Oftentimes, high school students choose to take certain summer courses offered at colleges in order to increase their odds of getting into college once they graduate. For young people who wonder if this is a good idea, the answer is “yes,” it is. In fact, high schoolers should take on many outside-the-classroom learning opportunities and extracurricular activities to get into the college of their dreams, especially if that college is a very competitive one. If you’re curious about what you can do to make it more likely that you’ll get into a certain college, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll answer the question of “Do summer programs help college admissions?” and offer suggestions for how you can make the most of your summers to stand out come application time.
Let’s Talk about the Basics
In most cases, college applications come with additional required materials, which usually include ACT/SAT scores, essays, and a certain GPA. However, some competitive colleges have an acceptance rate of less than 10%, which means if you can think of something above and beyond the required application materials that can give you an edge, you should pursue it. Summer programs are one such great opportunity, and they can include basic courses for credit, pre-college programs, or programs that allow you to explore your passion and interests.
To be sure, taking courses over the summer, especially between your junior and senior years, can help a great deal, and many of them even give you college credit that can make your freshman year of college a little easier by knocking out some of those pesky required general education courses. Some universities allow you to take these college-level courses without any prerequisites, so it’s relatively easy to have credits before your freshman year begins.
Since the college admissions process involves looking at students and all of their achievements, independently pursuing summer courses and for-credit college-level academics in high school demonstrates a student’s intellectual curiosity and desire to challenge themselves, even on their own time and outside the classroom, which is impressive to most any university. In other words, college admissions criteria consider much more than prospective students’ test scores. They search for a window into a student’s interests and proof of their pursuit of meaningful experience (outside the academic year), which can be conveyed via participation in clubs and organizations that relate to a student’s goals for the future, as well as any early demonstrations of what you plan to do with your degree once you earn it. All of these things make up the whole “you,” and extracurriculars and summer courses provide student an excellent way to give recruiters exactly what they’re looking for on a college resume.
How Does a Summer Program Help You Get Into College?
College admissions officers will look at these summer programs and take them into consideration when reviewing your application. If you’re wondering specifically why taking these programs increases your chances of getting into many colleges, below are a few reasons.
- You Can Meet Experts in Your Field
Think of taking your summer vacation and using the extra time to take classes and start networking at your university or department of interest. If you take college classes, you’ll meet faculty members, researchers, and graduate assistants who are in the same field as you’d like to be in one day. If you intend to look for a part-time job or even an internship once you start college, these people can be great contacts for you. They can even help you decide on a major if you haven’t already made this choice.
Participating in prestigious summer programs held by research universities and selective programs built around a profession, career, or industry of interest can help you network early on, which is an advantage the vast majority of your peers (and those who don’t pursue these summer opportunities) surely won’t have. Though it may seem far off, building your network will reveal itself as a crucial step and major advantage in any of your future career pursuits, so you’ll definitely be thanking yourself in the years to come if you start building these connections early on and maintaining them throughout your higher education experience.
- You Can Become a More Well-Rounded Student
One of the main reasons people go to college is to become more well-rounded, and the best pre-college summer programs, advanced courses, and hands-on or career-focused extracurricular classes help you do just that. Recruiters at elite colleges also look for a demonstrated array of interests and a self-driven work ethic, so challenging summer programs and extracurricular pursuits may be the best way to convey these traits in the college application process. Think of these classes as your opportunity to demonstrate an elevated level of maturity and preparation for your higher education experience, as well as stand out for admission officers.
- You Can Focus on Mastering a Skill or Knowledge
Once you have an idea of what you’d like to do when you finish college, you’ll want to get as good at it as possible. These summer activities are great opportunities to get a little better at your future career. They can also give you an edge over other students entering college at the same time as you do. Colleges want students who are serious in their desire to get a good education, and the fact that you took classes over the summer instead of doing other things (like non-educational social activities) shows just that.
- You Can Stay More Focused and Structured
College students who do something productive with their summers always stand out among other students, and the same goes for college-bound high school sophomores and juniors intent on getting a head start. Even if you decide not to take classes over the summer but you work a full-time job instead, it helps you remain focused and helps structure your days. Even a summer job teaches you a lot about life and increases your odds of being successful in a career one day. It might seem like the job is menial to you, but it will always teach you something important and kickstart you work experience, which will be a big plus later on when you’re seeking your first real-world internship or full-time job.
- You Can Make Certain Decisions a Little Easier
Summer college programs can help you decide on a major, what you might want to do once you graduate, and even what college you’d like to attend. At the end of your junior year, you might not know these things, but if you take any type of summer courses, your choices and preferences are likely to become clearer to you. By the end of the summer, your senior year of high school should be easier for you because you will be one step closer to knowing what you want to pursue with regards to a university major, future summer internship, college club or career-related extracurricular, and long-term career.
- You Can Do Other Things Besides Take Classes
Lots of things look good on a college application—not just taking classes. Numerous college campuses offer classes you can take, but there are other things that will look equally good on your application. You can be a counselor at a summer camp to develop your leadership skills while earning an income or even participate in community service ventures surrounding a cause near and dear to your heart. If you’re simply not interested in taking summer classes and would rather pursue another calling or passion, your participation and dedication to these other activities can be just as impressive to recruiters. At the end of the day, they want to see that you’re a curious, driven, autonomous go-getter who’s eager to explore new opportunities, lean into causes and industries of interest, and use your summer break productively, whether that’s work experience, an introductory course into a complex field like computer science, or an academic summer session that offers college credit and a sense of college life on campus.
Providing Something for Everyone
If you have your sights set on elite, selective, or Ivy League schools, it should come as no surprise that you’ll need to demonstrate excellence both inside and outside the classroom, and the most important thing to those universities is ensuring admitted students have the intellectual drive and independence to tackle challenges and excel in a competitive environment. Therefore, identifying challenging, interesting, interactive summer programs that allow you to explore new topics or acquire new skills can position you as a best-fit candidate for those uber-selective schools.
That said, you shouldn’t merely pick your summer activities based off of the hope that they might impress an admissions officer. Instead, you should realize that high school, summer programs, and the college experience are all opportunities to discover your talents and determine what you want to do with your life and career, so you should approach selective summer programs and online courses as such and consider your authentic interests before signing up.
The Advantages of Making Your Summers Productive
The summer between the junior and senior years of high school is the best time to take part in summer college courses, internships, community college courses, or an online program, but participating earlier is even better. In fact, younger students (even middle school students) can start participating in certain summer programs, which may give them a leg up when it comes time for high school, thus making their future college applications truly shine.
While we’ve already mentioned the college application-related and resume-boosting advantages of pursuing the best summer programs the summer before your senior year of high school, there’s an arguably greater personal benefit to exploring these academic interests early: Doing so can help incoming college students determine which major or occupation is the best-fit, which can save you the trouble of changing your major and thus delaying graduation (as well as save you money on taking unnecessary semesters of college flopping from major to major). Once you’ve determined your area of interest, your following summers can be spent not only on academic programs, but pursuing internships, research opportunities (like those in the STEM fields, sometimes offered by a university with an esteemed research science institute), and career shadowing programs, which are another great way to get real-world, hands-on experience to your industry of interest alongside the top professionals in the field.
Naturally, one of the biggest and most effortless advantages to doing something amazing, ambitious, and impressive in the summer months is the fact that it looks great on your college application. This means that, unlike students who need to scramble their senior year to find a competitive edge, differentiator, or resume booster apart from their high grades, you can fully concentrate on the other tasks that are needed when completing that application as a high school senior. You’ll have time to apply for financial aid, write and revise your essays, research dorm information, and make sure all of the documents that go with your application are filled out properly and ready to be submitted. Summers aren’t just an opportunity to relax and recover from the school year; instead, they’re a prime time to get ahead and give your future self the gift of a lower stress college admission process, thanks to your proactive preparation.
A good outside-the-classroom secondary school program or extracurricular foray into new subjects not covered in the standard core curriculum will benefit you in more ways than one, and you shouldn’t let college applications be the only driving factor behind these additional pursuits. When you’re deciding what to participate in during the summer months, you’ll find you have tons of activities to choose from, ranging from structured in-person, on-campus opportunities at residence halls to online courses and even travel abroad research camps. Therefore, you won’t be limited by the options available, but rather by knowing yourself well enough to know which program you’ll find the most helpful, engaging, interesting, and rewarding, based upon your future goals, both personal, academic, and professional. Oh, and with respect to the question “Do summer programs help college admissions?”, the answer is unequivocally, “yes”, but they do so much more than that, too.