A meaningful summer can take many forms: an athletics camp, an online course, volunteering, shadowing a professional in a career you’re interested in, or a program deeply focused on an academic topic you love, whether creative writing, medicine, aerospace engineering, entrepreneurship, or business management. While summer is a great opportunity to demonstrate your continued commitment to your intellectual and extracurricular passions, it offers the perfect opportunity to venture beyond your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to study a subject that falls outside of your curriculum or have not had the chance to explore, or to try something completely new – like volunteering to build homes for Habitat for Humanity!
When and where to begin
It is important that students understand the various options available to them, and begin their application early so that they have enough time to gather all the required materials. Many summer programs accept qualified applicants on a first-come, first-serve basis through May, but tend to fill up quickly. Other programs, specifically the more competitive ones, have deadlines in February and March.
Families should look into their summer schedule and identify what types of opportunities the student is most interested in, as well as how much they would be willing to pay – programs can vary greatly in cost and length! Students will be able to find shorter programs of just a couple of days, as well as longer programs of six weeks or more. The earlier families start looking, the more time they have to identify a suitable option, understand the application process, and gather the necessary application materials.
Summer programs at US universities
Students can begin by looking for summer programs at universities they are interested in, as well as ones focused on specific interests they hope to explore. Most major US universities offer opportunities for high school students during the summer, where they can take classes for academic credit while also living on campus with other students from all around the world. This is a great chance to gain insight into college life at a US university campus, while also refining your academic interests and making new friends.
A student who completes a selective summer program that is rigorous or offers university credit demonstrates the ability to succeed in college-level work. Completing a challenging program also highlights the student’s intellectual curiosity, and this can certainly add value to the college application. However, students should not take summer classes for college credit if they are not adequately prepared; they should be aware that most college credit courses condense a semester of undergraduate course work into three to four weeks.
Not all summer programs in the US are created equal, and certain programs are more reputable and selective than others; for example, a program hosted on Harvard’s campus may be run by a private company unaffiliated with the university. Such programs are open to anyone with the means to pay their fees and add very little value to the college application. Make sure to perform your due diligence and find out who is actually providing the summer program. Your Hale counselors will be able to share their insights and discuss this with you in greater depth.
Alternative ways to spend your summer
The most valuable summer is one that allows a student to discover his or her interests in a new way, whether that is through a community service initiative, a research program, or a service trip abroad. A program the student is not enthusiastic about would not be the right fit.
At the end of the summer, students should evaluate their experience and ensure they are coming away with the most valuable outcome. They should ask: what have I learned, how have I grown, and how has this influenced the path I want to pursue in the future? It is advisable to keep a journal during the summer program, so that students can easily reflect on the details of their day-to-day experiences after returning home.
Ultimately, the best summer programs, academic or otherwise, would be ones where the student will develop a sense of intellectual curiosity and passion, regardless of what he is planning on studying at university. Not every student has the time or resources to complete a residential program in the US; Taking a free online course, volunteering, training for an athletic competition, or even working would be other valuable ways for students to spend the summer productively.