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Summer Programs for High School Students – What You Need to Know

As the end of winter approaches and the promise of spring and new beginnings arrives, many families begin to consider summer programs for their high school students. At LGC, we get many questions about various types of programs, including which options are the best, which are worthwhile, and/or simply what type of opportunity to pursue in general. While many summer endeavors provide meaningful, enriching experiences for students that may also represent valuable additions to a college resume, others are less robust and/or may have minimal impact on a student's education, experience, or personal growth and thus do little to enhance their extracurricular resumes. In today's newsletter, I will discuss a few examples of each type of summer opportunity.

I'll start with the more problematic offerings that families and students often consider, the "pay to play" options. These most frequently fall into the category of summer programs held on college campuses. These offerings are certainly enticing on the surface – they offer the promise of spending a few weeks to over a month on a college campus engaged in a program on a topic or area of study that interests a student. While a young person may indeed enjoy that time on campus and the program in which they engage, the challenge comes with the assumption that pursuing a program on a college campus automatically confers some sort of advantage in the admissions process to that college. This is rarely the case.

To begin, some programs merely rent the space on the college (dorms and meeting spaces) to host their offerings, and the programs are not actually affiliated with the colleges. Even when a college does administer its own program, it is typically open to any student who fills out an application and can pay for the (often hefty) price tag to attend. If your student is considering a program on a college campus AND is hoping that engaging in the program will enhance their chances of admission to that college, please take a deeper dive into the specifics of the offering. The top two questions to investigate are: 1. Is the college hosting it? 2. Is there a rigorous application process that offers admission to a selective percentage of candidates?

Now, this is not to say that programs held on college campuses are not worthwhile. Many "pros" can come from these experiences, such as living away from home for an extended period and getting acclimated to future college life, engaging in meaningful learning and interaction with other students and program faculty, and confirming whether a student likes the "vibe" at a college and can see themselves thriving there. If your child is interested in pursuing a program due to these outcomes and the cost is within your budget, it can certainly provide a meaningful summer experience. If time allows, I'd advise students who pursue such a program to consider augmenting it with one or more of the many other meaningful, worthwhile, and beneficial options for enriching summer pursuits, which I will detail next.

For students who have a particular academic/career interest, I advise engaging in some legwork now to find a research or job shadowing opportunity for the summer. While some programs require applications and can be quite competitive, others require ingenuity, proactivity, and persistence. For example, students can talk to their teachers and/or network with their relatives' friends to find professionals in their area of interest and then approach those individuals to inquire about job shadowing or volunteer for unpaid internships. The bonus aspects of this latter option are the experiences a student will have in building their character and confidence, enhancing their ability to face failure and keep going, and gaining life experiences that they can relate in various ways in their college essays.

For students who desire to travel internationally and/or engage in service work, there are many worthwhile endeavors as well. While travel is certainly an eye-opening, mind-broadening experience in itself, I encourage students to take on a larger challenge in conjunction with their trip. Perhaps they pursue a language immersion program to enhance their skills in a second or third language. Perhaps they pursue meaningful service work that allows them to get to know local people and make a contribution to a community through building something or teaching children. The key to these experiences is to make the most of them and really engage with local residents and immerse oneself in the goal at hand – to strengthen foreign language skills, learn to live like a local, gain personal insights, and/or make lasting connections.

The final option I'll address is the value of a summer job, particularly for students who are seeking to make rather than to spend money in the summer. This can be in any role, from working at a local restaurant to volunteering regularly at a retirement home. Teenagers have become increasing less likely to hold a job over the past couple of decades, and colleges greatly value the learning that students gain from any type of summer job. This includes the "at home" job of caring for younger siblings while parents are working. Colleges know that students develop enhanced responsibility, communication skills, leadership abilities, and confidence through holding any type of job.

While there are many other types of summer endeavors, these are a few insights that address common questions and misconceptions about the value of some of the most frequently considered (or overlooked!) opportunities. In the end, if your child chooses to spend their time engaged in meaningful pursuits that enhance their minds, characters, and/or skills or that challenge them to grow in new ways, while still holding aside some time for fun, they have spent their summer wisely.

At Laura George Consulting, we love to support families by assisting them in identifying and evaluating summer opportunities. If we can be of help to your family in this task and/or in any portion of the college planning, ACT/SAT tutoring/testing, college selection, and/or college essay and application process, please contact us at 847-363-6780,, or by filling out our request form for a free 20-minute phone consult on our website at Thank you!

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