Is A Pre-College Summer Program Right For Your Teen?

More and more pre-college summer programs are available for high school students, with unique topic areas such as STEM, cultural immersion, performing arts, wilderness skills, and more. Whatever your student is interested in, there's likely an academic enrichment program available for them.

Programs often take place on a college campus, sometimes formally connected with the college or university, and they typically run anywhere from one to ten weeks. While some programs cost as much as $10,000 or more, others are more reasonably priced, and many offer the potential for scholarships.

The Benefits Of Pre-College Summer Programs

If you're trying to decide if a pre-college program is right for your student, consider the benefits:

  • They can give students who are highly motivated by a specific topic or field a deep dive into that subject. This also gives their credentials for their first-choice major a boost.

  • They can offer exposure to new subjects and experience for students who still don’t have any idea what they are interested in or aren’t engaged in the college process. A student might even discover a potential college major.

  • They often allow students to experience life on a college campus.

  • They give students an opportunity to make friendships with others from around the globe.

  • They often offer college credit.

What To Look For In A Pre-College Summer Program

When researching pre-college programs, look for programs that truly reflect your student’s interests, academic or otherwise. For example, if your student wants to be a doctor, a science-based summer program might show them what it’s like to study and practice medicine. Colleges will see that your student takes their potential career path seriously and that they are genuinely interested in learning more about it. On the other hand, the summer program may lead them to rule out that career path, which can free them up to pursue other potential interests. That's just as impactful.

If your student doesn’t know what they're interested in, consider a program that offers a variety of classes to choose from and ideally a schedule that allows them to take more than one class. Through exposure to a few different topics, your student will begin to form important reference points that will help them gravitate toward natural interests.

A word of caution here: We prefer programs that are actually run by the college instead of a third-party provider. It's important to be a careful consumer, so be sure to ask who will be teaching the program. If a student is aiming for highly selective colleges, the summer program should also be selective. Just remember: Attending a summer program on a college campus does not typically give your student a leg up in admissions for that college.

Researching Pre-College Summer Programs

Below is a list of websites to help you identify pre-college programs to research further.

Once you’ve identified programs that your student might be interested in, look beneath the surface, and ask these questions to ensure it’s a quality program that is also right for your students:

  • What is the program’s philosophy?

  • What are the unique features of the program?

  • How will my child be challenged?

  • What are the opportunities for leadership and personal growth?

  • What is the education and experience level of the staff?

  • How long has the staff been with the program?

  • What is the ratio of counselors/teachers to students?

  • How does the program measure and reward success?

  • How does the program deal with conflict or rule violation?

You should also try to contact former program participants and their parents for deeper insight into what it's like to participate. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • How did your child grow from participating in this program?

  • How are you using the experience you gained from the program?

  • What would you have changed about the program?