While sifting through my daily slush of college mail earlier this year, I noticed half was notifications for last-minute applications to summer programs at colleges around the United States. While college camps are seen as inherently valuable by my parents—who were intrigued when I first brought them up—once I told them the price of tuition, they immediately balked and told me no.
College summer camps usually cost around $3,000–$4,000 for two or three weeks of education, and most of them reflect the selectiveness of the school. Some programs and internships can extend up to eight or 10 weeks, and that makes the sticker price start to look more and more like a year’s worth of in-state tuition. In fact, Harvard’s eight-week secondary school program from June to August can be up to $10,000 for room and board, an eight-credit course, and an application fee (if you’re taking a four-point course, you can get away with paying $7,000 instead). While most programs like Harvard’s do offer extensive and generous financial aid, most middle- and upper-class families are left to pick up the remaining cost, which can still be a dauntingly large number.
With the extremely high cost of summer programs, it seems preposterous that anyone would even want to go to them. Many of my friends and family wouldn’t want to pay so much money to learn something in a university environment when they can send me to the local junior college for the summer or pay $91 so I can take my AP Comp test.
All of that said, there are a few things about summer programs that are important and valuable, and there are many things that are not. Summer camps are usually for college credit since you are, after all, paying college tuition. Some programs offer interesting courses that you wouldn’t find in your average high school, like forensic science, creative writing, and number theory. If you’re anything like me, these courses sound amazing because they’re learning for the sake of learning, rather than simply meeting the bare minimum of what you need to learn to get a degree.
Also, if you are interested in going to that college, it would be beneficial for you to stay on the campus for several weeks to see if you really like the city and environment the school is in. Summer college at large or affluent universities can also be socially beneficial, since the class body will most likely be made up of people from all over the country.
One important thing to mention about summer programs is that they do not guarantee admission into that school when the time to fill out college applications rolls around. Many people think, “Oh, if I’m good enough to get into Brown’s summer school, I’ll definitely get into Brown.” But this is a fallacy.
One of my good friends went to Stanford’s summer program for two consecutive years on a merit scholarship, but when she received their admission decision for their undergraduate school, it was a “no.” She did, however, get into a private liberal arts college in St. Paul. While summer programs can show your worth and value as a student, that college will not immediately admit you just because you were in their program.
So, if you were to ask me if you should go to a summer program, I would ask you two things in return: “Do you love to learn?” and “Do you want to go to this school?” If you say no to either of those questions, you should just stash away that money for when “real” college rolls around, instead of spending it on a Grecian literature course.