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Articles / Applying to College / Harvard Summer School or International Debate Tournament?

March 7, 2011

Harvard Summer School or International Debate Tournament?

Question: How much weight will summer school carry on my applications versus representing my country in a national event? I have just been selected for the National Debating team (for Sri Lanka). However, our main tournament is over the summer when I was planning to attend summer school at Harvard. The Harvard summer school program will enable me to gain 8 university credits as well. I cannot do both as the time periods overlap- so which one should I choose?

Although summer programs on college campuses will be considered "worthwhile" endeavors by admission committees, taking part in one is not likely to give your admission chances a boost when it’s time to apply to college for real. In fact, most of the students in my orbit who have participated in such programs at the snazzy schools like Harvard and Brown have not been admitted to those places as freshmen. So, hopefully, they enjoyed their summer experiences and didn’t view those weeks as little more than a putative foot in the Ivy-covered door. Moreover, the eight credits that you might earn at Harvard will not be automatically accepted by every American college. It will depend on where you ultimately enroll.


The debate tournament will offer you a unique experience (certainly more so than going to college would provide ... you'll get that soon enough). It will also show university admission committees that you’ve achieved a big honor on the national level (although admittedly in a small nation ;))

So, assuming that you’re excited about taking part in the debate competition—at least as much as you’re excited about Harvard and maybe more so---that’s the choice that would get my vote.

(posted 3/7/2011)

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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