(2) They prepare you for the college application process
Pre-college programs, especially selective ones, often have a detailed application process that sometimes even has several stages. Writing the applications for these programs can be good preparation for the college application process itself. Students will find that, although the real college admissions process is a lot more drawn-out and intense, summer program applications often resemble those of real universities in terms of the kind of information and materials they require you to submit. To begin with, all programs have a section where the applicant is required to fill out personal information. Sure, entering you demographic information is easy enough and you might think there is no need for any special preparation. But you will be surprised to learn that having all your personal information be easily accessible and verified, or having all your transcripts and important certificates by hand immensely eases the more mundane parts of the application process.
Understandably, though, the real benefit lies in writing the application essays. Program applications may ask you to write a personal statement or answer questions about your interest in the program, or what you should be chosen to attend and what you can contribute if selected. This gives you an opportunity to really reflect on what makes you a competitive candidate and how you can best demonstrate this to the admissions committee. It is a well-known fact that the college applications process is often just as much about self-presentation as it is about academic excellence or achievement. This is not meant to suggest that one can get through only by telling a compelling story; self-presentation must always be grounded in real accomplishments and experiences. However, when deciding between two candidates equally qualified in terms of grades, what you choose to emphasize and center in your writing can make a big difference to the admissions committee. You will be required to do justify your motivation and qualifications in almost every college application you submit, so doing it a year or two earlier is invaluable practice.
Sometimes programs will ask for longer responses to a variety of prompts that invite you to consider the role you play in your community, who you are outside an academic context, how your background shapes and frames your perspective, how your interests fit into your broader academic or career goals, what you hope to contribute to society later on, and many more. For example, the following is one of the questions for the 2017 application to Telluride Association Summer Program for Juniors: “At TASP, you will discuss texts and ideas in a college-style seminar. You should feel comfortable thinking deeply about an issue, communicating a well-reasoned stance, and genuinely engaging with others’ positions. To that end, tell us about a time a discussion, piece of writing, movie, work of art, or other life experience changed your mind. What did you believe at first, and how were you persuaded to adopt your new viewpoint?” Or, the application to the University of Chicago Neubauer Summer Scholars program asks “Chicago is a city of diversity and each one of our 77 neighborhoods has its own unique culture. Tell us about your culture and what it means to you. How will the Neubauer Family Adelante Summer Scholars Program help advance the community you come from?”
Not only do these provide food for thought, but the ideas you put down in writing now can be fleshed out further later on. Some of the essays can even be reused or reappropriated into college application essays, saving you a lot of time and stress in the college application process. Drawing from my own experience, I can say that a lot of the essays that I submitted were mosaics of past writing. Sometimes, the perfect sentence that completes an essay is one you’ve already written, and it helps that a lot of the prompts are repetitive and require similar – though not identical – answers. Naturally, though, each response should be tailored to the specific program you are applying to, but this can often be done through minor tweaking and editing.
Finally, some pre-college programs will also require you to attend an interview, which is, if anything, undeniably good practice for future opportunities.