Are Summer Programs for Gifted Students Important Elite-College Stepping Stones?

Question: My daughter is a high school freshman who excels at academics as well as sports. She is kept very busy year round as she trains in the summer in track, trains as a lifeguard with a local beach safety group and usually takes online classes through Florida Virtual School. She has been invited to take summer programs including Duke TIP, Johns Hopkins CTY and most recently Stanford EPGY. She did take the PSAT early, scored very well, and another flood of emails and brochures hit her. These programs all seem very expensive and while we are flattered she has received these invitations, we wonder how important they are in the overall college application process. Some of the classes appeal to her but she could just as easily take an AP Computer Science class on Florida Virtual School for free. What is your take on this? We would rather save the money for travel and for college expenses.

Programs like TIP, CTY, and EPGY can be a godsend for students who aren’t challenged in their own high schools and who desperately want to spend time in an environment, where smart = cool. These endeavors typically provide interesting, well-run experiences, which many bright teenagers enjoy. But they are definitely NOT college-admissions imperatives.

It sounds like your daughter has a lot going on already and is thriving in her various activities. Since she isn’t throwing herself at your feet and begging for you to ship her off to a place where her peers will respect quantum physics more than Justin Bieber, I agree that your money will be better spent on travel and college tuition.

As you can read in many of my other “Ask the Dean” columns, admission folks have gotten pretty jaded from seeing so many summer “programs” on applications, and your daughter will not disadvantage herself by making other choices.

Note, however, that there are a few programs for gifted students that are free. For instance, looking down the road a bit, you might want to check out the Telluride Association Summer Program:

TASP is cost-free to all participants, and getting into it is probably harder than Harvard. But it’s well respected by “elite college” admission officials, and it might be a good fit for your talented daughter in a couple years, if she wants to trade in the Florida heat for six weeks of Colorado mountain breezes. 🙂

(posted 2/27/2012)