We have about 60+ inches of snow here in the Boston area, so summer seems a long way off. No, really, we do! For high school students, however, NOW is the time to craft a summer plan that includes an academic focus. Colleges look for kids who are active learners, those who spend their free time pursuing fresh intellectual ideas in their academic area. Students should think about how to build on their academic/scholarly interests and go above and beyond this summer.
For a student who loves research and has a specific science interest, that might entail five weeks doing research in a lab. For a high-level french horn player, it might mean four weeks in a rigorous music camp. The key is not the brand name of the program (Stanford Summer School for instance) but rather the way the academic focus ties into the student’s scholarly niche. Students falsely assume attending a specific school’s summer school will help them get into that school – it won’t! In fact, these summer programs are huge money makers for top colleges who charge a premium for the name brand of attending. Some don’t even use their own professors to teach the summer courses. Want some evidence of this? Google “summer programs for high school students” and you will see over 20.3 million websites retrieved! The key is sifting through programs to find top level programs for college credit that will help you build evidence of your scholarly passion in a specific academic area.
The ironic part is that most programs (not all) accept almost anyone who applies (within reason). This is not true for all top college level programs—the Yale Ivy Scholars Program, for instance, reportedly accepts only 20% of applicants. We urge students to pick a program based on their interests for the love of learning. If you are a student interested in the history of science, for instance, you may not find an appropriate course at your local college, so the Harvard summer program, often called Harvard Secondary School Program (SSP), may be appropriate as they offer several courses in this area in 2015. Here are just a few: The Darwinian Revolution, Art and Science from the 15th to 20th Centuries, and Minds and Machines: The History of Computers, AI, and Robots. Not in the Boston area? No problem! There are online course options as well!
The moral of the story is search for what you really want to study—if the best class on impressionism happens to be at your local community college or state university, that’s fine. Don’t focus on the name brand of the program but on what the program actually covers. See our Ultimate Guide to Top Summer Programs for programs that have a high level of academic rigor.
Also, students who live in privileged areas may want to weave in work during summers to show they are not afraid to get their hands dirty. Many admissions officers had to work to put themselves through college and can hold it against students from areas like Greenwich, New York City, Beverly Hills, etc… who have never worked an actual job. What kind of job? The more low-level the better. Students often head in the other direction by obtaining fancy internships through parental connections. Admissions officers are not dense: no student is going to find an internship with a top hedge fund or law firm without parental intervention. Students would be better off pumping gas at the local gas station or working the cash register at CVS than just accepting a job at a fancy internship with no connection to their academic interests—that won’t impress colleges. Make your summers count! Deepen your area of academic interest by taking a college level course or reaching out to a professor for research opportunities. Remember, you will not only add to your academic heft by including a college transcript or research experience on your college application, you will also have more experiences to write about in your college essays!