Though summer is more than halfway over, it’s not too early to begin thinking about next summer. Of course, you don’t have to make any concrete plans at this point, but it can be useful to start brainstorming ideas early on and then narrow down your options as the months go by. Here are some bits and pieces of advice regarding academically-oriented summer programs, whether or not we think they’re worth it, and what you can do instead to stand out.

What are these college-sponsored summer programs I keep hearing about?

Many universities and colleges, including some Ivy League institutions, host summer sessions for high school students on their campuses. Sometimes–but not always–students can receive college credit for the work that they do during these camps. Sessions are typically oriented around a particular theme or subject area (i.e. pre-medical studies, humanities, languages, computer science and technology). A program will also usually include extracurricular excursions and events to acquaint participants with that particular campus and the surrounding town/city.

Are they worth the money? Will they help me get into the host school?

The short answer is no (to both). These programs can run several thousand dollars for only a few weeks, and participation alone won’t be a factor in admissions decisions. Though getting to know a faculty member at one of these programs and securing a letter of recommendation might tilt the odds slightly in your favor, it’s important to remember that there are no guarantees, even if you perform exceptionally well. Plus, there are other, proven ways to get close to faculty members–like securing an internship.

What should I do instead?

We’ve mentioned that any programs you have to pay for won’t be particularly impressive to admissions committees, but the converse is also true: if a program is free to participants, then it stands a much greater chance of making an impact. Check out these reputable (and prestigious) programs below if you’re looking for ideas.

  • Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP)

TASP is an all-expenses-paid 6 week-long residential program for rising high school seniors. Students participate in a humanities seminar taught by college professors and engage in self-governance in order to build their community. The application consists of six essays; selected applicants will complete an interview. Applications are due in mid January.

Website: https://www.tellurideassociation.org/our-programs/high-school-students/summer-program-juniors-tasp/

  • Research Science Institute (RSI)

RSI is a free residential summer program for high school students held each summer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Students are lead through the research process from start to finish and will work closely with professors in their field of interest. Recommended PSAT scores are a 740+ in math and a 700+ in reading. The application requires two letters of recommendation, a school transcript, and short essay responses.

Website: https://www.cee.org/apply-rsi

  • The Summer Science Program (SSP)

SSP is a residential program for rising high school seniors held at three universities across the U.S. (two programs in Astrophysics are held at UC-Boulder and New Mexico Tech, and one program in biochemistry is held at Purdue). Students work in project teams of 3 to conduct original research under the guidance and mentorship of college professors. Note: SSP requests that admitted applicants pay a program fee if they are able. If needed, full financial aid is available.

Website: https://summerscience.org/

When deciding how to spend your summer vacation, it’s important to think critically about all of the options available to you.  Assess in particular what you hope to gain from a prospective experience and how it might help you achieve your long-term goals. Remember though, the most important thing is to follow your passions. Go after what truly excites you, and the rest will come.

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