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Why attend an official college summer program?

In high school, you have the opportunity to make your summer vacations into intensive learning experiences. You could apply to any number of prestigious summer programs to further your study of mathematics, engineering, biomedical sciences, creative writing, business, journalism, physics–you name the subject, and there’s a summer program for it somewhere. These programs exist online and in person, and they’re often hosted by private companies, nonprofits, and universities. A handful of summer programs take place on college campuses, from liberal arts colleges in Ohio to Harvard University. 


Before you decide what kind of program you’re interested in, consider all these reasons to attend an official college summer program.

1. Living at a university will give you a preview of campus culture.

Every college or university campus has its own culture: a collection of social norms, activities, traditions, and amenities that define student life there. It can be difficult to succeed in college if you feel at odds with the campus culture, so it is good to get a general idea of whether or not you’re a good “fit” for the college before signing on. There are several ways to learn about each college or university’s campus culture, from talking to alumni, to reading blogs and following current students on social media. However, the best way by far is to live the culture. In most official college summer programs, you will live in a dorm, eat in the dining hall, attend classes with university professors and graduate students, and socialize through clubs and planned activities. You’ll be able to tell pretty quickly whether you feel included, motivated, and energized by what you experience—and whether or not you’d like to continue living in that culture for four years.

2. You’ll connect with intellectually driven peers.

A significant part of campus culture is the quality of interactions that students have with their peers. In college, you will likely learn far more from your friends than you do in your classes, both academically and socially speaking. The same can be true in high school, if you play your cards right. When you’re accepted to a highly competitive official college summer program, you’re being welcomed into a pool of equally talented, motivated peers. You’ll work on your problem sets and workshop your writing with them. You might decide to undertake independent research or start a business venture together. More importantly, you may form lifelong friendships that will only support your intellectual and personal growth through and beyond college. 

3. In your classes, you may connect with a long-term research mentor.

In addition to meeting friends and future co-workers, you’ll connect with a team of college professors and graduate students through your classes and research. Most universities hire a combination of local professors, professors from other universities, and graduate students as the faculty for their summer programs. This means that no matter which college summer program you attend, you will likely meet researchers who can tell you about a variety of different colleges and research programs. If you find any particular instructor to be an excellent thought partner and want to continue working with them, you can simply ask if they would be willing to mentor you or allow you to assist in their lab. It is far easier to make these kinds of requests once you have gotten to know a researcher through a course than it is to cold-email potential mentors. Even if you’re not looking for a research supervisor now, you may want one in a couple years, so think of your friendships with faculty as an intellectual investment in your future ideas!

4. You can use this program as a jumping-off point for a college tour.

For international students especially, getting into and traveling around the US can be a financial and logistical challenge. However, if you are admitted to an official college summer program, they will be able to offer you guidance and potentially financial aid to smooth the way. Once you’re at one US college for the summer, you might as well seize the chance to see others in the vicinity. After you wrap up your program, consider having a parent pick you up in person and visit at least a few nearby colleges with you. When you’re choosing where to apply to college, it will help to have visited as many campuses as possible, to get a feel for the culture and climate.

5. By applying, you’ll get a trial-run of the college application process.

The process of applying to college can be stressful due to the high stakes, level of competition, and byzantine system of submitting a million slightly different essays to each school. So too is the process of applying to summer programs. In fact, it may be slightly more challenging to apply to many different official college summer programs, because there is no common app (yet…) for this process. Instead of thinking of this as a burden, imagine it as a low-stakes, high-ceiling trial-run for the college app cycle. There’s no real penalty if you are rejected from all of your summer program apps, and it is better to know now if your method of writing application essays is not up to snuff. On the other hand, if you are admitted, you can think about recycling some of the methods (if not bits and pieces of the writing) that led to your success in this application. Just remember: the more competitive the program, the more accurate this trial-run will be.

6. Your experiences on campus may inspire a college application essay and/or research sample.

Ultimately, you’ll be walking away from your official college summer program experience with friends, mentors, a research project, and memories. Thinking about your future “memories” may sound cliché, but it’s actually a strategy for success on your college applications. Every single college essay that you write should include some kind of narrative and illustrative description to communicate a specific idea about who you are. Your descriptions and overall narrative will come from your life experiences—and many college essay prompts will ask you to “write about a time when you…” What if you could reply to a university’s essay prompt with a story about a specific experience, a moment of challenge or success, from your advanced research at that university? That might help your chances of admission. In preparation for this genre of essay writing, keep a journal documenting your daily experiences and instances of growth at your official college summer program.



We know how important summer programs are and how overwhelming the search can be; which is why Summer Apply is designed to help students save, organize, and view their favorite programs all in one, streamlined space.


To learn more, enquire with us here!