the college summer program world? Ready to sign up for a college summer program but unsure whether a particular program fits you academically or financially?
We can help ensure you choose the enrichment benefits while developing your college planning goals. Contact Campus to Career Crossroads to get your summer plans going in the right direction!
Our Favorite College Summer Programs
Check out some of the career possibilities below but note that numerous other programs could be the right fit for your interests and your budget.
- University of California – COSMOS Program
- Johns Hopkins Engineering Innovation
- Texas A&M – Camp SOAR
- Virginia Tech’s Pre-College Engineering Programs
- Space Camp
- Girls Who Code
- Yale Young Global Scholars – Innovations in Science and Technology
- Bucknell University Engineering Camp
- University of Pennsylvania Leadership in the Business World
- Lehigh University – Digital and Social Media Marketing
- Foundation for Teaching Economics – 18 participating universities throughout the country
- Launch X Entrepreneurship Program
- Wake Forest – An Insider’s Guide to Business
- University of Miami – Business, Law, and Global Studies
- Georgetown University Community Impact and Leadership Academy
- Brown University Leadership Institute
- Notre Dame Leadership Academy
- Bank of America Student Leaders Program
- Boston Leadership Institute
- Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
- Savannah College of Arts and Design (SCAD) – Rising Stars
- Pratt Institute
- Academy of Art University
- Northwestern University Theatre Arts
- NYU Tisch Summer High School
- Tufts University Graphic Design Boot Camp
Not see your dream program on the list? Connect with us and we will help you find the right match!
Students Say it Best
What do students think of their summer programs? Check out two of our high school clients’ experiences below.
“I know med school will be a long road, what with the years and costs involved. I wanted to find out whether pre-med would be a fit with a summer program with EXPLO. I learned so much about clinical research, public health issues, and bioethics — topics I’d never considered in high school. The guest speakers from Harvard and Penn inspire me to serve rural communities in need of medical care when I become a doctor.” — Natalie
“My summer program at Penn prepared me for college and developed my self-confidence. I now know I’ll be able to juggle all the demands. Learning from Ivy League professors seemed intimidating at first, but they were extremely friendly. My experiences living on campus helped me adjust to what to expect as a freshman.” — Jake
Will a college summer program take all of my summer?
Absolutely not! You will need to dedicate some time to the experience, but not all of your summer. Some programs last for a week or two. If you want a more in-depth experience or college credits, plan for six weeks. Most students benefit tremendously from a weeklong program. Overall, you should have plenty of time to enjoy your summer with friends and spend time at the beach!
When is the best time to search for college summer programs?
Start in the fall months to get ahead of application deadlines. Planning early will give you plenty of time to research opportunities and find the most rewarding summer program. Similar to the college admissions process, the sooner you start, the more you will reduce your stress levels.
Do I only need to attend one college summer program?
Attending one college summer program is great, but if you can attend multiple programs, you will add more educational experiences to your résumé. Starting college planning early in the high school years can help you maximize a college summer program. Cultivating a thoughtful list of extracurricular activities takes time!
Will college summer programs guarantee me admission into my dream college?
No, a summer program offered at a prestigious college will not enhance your chances of getting into that college. Always choose a learning opportunity that fits your goals, interests, and budget.