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Articles / Applying to College / Orchestra Program or French Program This Summer?

Orchestra Program or French Program This Summer?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | April 11, 2011

Question: My junior son needs help making a choice between two summer programs. One is an orchestra training program of 8 weeks and the other is a French immersion program of 5-6 weeks. He is in the IB diploma program at school in Canada, and wants to go to an Ivy. Both programs are free and intensive. He had a great experience, musically and socially, at the same orchestra program last year. Although he does not intend to major in music, violin has been his passion for a long time. The problem is that the orchestra program is too time consuming to do other tasks during the summer before college applications. As for the French program, he is not sure about it, although he feels a need to improve his French. The program is shorter and--in my opinion--more practical in terms of preparing for his senior year and later for college. He needs to decide very soon. Thanks for your advice in advance.

When viewed through an Ivy admission officer’s lens, both of the programs you described will be considered “worthwhile” but neither will turn heads. They are each very much standard fare on “elite-college” applications. If your son’s primary objective is to wow admission committees, then these options will not fit the bill. But if he wants an experience where he will be happy and engaged, then it sounds like the orchestra program should be the winner.


Ivy admission folks certainly see their share of skilled violinists, but is your son strong enough that an intensive summer of practice might bump him up to a top level? If so, then that’s yet another reason to choose it. However, I do understand the practical benefits of a shorter program, and it’s certainly possible that your son will have as much fun at the French program as he did at the orchestra program last year.

Bottom line: Grades and test scores—not summer pursuits—will play the starring role in your son’s admissions outcomes. But, because so many Ivy candidates have similar transcripts and test results, admission committees are always asking, “What’s special about this student?” If your son has nothing “special” in his profile, then his Ivy chances are slim anyway. So he should either spend the summer as he wants (orchestra?) or come up with a completely different approach to using his time and talents in a way that will stand out at application time.

Sorry if I muddied the waters even more. :(

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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