Back to School Issue: Pre-College Programs Don’t Make Your College Application Perfect

The reality of pre-college summer programs


Photo Cecilia Cheng

A graphic created using Canva depicting a chalkboard with the title “Pre-college Summer Programs Don’t Make Your College Application Perfect.”

Cecilia Cheng, Print Managing Editor

College. For students who are looking to pursue a higher education, they are doing everything they can in order to attend a top-tier college. Besides taking vigorous classes, juggling multiple sports and volunteering every weekend, many students have decided to attend pre-college summer programs.

Pre-college summer programs allow high school students to attend college-level classes and experience the college campus during the summer. There are currently over 150 colleges offering these programs to high schoolers. While some colleges offer them to students for free, a majority of them cost thousands of dollars. Considering the amount of money people are paying to attend these special programs, one cannot help but wonder if they are even worth it.

These universities make millions of dollars each year from these programs. According to The Washington Post, “Harvard’s two-week session costs $4,600, while Brown charges $2,776 for one week and $6,976 for a four-week residential version.”

Many colleges clearly state that these programs do not guarantee you admission or improve your chance of getting admitted to their college, and while it may allow you to demonstrate an interest in a particular field, this time and money could be spent on other opportunities. Nevertheless, these summer programs allow you to take higher-level courses and show colleges that you are challenging yourself, but with thousands of kids attending these programs yearly, participating in them won’t guarantee that you will stand out from other candidates. An alternative option, to take higher-level courses, would be to enroll in some online college courses. Stanford offers this option free of charge and from the comfort of your own home.

Top-tier colleges also look for a “spike” in your application. They want individuals that would make a positive impact, especially one that will also demonstrate long-term growth. Pre-college programs will not help you make a lasting difference in this world. This “spike” doesn’t have to be as monumental as curing cancer either, but it could be anything from a passion project to engaging in research or an internship – the key is to find something that you feel passionate about.

While obtaining the opportunity to participate in an internship or research project is more difficult than paying a few thousand dollars, if you can afford it, or filling out a scholarship application, they help colleges see that you’re taking initiative to professionally pursue your interests.

At the end of the day, whether you decide to attend these pre-college programs is up to you. While costly, they allow you to meet people around your age with the same interests as you, and give you the chance to see if the college is a good fit for you. But make no mistake, there’s no magical formula for getting into the most prestigious colleges, and attending pre-college summer programs will not be what makes your application stand out.

Infographic depicting the amount of RHS students that has or has not attended a pre-college summer program in the past. (Photo Cecilia Cheng)