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Do summer programs help in admissions?

anxiousmommyanxiousmommy Posts: 31Registered User New Member
edited November 2012 in Parents Forum
My D is currently a junior in HS (my second child) and is interested in a science/premed track. We live in a very affluent and "competitive" community and are surrounded by kids who do the most extraordinary (at least that's how it feels) ec's. My D is a bright kid and a good kid but she has not invented the wheel. I would love to indulge her wish to do a summer program somewhere, and though I realize they can have a multitude of benefits, do they actually give kids an edge? In our town it seems like many of them do. I am torn because for the past two summers she has worked, volunteered and participated in pre-season athletics. In fact last summer she had two paying jobs and also completed an online course for her HS while completing AP work that was due at the start of school. One of her science teachers has "nominated" her for programs for kids interested in premed like "Lead America" and "The National Youth Leadership Forum". When I saw these my alarm bells began to ring. We have also been told about a program for HS kids that is connected to Doctors Without Borders. I have also researched potential programs at a number of schools. I just don't know if any of them are worth it. Is she better off continuing on the track she's on and working/volunteering(first aid and hospital) or dropping something to do one of these programs. We could pay for it and since she almost never asks for anything I want to give her this "opportunity". I just don't know which ones, even if they don't help in admissions, would give her a great experience that is not just a trip full of well-off kids who want to pad their resumes. Any first hand experience or suggestions?
Post edited by anxiousmommy on
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Replies to: Do summer programs help in admissions?

  • Carla2012Carla2012 Posts: 263Registered User Junior Member
    I think admissions people are very aware of the differences between activities done out of interest and activities pursued to gain "advantage" to college. I think its very important to be as genuine as possible in your activities. If the program is one that really interests your child and fits with your budget, do it for that sake - not for admissions advantage. But real work experience and volunteering is always well received, so don't sell your DD's EC's short. It sounds like she is on a good path.
  • muckdogs07muckdogs07 Posts: 1,166Registered User Senior Member
    My three kids have attended summer academic camps at Duke, Vanderbilt, and UVA. I think they can help because often the summer teacher (typically a grad student) usually writes a glowing recommendation at the end of the camp session that makes a nice addition to the application. Also, each of the camps challenged the kids and also gave them an opportunity to study things not offered in HS (creative writing, philosophy, anthropology).

    As for helping with admissions, son #1 attended UVA and Vandy camps and was admitted at UVA (in state) but rejected at Vandy despite receiving a glowing recommendation from a Vandy grad student. He was a competitive applicant, who was wait listed at Chicago, Hopkins, and Duke. But some of his friends at the Vandy camp with similar academic profiles did get admitted to Vandy. The twins attended UVA and Duke summer camps. They are applying to both schools this year and so we will see if it helps.

    Even if it does not help, I would still recommend doing it as a an experience that will expand horizons and also get the child used to being away from home for a few weeks which will likely make the college transition easier.
  • M's MomM's Mom Posts: 4,562Registered User Senior Member
    So it only for the experience. Adcoms know that kids from affluent families can pay for these 'enrichment' programs so it neither helps nor hurts for purposes of admission. If she will benefit, no reason not to - but her current ECs sound fine and potentially even better if she can show some initiative, creativity and leadership by stepping up her engagement in a current EC. Letters from profs at these programs also tend not to make a difference unless it says that this student is heads and shoulders above the caliber of students at that school.
  • anxiousmommyanxiousmommy Posts: 31Registered User New Member
    Muckdogs did your kids do Vanderbilt's program for talented youth or the PAVE program? We've gotten a lot of literature about PAVE.
  • OlipondOlipond Posts: 150Registered User Junior Member
    First of all, those "leadership" camps are a silly racket, and I do not think Adcoms are the slightest bit impressed. Now, there are some genuine programs (Telluride) that add prestige to an application.
    However, reading over some of the 'accepted' threads from last year, I noticed that a few of the 'lesser' Ivy's rejected some stellar stats kids, and there seemed to be a common theme: The rejected kids had oodles and oodles of summer programs, and all the 'right' stats, and programs, but they had never had a JOB. Conversely, some of those accepted had lower stats, EC's, but had worked menial jobs at the mall, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and McDonalds etc.
    So my thought? A menial job, especially one held year round, (not just a summer thing) is worth ten of those so called money making college 'camps.' I think colleges want to see that a kid actually has a work ethic, and understands what it is like to flip burgers.
  • uskoolfishuskoolfish Posts: 1,630Registered User Senior Member
    I agree with the above poster that the summer programs students do (especially those that parent pays for), should reflect the students interests and talents and that they should support their EC's and/ or academic pursuits.

    That being said, there is no reason not to choose a program that can help in admissions. So programs that are competitive to get into can help. For many students, a summer program can allow a student to compete for the first time with students on a broader basis and see where they stack up.

    Both my daughters tried out for programs in the arts that were audition or portfolio based. They were competing to enter programs that were offered state wide or at universities that drew from a national or international pool of talent.

    Another thing to narrow down is the location of the program. I wanted the summer program to be housed in a school they might consider attending. This would allow my children to determine first hand what living on said campus might be like.

    Related to this is the question of who they will meet during the program. For both my d's students they befriended during summer programs ended up being their actual classmates. So it's a good chance to measure "fit" in the school's community.

    To me the most important thing that a student might develop from a summer program are contacts with faculty. We were shocked to find out that after attending a summer program that D did not have to audition for the undergradate program at that school since she had already spent the summer "auditioning". This particular program was supervised by and taught by full time faculty and the department's head. So at the start of senior year D knew that she was accepted into a prestigious program based on talent. He needed to apply and get in academically, but it was a tremendous boost.

    Younger D attended an art program at the same school. Although full time faculty were less involved in the program, a faculty contact from the summer did put her in touch with the person who would ultimately review all undergraduate portfolios. She was able to set up a meeting later in the summer with him to review her work. On the basis of that extensive meeting, D was able to customize her portfolio to reflect what the school was hoping to see. (Fewer traditional pieces, more original and conceptional work.)

    So on the basis of my D's experiences, I think that summer programs can be extremely importance in acceptance.
  • intparentintparent Posts: 10,339Registered User Senior Member
    Programs that you pay for generally are NOT considered much of a plus in the admissions process at all. Programs that are free (like TASP) are VERY difficult to get into. The top programs have lower admission rates than the top Ivies. My D applied to several programs last summer, and did not get into any of the "free" ones. The apps were a lot of work, too. She did get into two "paid" programs, and picked one that she thought would help her decide on whether a possible future career path was something she would be interested in. She decided she was NOT interested in it after the summer, so that was actually worth something in itself.

    A program can be worth it IF your kid gets something out of it of value to themselves. Learns more about a topic they have a deep interest in, gets a taste of something they might want to do for a career, etc.

    In retrospect I sort of wish my D had followed up with the universities and colleges in her area to try to get a spot in a lab for the summer. Even an unpaid lab position would have given her some insight into some of the science areas she is interested in. Since your kid is interested in science/pre-med, that would be a possibility.
  • anxiousmommyanxiousmommy Posts: 31Registered User New Member
    intparent, that is what I was thinking. I thought perhaps she could contact some of the doctors she has had experience with or even our local hospital to inquire about "shadowing" opportunities. I'm not sure she is interested in research.
  • LBowieLBowie Posts: 781Registered User Member
    This is not about the kinds of summer camps you are talking about, rather about the value of a traditional camp experience as a counselor. Written by a Harvard administrator. Good food for thought:

    Can Summer-Camp Jobs Make Teenagers More Responsible? | TIME.com
  • mythmommythmom Posts: 8,305Registered User Senior Member
    I don't think these programs do give an admissions advantage per see. However, I do think they can provide substance that helps on an application.

    For example, my S, was a violinist. He went to a music camp that had a composition class. He went on to compose some very beautiful classical music. They camp's counselors were from Curtis, a top music conservatory in the US. The professional musicians made a recording of his music which we then submitted to colleges with CD's of his own performances. I am sure this helped him tremendously in admissions.

    I don't think admissions should be the goal, however. He went to this program because he wanted to pursue his music.

    If a kid has a passion, a job may not satisfy it, and the summer program may be the ticket.

    Pre-med is a little different because there are so many opportunities to volunteer in medical settings.

    Another advantage of summer programs is that it acclimates kids to college life so the transition is eased a bit when they do start college.

    On the other hand, jobs hold tremendous advantages as well, especially in this economy when any experience gained helps land a job after graduation and in summers while the student is in college. And of course, earning money is always positive.

    I think that kind of experience is invaluable and valued by colleges.

    I don't agree with the poster who stated that kids with jobs are selected over kids who have done summer programs. I just don't think that's true.

    Conclusion? Do the summer program if the kid has a passion for it but not for a leg-up in admissions.

    My D danced ballet in summer programs all throughout junior high and high school. I think adcoms know how much work those programs are (even though we paid for them) and how much dance required. They wouldn't have expected her to work instead because her dance would have suffered.

    We are not wealthy and we did scrimp and save to provide these opportunities. My D also was the assistant teacher in many dance classes during the year, so her commitment and work ethic were also obvious.

    She attended a college with a strong dance department but she did not major in dance.
  • RobDRobD Posts: 5,059Registered User Senior Member
    Both my kids attended summer programs (Vandy, Sewanee, Kenyon) and I never looked at them as a boost for college admissions, but rather it was a way for them to be immersed in a world where other kids had the same interest in a narrow focus, and where they were able to explore academic interests in a way they couldn't during the day to day high school world. D2 is a writer and she loved her writing workshop programs and made fantastic friends who are also uber writing nerds. They also got to experience real life in a dorm for two weeks, warts & all.

    This didn't preclude them from doing other things over the summer as the programs generally ran for 2 weeks.
  • WellspringWellspring Posts: 393Registered User Member
    My D went to Operation Catapult at Rose-Hulman and my son did Explosives Camp at Missouri Science and Technology. Both loved the experience. That they were also accepted at those schools was an extra added attraction. (Both ended up elsewhere for college.)
  • mathmommathmom Posts: 22,358Registered User Senior Member
    I believe the Leadership camps are pretty much a racket, though many kids who go through them find them enjoyable and perhaps even valuable. Not so much for getting into college, but more as a way of knowing what is out there.

    There's widespread agreement that the competitive free programs are helpful in college admissions (such as RSI at MIT or TASP.)

    Next down (probably) on the prestige ladder are competitive programs which you nevertheless have to pay for. Various music programs and math programs are the ones I am familiar with.

    Paid jobs are looked at on more favorably than most kids realize. Scooping ice cream is fine. If you can get paid to do something career/possible major oriented that's icing on the cake. My older son was very lucky to have discovered a passion for computer programming early on and to have indulgent parents who allowed him to get good enough to be employable in high school. He also took a summer course at Columbia University in computer graphics part of one high school summer. I don't think the program was super selective, but since it allowed him to pursue an interest and got him out of the house interacting with people we were happy to pay for it. Like mythmom, I agree that sometimes it is fine to pay for a summer program, but it should be primarily because it is so the kid can pursue a real interest, not because it will look good to colleges.

    Finally, don't forget the value of volunteer work. It may be that there is a way for you student to pursue her interests with unpaid work or a combination of paid and unpaid work.
  • muckdogs07muckdogs07 Posts: 1,166Registered User Senior Member
    Anxiousmom,

    Kids did Vandy's three week program for talented students, not the PAVE program.
  • 2prepMom2prepMom Posts: 935Registered User Member
    If your high schooler is interested in math and science, nothing beats DOING math and science. The prestigious national summer science programs (see thread - summer programs that look good on college apps) like RSI, Clark scholars, Stonybrook, etc. are great, free, and very difficult to get into. Many such programs look for prior research experience.

    Suggest you apply, but also find a local research mentor - local hospitals and universities will have professors interested in getting some help from students. Don't worry about pay (sometimes there is min. wage), it is the internship experience that matters. Put together a cv, and get e-mail/snail mail addresses, (from secretaries, publications,hospital and university websites) and send mail to individual researchers, offering to meet to discuss interests. My daughter has worked most of her vacation time the last 2 years in a genetics lab at out local university, and is applying to NIH this summer. It's been a great experience for her, and didn't cost a cent.

    Expensive programs simply prove to colleges that you have money. Admission rates are very high; these are cash cows for universities.
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