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Articles / Applying to College / Do Admissions Value Summer Programs at Elite Colleges?

Jan. 15, 2018

Do Admissions Value Summer Programs at Elite Colleges?

Question: Do more selective colleges value summer enrichment classes and experiences that are typically offered at elite colleges? Is it a good use of a student's last summer before their senior year?

This is a question that "The Dean" has answered countless times. But, as yet a new crop of high school students starts mapping out vacation plans, it's worth revisiting yet again.


Admission officials usually agree that summer enrichment classes on college campuses count as “time well spent,” but these programs rarely serve as “hooks” to help students get admitted, especially to the more selective institutions. There are far too many students choosing this option for it to stand out in the crowd at admissions-verdict time. In fact, admission folks are usually more impressed when an applicant has held down a menial job or has undertaken a personal project (e.g., conducted independent science research, written a novel, played saxophone in the subway), or done volunteer work close to home rather than via a pricey organization overseas. So certainly don’t feel that a college-campus summer---or any summer plan that requires an open checkbook---is a prerequisite to wowing admission committees.

Nonetheless, an on-campus experience can help a teenager mature, adjust to dormitory life, and learn something about a field—or fields—of interest. So there are certainly good reasons to take this route, as long as the primary aim is not to just “look good” on a college applications later on.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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