A major strategic goal for many colleges and universities in the United States is to attract more international students. In 2015, international students were reported to comprise 4.8% of total undergraduate and graduate enrollment, with their numbers continuing to rise. While the educational and professional opportunities that international students have access to if they obtain their education in the US, the students are also a valuable asset to the universities themselves. This monetary gain is perhaps one of the central aims of many universities. The reasons for this vary; oftentimes, more affluent families themselves see a strategic advantage in sending their children abroad, and are willing to pay higher fees, oftentimes as high as the full tuition. But there are other goals associated with these universities’ attempts to attract international students. Intercultural exchange and understanding, diversity in thought and experience, and networks of alumni reaching into every corner of the world enrich classrooms and campuses alike, and students continue to benefit from this even after they matriculate.
This holds for summer programs as well. You will come across many programs where the eligibility requirements will call for US citizens and permanent residents only, but many also welcome international students to apply and often award them generous financial aid packages. Some programs that are tuition-free and seek to attract top talent may even sponsor your visa application and cover your travel expenses. You should look into the visa requirements closely, as they are often country-specific, and also depend on whether or not the program awards academic credit or not – if a program does not award credit, you probably will not need to apply for a student visa. Often, summer programs have offices that would be more than happy to assist prospective applicants at every step of the process, from writing the application to making early accommodation arrangements once you have been admitted – Mathcamp would be an example of such a program. At the same time, if you are not admitted to a really top program, paying a fee for a lesser known program of similarly high quality may very well be worth it. Applying to summer programs will not only give you a flavor of what the actual applications process is like from a logistical perspective, but it also trains you in the kind of reflective writing that is expected of you to demonstrate in almost every application you submit. The advantages do not stop there – actually being admitted and attending a high quality summer program can boost your chances and give you a first-hand experience in studying abroad that will help you decide whether it’s something to pursue later on.
There are definitely hurdles to overcome when applying to the United States as an international student to university and summer programs alike. Grade conversion, language requirements, competitive, elaborate and applications process, and uncertain prospects of being awarded financial aid may make you think that admission is far-fetched. Is the process more time than it’s worth, especially if going through all the trouble doesn’t even guarantee admission? But there is also much to gain. The process, while demanding, pushes you to reflect on your experiences and personal development, and how all your curricular and extracurricular activities as well as personal circumstances and interests come together in shaping you as a person. If you are committed to studying abroad, either just for one summer or for four years of university, there many avenues you can explore to maximize your chances of standing out in the eyes of college admissions committees.
Where do you begin, especially if it’s your first time applying to a summer program?
First, familiarize with the general process – you could even make a timeline to help you visualize the main stages. A lot of the programs below, for instance, have deadlines in January, February or March, meaning that you should probably do most of your research and make a checklist of application requirements for each program in early fall, and have your references ready before the end of the year. Essay-writing, on the other hand, varies by individual – some find it easier to write their essays months ahead, while others do their best writing a week before the deadline, and you have to decide what works best for you.
As mentioned before, there are details of the applications process that can be easily overlooked and you may be surprised to find out that you forgot to have a document legally translated days before the deadline. There are a number of things you can do to prevent the applications process from turning into a logistical nightmare for you and your family, and being proactive is one of them. A generally successful strategy is to plan ahead. Think, for example, about letters of recommendation. For many prestigious summer programs, especially those that are fully-funded, reference letters from teachers are a very standard part of the application package. In fact, even programs that are not very selective ask you to submit these letters along with your essays and test scores. However, while teachers in US high schools are accustomed to the process of writing and submitting recommendation letters, and are probably familiar with the format or have premade templates that are ready to submit on demand, in many countries it is not the norm to write recommendation letters for students so early on in their academic careers – for example, in countries like Germany it is not the norm to submit a letter of recommendation even when you are applying to university, and admission is rather based on high school grades alone. Standardized test scores are another aspect of US summer program applications that you and your school may be unfamiliar with.
You can reach out to people who you know have studied abroad and ask about how they approached it and who they asked for advice and guidance. More importantly, reach out to admissions offices months before the program’s published application deadline to inform yourself about how best to tailor your application to your student profile, what to highlight in your essays, what documents you need, etc. Some offices will even extend you the opportunity of contacting previous international participants who may be better able to inform you about the experience of applying to and participating in the program of interest. As a bottom line, it never hurts to reach out and ask. It may also be useful to look at discussion threads on College Confidential for specific information or reach out to past participants to ask them about their experience with applying to and attending the programs you are interested in.
It’s important to remember that while, yes, there are nuances to the applications process that you are better off knowing sooner rather than later, the process itself is more than manageable. It’s also exciting and leaves a lot of room for your creativity, personality and background to come through in your writing. The many steps of the process are beyond the scope of one article. Instead, here we aim to highlight applying to summer program one of the key steps that you can take at the very early stage of the applications process. Tuition-free programs have their names marked with an asterix (*), and all other programs included in this list are ones that offer (mostly generous) need-based or merit-based financial aid.
Program dates: June 18 – Aug 1, 2018
Eligibility: students must be 17 years of age by the program start date; the program accepts applications from students who have completed the 12th year of high school; international students are eligible to apply
While fully-funded pre-college programs that also extend admission to internationals students are a rarity, the Clark Scholars Program is designed to attract talent from around the world. Based at Texas Tech University, the program allows gifted students from all disciplines the opportunity to work alongside and under the guidance of renowned faculty in a research-intensive environment. The News section on the program’s website abounds with its alumni’s impressive achievements, ranging from finalist entries in national competitions to admissions into selective colleges. Indeed, the program’s low admissions rate is testament to its reputation – after a three-round review process, only 12 Clark Scholars were selected out of a pool of approximately 400 applicants in 2017, bringing the admissions rate to about 3%. This is staggeringly low – lower even than Harvard’s acceptance rate, which was 5.4% in 2016. Last but not least, the program is a paid opportunity – in addition to a summer full of intense research and learning, Scholars are also awarded a $750 tax-free stipend. To apply, students must submit an application and three letters of recommendation. According to the website, admission decisions are based on candidates’ “academic performance (grades on transcript), test scores, high school curricular and extracurricular activities, along with recommendations”. While the program doesn’t seem to have special application requirements for international students, interested candidates are encouraged to contact a program representative ahead of time to enquire about language requirements, standardized test scores, or any other aspect of the applications process that may need further clarification.