Summer Pre-College Programs - Scam or Not?
Summer at Brown. The Harvard Summer School Precollege Program. These are just some of the prestigious sounding names of two of many, many, summer pre-college programs run by top 40 colleges, with Ivy brand slathered all over the marketing. It’s enticing, and easy to see why people are so easily drawn into these programs. After all, an opportunity to visit these schools in person and the chance to make connections with the people at these universities, possibly getting a leg up in the future during college admissions sounds amazing. When said admissions process is already rife with competition and stress, buying a connection or two to a college through a summer program doesn’t sound like such a terrible idea.
But all things too good upfront come with a hidden cost, and here, the cost is extremely literal. These programs are insanely expensive, always at least 1000 dollars, some even going into the 10,000 dollar range. Programs include the Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS) at $3,500 USD for two weeks, the aforementioned Harvard program being $4,950, and Brown charging $2,778 for their college program. None of these programs actually offer college credit, either, and, in fact, are not very selective due to their high price point.
During the summer, most colleges and universities are faced with the question of what to do with all the empty dorms as students leave for the summer. For prestigious colleges, the answer has been to milk their brand to convince people they are applying to something more prestigious than it actually is, using the eliteness associated with the actual university to justify the price tag. But in an article in The Washington Post on the topic, staff writer Valerie Strauss talks to a variety of admissions officers and across the board, they confirm that there is no special “edge” that is received from attending this program.
“I don’t think I’ve had a student apply to those programs and not get in.”
There are a number of reasons as to why this is the case. For one, most people who apply tend to get in, because the companies running these programs are trying to make as much money as possible. Yeah, they might ask you to write an essay or even ask for a recommendation letter, but if you can afford the price tag and you show evidence you can handle it by being a halfway decent student, you’re going to be accepted. “I don’t think I’ve had a student apply to those programs and not get in,” confirms former admissions officer Elizabeth Heaton. In fact, oftentimes these programs are outsourced so that they are not run by the college itself but by a third party company like Envision.
While some universities are pretty transparent about the lack of actual prestige, others, like Columbia University’s pre-college program, claims to give you “an Ivy League achievement for your college transcript.”
With all these disadvantages, do these summer programs even have anything to offer? Well, while these programs are not likely to give you a direct boost in the admissions process, they can offer programs for courses that may not be offered at the school someone is going to.
They can also provide insight as to what college life will be like, giving students the chance to explore the campus of their dream school. The fact that there are no college credits can be frustrating in some ways but could also give students the ability to explore their interests without the pressure of standardized schooling. It’s ultimately probably best to look at these programs as glorified academic summer camps, and whether that is worth paying $2000 for them is ultimately up to you.