Summer Programs: Is Pay to Play Worth It?

summer programs: is pay-to-play worth it?

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

As a high school student, it’s likely that you’ve been extended an invitation, through a letter or email, urging you to consider applying for a pre-college program taking place on a college campus over the summer.

As much as I guard against allowing my students to attend truly Pay to Play programs, immersion in the best of these programs can strengthen the students’ insights into their future major. Also, I like how it can give them the language to express their interests clearly within their college applications and interviews. For example, students with business majors in mind often falter here; they have problems being specific and going beyond the predictable. Engineering majors have similar issues—often starting their essays with how they loved playing Legos as a child and love fixing their bicycles. These kinds of essays are very overdone. Programs with a hands-on project give future engineers the chance to build skills and describe how they worked and what they worked on (teamwork, problem-solving, outcome/results). Future doctors, dentists and pharmacists who attend a summer immersion program will move them away from the typical “I want to help people” and into some specifics about the different specialties, patient-provider interactions, and hot topics in healthcare today.

For those programs that have an application process, we know they are at least somewhat competitive. Also, preparing the application can help the student understand the college application process. You have to fill out an application, ask a teacher for a recommendation and write one or more essays. These tasks are similar to the real deal next fall. If the summer program is rolling, they will learn that applying early in the cycle can give them a better shot at getting in, similar to many colleges with rolling applications.

So, is the investment worth it? If you have a student with strong business, engin- eering or other experiences and an already strong resume that will include activities, a job, internship, or research during the summer following junior year, then it’s unnecessary to add on a summer program. I do not think program partici- pation in itself boosts admission proba- bility, but I do think the boost is to their insights, interviews and college essays.