For many high school students, summer is simply a time to unwind and relax. For others, it is an opportunity to pursue something else and enhance their learning outside of the school environment. A major advantage of attending a summer course is getting a feel of college life before it actually begins. It is also considered an opportunity to explore classes at a deeper, more intense level.
Junior Kelly Chung felt that this was the best reason for her to take a business and economics course at Columbia University last summer.
“I wanted to pursue classes that I liked taking at this school but didn’t have the option to explore at a deeper level. The classes are really worth it, especially when it comes to classes that would normally be considered just electives at our school,” Chung said.
If you Google “summer programs for high school students,” a heap of links will pop up. Most are based on college or university campuses. From Harvard University to NYU to Purdue, the options for students are endless, and every large scale college seems to be contributing to the list.
Often called “pre-college” programs, these options typically last for about two to four weeks. Courses can sometimes be taken for college credit. Students can study the development of television – from “I Love Lucy” to “Lost” – at Brown University, or the history of neighborhoods in New York City at Barnard. Cornell offers courses on everything from fashion to business, while Boston University has seminar-style classes on science and writing.
“I think with SAS classes, we don’t get that intense level of learning for elective-type courses, like economics,” Chung said. “Especially if they’re only for a semester, you can’t get an understanding of them. I got to experience business in a broad context and also in a really open-minded way.”
In an article for College Xpress, Rosemary Cochlane writes, “Pre-college summer programs allow high school students to get a taste of college life, preview their dream schools, and give a boost to their college applications.”
These benefits are widely marketed and known to students, but it isn’t clear to what extent this is true.
Could the extravagant price for each course be worth it? Most courses have a range of fees from $1,500 – $4,000. In keeping with the steep prices, the process of applying to the courses seem to be a simulation of actual college applications. A complete transcript and multiple recommendations are often requirements at schools such as Columbia University or Georgetown. Financial aid is almost always offered.
Chung thinks the steep prices were ultimately worth it. “The money is really worth it if you’re doing it out of your own self-interest for a topic that you find really valuable.”
Like Chung, junior Mina Mayo-Smith took classes at Columbia University during the summer between her sophomore and junior year. She feels that she gained invaluable experience into college and campus life.
“It showed me what living and studying in a city like New York would be like. I learned how to get around the city and keep track of my own expenses,” Mayo-Smith said.
Of course, for most students, the objective of any course would be to learn. For a student who has an existing skill, taking a college course can help to improve it.
“One of the biggest benefits was academically,” Mayo-Smith said. “It definitely benefited my writing skills. Since I took creative writing, whatever I learned is even helping me now in my English classes.”
She also stated that she learned how to work with peers and respect their opinions when it came to writing.
According to Psychology Today, students can use summer courses to avoid a “summer setback.” The idea is to avoid taking a step back in learning, as many students tend to do during the summer months. Many teenagers face a “[great] loss” in their reading and math skills. Taking a challenging course at a university is a way to avoid this outcome.
The question remains whether students take such courses for their own motives or external, college-related ones. But students agree that taking a course which you previously have a passion for is the most beneficial.
“You should take it if you have a passion for a particular topic and want to experience it more extensively and with more free time,” said Chung.