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Why your kid should get a summer job instead of going to an academic program

MassmommMassmomm 3928 replies81 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
I thought this was a very thought-provoking essay:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/04/24/if-you-think-these-elite-summer-programs-will-get-your-kid-into-college-guess-again/?tid=hybrid_collaborative_2_na

Here's the text, in case the link doesn't work:

Getting into a well-regarded college is an obsession with many parents. They develop their own ideas of what admissions offices are looking for and try to “enhance” their child’s résumé by pushing them into summer programs that they believe are so prestigious that participation will give their kids a leg up on the competition. The reason they think these programs are so elite — and so helpful to their child’s admissions chances — is that they are often hosted, or at least located — at the most elite colleges.

The problem is that these programs won’t do much, if anything, to help. Here to explain why is Raymond Ravaglia, the former associate dean for pre-collegiate studies at Stanford University and is currently the director of pre-college programs at The School of The New York Times. He is also the founder of the world’s first online high school for gifted students, The Stanford Online High School.


By Raymond Ravaglia

Like baseball and cherry blossoms, articles and anxiety about college admission are once again in season. They feed upon years of practice by parents seeking the “best” and most prestigious college summer programs, since “everyone knows” that getting into the right college requires this prerequisite. Wrong!

Time and time again during the 15 years I directed pre-collegiate programs at Stanford University, I saw parents laboring under two fundamental misconceptions – “truths” garnered from other parents and popular wisdom that drove decisions they believed would help their children “get in,” but which, instead served only to accelerate the anxiety treadmill.

These misunderstandings are pervasive, causing many parents to deprive their children of a fulfilling summer of personal growth, rest, and recovery that would, in fact, be truly helpful in the highly competitive college admissions process.

The first misconceives the actual nature of summer programs.

Belief 1: “If my daughter attends ‘Dream College’ Summer Session and does well, it means she is competitive with ‘Dream College’ students and every college will want her.”

Reality: ‘Dream College’ isn’t ‘Dream College’ over the summer.

Summer students at “Dream” are taught by visitors and graduate students, while the regular students go home and regular faculty largely pursue research. Success here does not signal anything to admissions officers about academic competitiveness. Furthermore, if a high school student can think of nothing better to do in the summer than continue to be a traditional student in a classroom for another two months, isn’t that more likely to suggest a lack of imagination than intellectual vitality?


The second misconstrues the very reason why summer programs exist.

Belief 2: “Summer programs reflect a school’s official thinking about what students should be doing to get ready for college and for that college in particular.”

Reality: Nothing could be further from the truth!

The reason such programs are so common is not because colleges are worried about empty heads, they are worried about empty beds. Since undergraduates go home in the summer, colleges invite all manner of independent programs to campus, simply to fill the dorms. This disconnect can be hard to see because colleges will maintain a patina of official sponsorship — not because the admissions office or the undergraduate deans want to see how students in the program are doing, but because without such sponsorship the revenue generated might not be tax exempt.

Summer in the high school years should be a time for students to escape the classroom, to discover and explore their interests and to distinguish between passions, fads and passing fancies, because college will offer more options than even the most engaged of them can ever hope to master. Unless they have learned to focus their attention and prune their interests, this can be overwhelming and counterproductive.

The purpose of college is not to create perpetual students; it is to make young people ready to enter the world.

Students who have begun to encounter the fullness of life and have explored a sense of direction are inherently more appealing to colleges and universities than those hot house flowers who have only demonstrated their ability to be good students. Truth be told, there are plenty of those; while students who have explored their creative instincts and honed their critical skills are far fewer.

Even the most orthodox of liberal arts colleges understand that they do best when they admit young people who know what they are good at, what talents they wish to develop and what they wish to cast aside. Having a passion clarifies the mind.

This is why these two misconceptions about summer programs are so counterproductive. They seduce parents into co-opting what should be a time of growth and exploration, transforming it into just more of the same. Parents need to understand that as interested as colleges and universities are in attracting good students, they are even more interested in graduating alumni who will be successful in the world and make lasting contributions to society.


High school summers at their best when they prepare young people for the discovery of success in life itself.

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Replies to: Why your kid should get a summer job instead of going to an academic program

  • FallGirlFallGirl 8046 replies27 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    S attended a few of these type programs. Not because we (or he) thought it would help with admissions, but because he is a kid who genuinely enjoys these type of things. He has some friends who did the same and none seemed to be hurt when it came to college admissions.

    OTOH - my sisters' D was invited to a leadership camp and she has no interest in going. She prefers to stay home in the summer and work at her part time job. Which is just as good a choice.
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  • InigoMontoyaInigoMontoya 1699 replies7 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    My kids worked at Scout camp over summers. It was great - they were busy and didn't have down time in which to get bored, they were outdoors most of the time and physically active, they were with friends, earning (some) money, taking leadership positions, learning how to deal with unexpected situations (injuries on hikes, lightning strikes, copperheads in the cabin....) and I didn't have to worry about feeding them every night! Win all around for us.....

    They are both excellent students so I like them doing something completely different over the summers. Camp was 7 weeks so they still had some down time and time for family vacations.
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  • scout59scout59 3505 replies67 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Where was this article when we needed it? I refer you to THIS thread:

    http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/1881785-why-do-parents-insist-teens-get-summer-jobs-vs-working-on-academics-p1.html

    And comments like this one:
    Last spring my parents were adamant about me getting a summer job. But I wanted to go to some academic summer programs that lasted the duration of break. I won. I went away, learned a lot, also had fun, and just got into my dream college.

    My friends that stayed home all summer had pointless jobs where they basically just goofed around all day.....

    ....Why is a summer job so important? Did those experiences really teach them the value of a dollar?
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  • MassmommMassmomm 3928 replies81 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @scout59, that was the thread I thought of when I came across that article! :))
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  • itsgettingreal17itsgettingreal17 3989 replies26 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    ^ I remember that thread. I think the OP was a ****.

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  • InigoMontoyaInigoMontoya 1699 replies7 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    What I recall from that thread was a very strong argument about how many kids need extra academics over the summer because they are falling behind. Thing is, those kids are not the ones attending these pricey academic programs - it's the kids who are already in schools that offer an academic advantage and really don't need extra academics over the summer. And many of those kids could benefit more from the real world experience of working a minimum-wage job than an academic camp.

    Unfortunately the kids who are in failing schools and who would benefit from additional academic experience over the summer are also likely to need the income from a summer job.

    Academic camps can be great for kids who want that as their summer experience - but they are not the answer to elite admissions.
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  • mathyonemathyone 4193 replies34 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited April 2016
    "Summer students at “Dream” are taught by visitors and graduate students, while the regular students go home and regular faculty largely pursue research". First of all, this isn't true of all programs. It certainly wasn't true of the one my daughter attended--she was in classes with many undergraduates from that school taught by regular University faculty from that school. But I wonder how clearly those programs which engage in this questionable practice publicize this--do the parents and students know what they are getting? I wouldn't spend the kind of money these programs cost for an experience like that.
    edited April 2016
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  • TomSrOfBostonTomSrOfBoston 14745 replies986 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Some high school kids who have summer jobs now list them a "internships" on their college applications.
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  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 12883 replies242 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Students who have begun to encounter the fullness of life and have explored a sense of direction are inherently more appealing to colleges and universities than those hot house flowers who have only demonstrated their ability to be good students.

    While I agree with this statement, I don't agree that summer programs can't facilitate "encountering the fullness of life and exploring a sense of direction" - it did for my D for sure as she was able to study things not available to her locally and also explore new cities and people from all over.

    FWIW, she also worked during the year and summers.
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  • 18yrcollegemin18yrcollegemin 249 replies3 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Every year my kids' school brings in about 20 Deans of Admission for various colleges to talk to juniors and sophomores about what to do to prepare for college admission. Every year the subject of these summer programs comes up and every year the advice is the same: do not spend the money just because you think it will help with admissions, it won't. They all say that they pretty much disregard these programs. The kid would be better off getting a summer job or actively pursuing a real interest. Only do the summer program if the kid has a real interest in the program that they want to pursue or if the alternative would be sitting around doing nothing all summer.
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  • ntk131998ntk131998 320 replies37 threadsRegistered User Member
    I worked the majority of my high school summers. The summer after my junior year I did do a program at a university I wanted to go to (only 4 days though.)

    In the end, I didn't end up getting in to the school, dispite doing well in the program.

    BUT, I did have a great time, meet great people, and recieve excellent instruction (by actual professors, not grad students.)

    So I would say if it's something you want to do because it interests you, like this program did for me, then go for it. But don't expect it to have any benefit in the admissions process.
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  • itsgettingreal17itsgettingreal17 3989 replies26 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I think most of those paid programs are overpriced, so they have never been a consideration for my D. But she did a 6 week free STEM program last summer that was a great experience and this summer she will do at least 2 (free) shorter ones as well as work and have some fun. It doesn't have to all of one or the other. If people want to spend their money on the expensive camps because their kid is interested in it, more power to them. If its to look good on a college app, then that's a waste of money.
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  • thumper1thumper1 74814 replies3279 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited April 2016
    My son was a dish washer in a restaurant. It was a job, and he was happy to have it. This particular restaurant was awesome, and he worked his way up from dishes, to salad prep, to busboy, to winter. No job was too me ill for him, me they appreciated that.

    In addition, DS and DD earned their college spending money...which was something we asked them to contribute. Books...and all discretionary spending.

    And to be honest...if your kid went to some program, there were less than hugely paid staff especially in the housing and dining halls that made that possible.

    It's a personal family choice to NOT have a student work in the summers.




    edited April 2016
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  • MassmommMassmomm 3928 replies81 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    While I agree with a lot of what the writer said, I think in my son's case, some type of academic program might have been more beneficial to his development (if not to his applications) than the summer of League of Legends. The following summer, he did get a decent job in IT for a public school district. He hated every minute of it, but there is something to gained by experiencing at least one soul-sucking job.

    For me, that job was Burger King, summer of 1980. ;)
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  • emilybeeemilybee 13146 replies35 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    "Some high school kids who have summer jobs now list them a "internships" on their college applications."

    Why would they do that?
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