How to choose a summer program for high school students

Parents and students are often confused about how to choose a summer program, especially when a simple Google search merits hundreds of choices. Yet, with reflection, focused on the student’s needs, families can choose more effectively. 

First, students can develop their own projects, recruiting mentors to explore their interests, all from home, saving money, while also demonstrating initiative and commitment—characteristics indicative of a leader, and logically would be valued by admissions officers. 

That said, and subject to interpretation, reflect on a student’s motivation and reasons for attending an organized summer program. Some questions to ponder: 

  • Why is a student seeking to attend a summer program? 
  • Is there a particular interest that a student wants to investigate or confirm, needing the program’s mentors and access to specialized equipment? 
  • Do parents want a student to experience life on a college campus?

Secondly, consider the basic parameters of any program:

  • Location: how far does a student want to travel away from home? And, does distance from home matter for a parent? (Travel can add costs to a summer experience.) 
  • Duration: how many weeks of a summer break does a student want to dedicate to a program? 
  • Residential or Commuter: Do students live in a residence hall or other provided housing? Are teens willing to room with someone they don’t currently know? Is the program local so a student can commute from home? 
  • Safety: How are teens supervised, especially if the program is residential? What are emergency protocols should a student get sick or injured? 

 As families often wonder how a summer program adds value to a college admissions resume, a few points to consider: 

  • Attending a summer program sponsored by a particular university does not advantage a student in the admissions process at that particular university.
  • No one summer program is “better” than another program for a student to demonstrate their interest in a subject, as students determine the value of their own summer experience. 
  • Lastly, admissions officers don’t value an organized activity, sponsored by a college or other youth group, more than projects students complete on their own initiative and ingenuity

Creative Marbles was founded by teachers who appreciate helping students (re)discover their aptitude, first in the academic classroom, now as part of the complex college admissions process. For more information, please contact us

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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