(1) They strengthen your college applications
The divided opinions on the topic of whether elite pre-college programs actually help or hurt students’ chances of admission cause confusion among prospective applicants and parents alike, and understandably so. Pre-college programs aggressively advertise themselves as offering participants an academically challenging and life-changing experience as well as a competitive advantage over their peers, while there simultaneously is an abundance of articles online claiming that summer programs don’t increase anyone chances of being admitted to university in any significant way.
Not all summer programs are created equal, but there are some general advantages that apply across most programs irrespective of their prestige and selectivity. For one, participating in a summer pre-college program can demonstrate that you’re able to go beyond your high school curriculum and do and are prepared to do college-level work. This not only speaks to your academic curiosity and desire to challenge yourself, but also your ability to handle material that is more advanced than your years. Furthermore, opting out for a three-week pre-college program instead of the couch or the beach during the summer is an indication of admirable qualities, such as curiosity and initiative to achieve beyond only what is required of you.
Attending a pre-college program can strengthen your college applications in other ways. If the summer program takes place at the college that you want to attend later on, it can show a continued interest, commitment and dedicated research on your part. Experiencing your college of choice firsthand – getting to know the facilities, methods of instruction, professors, students and the general atmosphere on campus – can make for a stronger argument on why you’re sure you want to spend your next four years there.
Finally, the advantages become even more apparent when we turn our attention to specific programs. For example, participants in the the Telluride Association summer seminars, the Research Science Institute, and the NIH Summer Internship Program have been consistently reported to be accepted to selective colleges and universities. Discussion threads on popular sites like College Confidential where prospective applicants “chance” each other and discuss the application process have discussion threads that are 35 pages long, and while they may be a questionable resource for interested students, they attest to the popularity and prestige of the programs themselves.
Again, the key takeaway is: not all summer programs are created equal. Articles that make narrow claims about the value of pre-college programs in general fail to mention the variety of precollege programs that exists in the first place, and the many wonderful (and sometimes free!) summer opportunities that students can look into. Generally, you can’t go wrong with attending programs that are free of charge, and in most cases there is no harm in applying, even if you aren’t sure whether the program is totally worth it.