Don't Know Much About History?

Editor, Porter Sargent Handbooks

Oct   2011



There’s an old saying that those who fail to learn history are doomed to poor grades in history class (or something like that). But recent nationwide test results show that American students are less knowledgeable about their nation’s history than any other subject. Only 12% of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency in U.S. History on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

History course work could be an unfortunate casualty of the campaign to raise test results in reading and mathematics. But that makes the summer the perfect time to catch up. Even better, specialized programs allow students to spend extended time on historical periods that may be discussed only briefly or omitted entirely from their high school curricula.

At the College of William and Mary Pre-Collegiate Summer Program in Early American History, students focus on topics in U.S. history before the Civil War. Instructors use readings and classroom work to set the stage for visits to archaeology sites, surviving period structures, historic landscapes, battlefields, and a series of museums. Students successfully completing the program earn four hours of college credit.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, The Congressional Academy for American History and Civics enrolls two students from each U.S. state and the District of Columbia in an in-depth study of three critical eras in American history, framed by the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The tuition-free program is held in Washington, D.C., and offers travel stipends.

History buffs who share a passion for politics and the Constitution come together at The Bill of Rights Institute Constitutional Academy. The program consists of five weeks of online class sessions followed by a weeklong residential program in Washington, D.C.

Maybe you’ve heard enough about America and want to branch out and examine the history of a region overlooked by your high school course work. Columbia University’s Culture and History: Understanding the Arab World combines course work at Columbia in New York with two weeks of travel and study at King’s Academy in Jordan.

Another Columbia program, The Barcelona Experience, is offered in collaboration with the University of Barcelona. Students examine the history, art, and urban development of Barcelona, enriching their understanding of how European communities develop local, regional, national, and international identities.

Beyond formal history summer programs, many colleges and universities allow high school students to enroll in undergraduate history courses over the summer. Usually introductory or freshman-level, these courses allow students to hone their study skills, learn a semester’s worth of material in one summer, and possibly earn transferable college credit. Community college courses may be a more cost-effective option than more expensive larger universities.

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About Jim Martinho

Jim Martinho

Jim worked as an Editor at Porter Sargent Handbooks from 2005 until 2012, following his graduation from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism. Jim’s first task at Porter Sargent was to research summer programs for the Guide to Summer Camps and Summer Schools, published since 1924 to describe recreational and educational summer opportunities for kids and teens. Jim helped to make the Guide’s 1600+ program listings fully searchable online at In his free time Jim enjoys reading, playing guitar, and seeing live music. He spent his own high school summers in suburban Boston working at a supermarket and freelancing for local newspapers.

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