Selecting Summer Programs

Selecting Summer Programs

(Reprinted with permission from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling- NACAC)

What are your summer plans? If all you have is a vague notion of sunning yourself by the pool, you may be selling yourself short. Colleges and other organizations offer a variety of summer programs just for teenagers. Now is the time to think about whether you're interested in participating in a summer program.

Lots of options
"The high school years are years that students should be exploring many different options," says Sheredian Vickers, college counselor at The Woodlands High School (TX). "There are summer camps, employment opportunities, travel opportunities, and many other ways that students can develop the leadership, responsibility, cultural awareness, and maturity that they need."

The first step in selecting a summer program is finding out what's available to you. Visit your high school guidance office or public library to find information on summer programs for students. If you don't have a particular type of program in mind, check out a general guidebook to summer programs, such as Peterson's Summer Opportunities for Kids & Teenagers 2003 or Yale Daily News Guide to Summer Programs. You can also find directories geared toward particular types of programs, such as travel abroad, internships, or visual and performing arts programs.

Counting the costs
Some summer programs are relatively affordable, but others may be pricey. It's a good idea to talk with your parents about what you can afford. If a 3-month trip abroad is too much for the family budget, look into shorter programs or opportunities closer to home. Shorter programs also give you the chance to get a job for part of the summer, which could help pay for the program.

Types of programs
Like choosing a college, deciding on a summer program depends on your interests and talents. A musician may want to hone her skills at a music-oriented program. An athlete might jump at the chance to attend a sports camp. Or you may want to try something completely new. It's up to you.

One popular summer experience is living and learning on a college campus. Some programs even offer students the opportunity to earn college credit. Why would you spend your summer vacation studying? To get a taste of college and learn about a topic that interests you.

"Summer programs offer students a chance to immerse themselves in a subject they love, or are exploring, or think they love," says John Boshoven, counselor for continuing education at Community High School (MI) and director of college counseling for the Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit. "As useful as pursuing a passion is, finding out a career or subject isn't interesting and not worthy of the student's time is equally clarifying."

Some students (or their parents) make the mistake of choosing summer programs based on what might look good on a college application.

"A resume of exciting adventure used only to look good for the college application is seen as exactly that," notes Vickers. "The college admission folks will tell you that they want to see what makes the student the person he or she is." That means choosing summer activities based on your interests, not on what you think might impress an admission officer you haven't met at a college you haven't decided on yet.

Programming yourself
Of course, you can have a fun and productive summer without participating in a formal program. You might want to volunteer for a cause that's important to you, find a summer job, "shadow" an adult working in a career that interests you, or travel on your own or with your family. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and resources.

"I encourage students to find a need in their own community and to make a plan to meet that need," says Pam Little, director of guidance and college counseling for Fayetteville Academy (NC). For example, one of her students borrowed instruments from a local music store, got permission to use a school building, and provided transportation for local underprivileged kids to learn about music for a week.

Whatever you choose to do, don't forget to leave some time to relax and spend with friends and family. Have a great summer!

Written by Jennifer Gross.