If you’ve been following the blog, you know there are some amazing summer programs for high school students out there in almost any field you can imagine. But to earn a spot in the most well-regarded programs—the ones that really stand out on your college application—you’ll have to beat out applicants from around the country. Some programs accept just one applicant for every 10 they turn down.
So how you do make sure you have the best chance to get in? Most importantly, be mindful of deadlines. A lot of the most competitive programs set deadlines in January or February, so you may already be too late for 2012. (I’ll forgive you for missing out on those if you forgive me for waiting until now to blog about application tips. Deal?)
Check program websites to confirm exactly what materials are required for your application, as the number of essays or recommendations requested will vary. You can sometimes pick up hints on which areas of the application are considered most important in admission decisions—for example, the Telluride Association Summer Program in humanities states outright that grades and test scores carry less weight than essays.
In general, the components of a successful summer program application closely resemble the application requirements of selective colleges and universities, so applying is great practice in itself.
- Academic transcript. This includes all of your courses and grades received up to this point, available from your guidance office. Some specialized programs may require or recommend certain courses (like math programs that require pre-calculus). It’s always a plus if you’ve taken accelerated or Advanced Placement courses in subjects related to the program you’re applying to.
- Standardized test scores. Sometimes, the SAT, ACT, or for younger students, the PSAT, are required. If you’ve taken any AP exams, include those score reports as well. Some programs set minimum test scores as prerequisites for admission. If your scores aren’t where you want them to be, summer is a great time to bone up on test prep.
- Essays. This is where you really get to demonstrate, in your own words, why you’re the perfect fit for your dream summer program. Possible topics range from specific prompts to general “Why do you want to attend this program?” Check out these application essay dos and don’ts, and ask English teachers or trusted friends to double-check your essays for spelling, grammar, and content.
- Recommendations. Some programs require recommendations from your guidance counselor or specific subject teachers. If you get to choose, make sure it’s a teacher who knows you well and can articulate why you’re a great fit for the program, and print out program info or send website links so they know more about it. And most importantly, give them plenty of time—at least a month or more.
- Extracurricular activities. Programs want to know how you spend your free time. It shows initiative and dedication if you’ve taken a leadership position with a club or academic team related to the program you’re applying to. If your school doesn’t currently offer a club in your field, why not start one up? (And declare yourself president!)
- Awards and honors. Applications usually have a space to list awards you’ve won. If you’re applying to a competitive science research program and you just won first place in your 10th grade science fair, there you go!