You might be thinking, “Summer programs?! But it’s barely fall!” We get it. But the thing is, summer programs for teens fill up really fast, and some of the coolest, bestest, most selective ones out there even have applications with deadlines that are coming up sooner than you think. So if you’re even remotely interested in a camp or program for the summer of 2016, you owe it to yourself to plan for it now!
One to six weeks spent learning in the summer may not appeal to everyone—but they certainly should give it a chance! Why? Because summer camps are a great way to grow your knowledge, meet people with the same interests, and make fantastic, lifelong friends (maybe even career connections). Plus, there’s a summer program for virtually every interest, be it musical, athletic, medical, artistic, political, or technological.
Finding your camp
When choosing the summer program to attend, it’s important to do a lot of research. Here are a few tips for doing so:
- Make sure you know the program's website inside and out!
- Read forum threads about the camp on message boards to get opinions about the program from people who have attended.
- Investigate costs and financial aid options. (FYI: Almost every camp I’ve researched—including the programs attended by the individuals interviewed below, as well as myself—offer limited need-based financial aid.
- If possible, reach out to alumni of the camps you’re interested in.
- Look at articles online that rank summer programs within your interest.
- Contact the program director(s) with any questions you are unable to find answers to.
What camp is like
Most academic summer camps are hosted on a college campus, which provides a great sneak peek at college life. You’ll probably have roommates, and eat at the dining hall. (Roommates usually rock, but dining hall food isn’t always the greatest. I lived off of apples and carrots until my mom mailed almond butter across the country to save me.) And everyone I talked to got a taste of the college experience, from the classes to the freedom that comes with college life. CNBC says, “Overnight camps can offer a taste of independent living. . . . The right camp could even help solidify a career path, reducing the chance of a five- or six-year stint at a four-year college while an undeclared student explores options.”
Every summer program is different in its execution. “One of the days we went to the Hopkins Marine Station, and it was amazing,” says Annalise Hodge, who attended Stanford University’s pre-college summer program to study biosciences and biotechnology. “Now I want to study marine ecology and list that as my intended major on my college applications.” Annalise’s program included a two-hour class and a four-hour lab session each day. The participants were grouped by field and age, and lived in houses together for the duration of the four weeks.
On the other hand, my experience at UVA’s Young Writer’s Workshop gave me insight into what it’d be like to live as a writer, and helped me decide to pursue creative writing as a minor rather than a major.
Then there’s Tanner Larson, who attended a summer engineering camp at Georgia Tech, which was organized into small groups as well as roommates. The schedule was packed with seminars and a capstone project.
If you’re wondering what your camp experience might be like, the program’s websites usually have an informative description. But if not, e-mail the director and ask for a schedule! It’s important to find a camp with a setup you’ll enjoy.
Camps and your college applications
If you’re considering going to a summer program just to boost your college application, you may want to reconsider. “Summer need not be totally consumed by highly structured programs,” says Harvard’s undergrad college’s website. “While such activities can be wonderful in many ways, they can also add to stress by assembling ‘super peers’ who set nearly impossible standards.” U.S.News agrees: “Don't assume that attending an academic program on a college campus will help you get into that school. . . . If you choose them, do so for personal enrichment and not to impress admissions officers at the school in question.”
Summer camp may not have a huge impact on your college admission decisions other than aiding you in illustrating a specific interest, and it’s important to recognize that going into it. Long story short, you’re not going to get into Duke just by attending a summer program there. If you’re going to a program, go to learn more about something you’re genuinely interested in!
The most important thing about camp
Whatever camp you go to, it’s important to keep an open mind, focus on learning as much as you can, and get to know your incredible fellow campers. “It’s more about the experience and the people,” Tanner says. “[The people] were very cool. Many of the people I met, including my roommate, introduced me to new ideas and helped me learn more about living in the South. . . . I got to meet people from all different backgrounds, including a rich kid who crashed his Maserati, a football player from Florida who has taken all the AP classes, an Indian boy from Atlanta who wanted to be an architect, and my African American roommate who revealed small details that make clear the racial dynamic still present in 2015.” Annalise also raved about the people she met at camp, who were “all so passionate about the same things.”
During my experience at the Young Writers Workshop, not only did I learn an astounding amount about poetry, but I also participated in discussions that really expanded my mind, heard dozens of new songs, read some incredible books, made memories I’ll never forget, and met people that honestly changed the way I see things. I still send my poems to my “Ydubs” friends and give them feedback on theirs. A huge part of summer programs is the people you’ll meet and the experience of learning with and from them.
If you’re trying to decide what to major in, or find yourself intrigued by a particular field, consider looking into a summer program to test it out! You’ll meet passionate, intelligent people with the same interests that will enrich your learning experience and possibly your life.