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Are Pre-College Programs Worth the Cost and Time?

Are Pre-College Summer Programs Worth the Cost and Time?

College advisors are often asked if pre-college summer programs are a worthwhile investment of time and money for students.  The answer is that it depends on the student, the program, and available resources.  

In terms of college admissions, the most useful programs are those that help students to explore an academic or creative area on which they are thinking of focusing in college.  For example, students who want to dive into computer science, engineering, or studio art can explore these pursuits deeply and also be in the company of teachers and peers who share their interests.  Summer programs can also help a student to confirm or reassess an interest or planned college major.   In the arts, summer programs can broaden a student's exposure to different media and also potentially augment a portfolio that will be submitted along with the college application.  Another possible benefit of residential programs is that students can practice the skills of living away from home, interacting with roommates, and navigating a college campus.  Finally, some of these programs offer college credit for completion, though there is no guarantee that these credits will be transferable to the college the student ultimately chooses to attend.  

What these programs are not is a ticket into a highly selective college.  Highly selective colleges do not give preference to the students who have enrolled in their high-priced summer programs.  In most cases, the teachers at summer programs at Ivy League schools are not faculty from those schools, but students or adults from other institutions.  At less selective colleges, there may be an advantage to attending a summer program, especially if a course is taught by a faculty member who might be able to comment on a summer student’s promise or aptitude in a particular field.  This is also sometimes true for music, theatre, or other art programs. 

Costs and acceptance rates for summer programs vary widely.  Some programs are essentially first-come, first-served and do not offer any financial aid to cover costs.  Others are highly competitive in terms of admissions and offer excellent scholarships to those who qualify for need-based financial aid. 

Students do not need to participate in this type of program for the purpose of having a strong college application. Many Falmouth Academy students work at paying jobs in the summer months, and not only is this type of activity useful financially, but colleges also like to see that an applicant has had the experience of paid work as it demonstrates many important personal qualities. Other meaningful summer experiences can include family trips, camp and sports programs, and individual academic or artistic exploration.

The summer between junior and senior year is a significant period and a time for students and families to think intentionally about next steps. Whether a student decides to get a job, help out a family member, participate in a college summer program, or read a challenging list of books, this summer can provide time and space to explore with an eye to the future.
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