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Why You Need to Gear Up Now for Summer Programs

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As we at CollegeVine are posting this, it’s January, and at our headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, there’s snow on the ground and more on the way. If you’re like most students, summer is probably the last thing on your mind right now. You’re only halfway through the school year so far—how can it possibly be time to think about summer already?


Think again. Making good use of your summers is increasingly important when it comes to your college applications, and early deadlines and competitive applications mean that researching and selecting summer opportunities needs to start earlier than you might expect. Here’s what you need to know to get your summer program search off to a good start.


The Importance of Summer Programs in High School

You may not have realized it yet, but when it comes time for you to apply to college, your activities during the school year aren’t the only thing that will matter. More and more, competitive colleges expect you to use your summers wisely during high school and include these experiences in your college applications.


Even aside from this expectation on the part of colleges, summer is a great opportunity to do things that aren’t practically possible during the school year due to your busy schedule of academic and extracurricular commitments. During the summer months, it’s much easier to take on full-time and immersive projects, explore the working world outside the classroom, or study subjects that aren’t part of your usual high school curriculum.


With so many young people interested in using their summers more effectively, many different opportunities have sprung up, some traditional, others more unexpected. Some are residential or camp-type programs, while others are local and day-only. You could seek out a job that pays you, take a volunteer position, or enter a program that charges fees. From academic coursework to intensive extracurricular experiences to internships and jobs, there’s something for everyone.


It’s perfectly okay to take some time to rest and relax during the summer—everyone needs a break sometimes to stay healthy. However, if you’re planning to apply to competitive colleges, taking the whole summer off from your academic and career goals isn’t a good idea. You’ll need to spend at least some of your summer doing something that adds to your resume, advances your ambitions, and helps you to keep growing.


For more detailed information about summer programs, what they can involve, and why they’re important, take a look at these posts from the CollegeVine blog.



Why Time Is Of The Essence

Some summer programs, especially those that come with the most prestige, have competitive admissions processes, and their deadlines may fall earlier in the spring than you might think. For instance, applications for Yale’s well-regarded Young Global Scholars program are due on February 6th for the summer of 2018, and the Wharton School Leadership in the Business World program at the University of Pennsylvania requires students to apply by February 2nd.


You may have to submit lengthy application forms, essays, recommendations, audition videos, transcripts, or other materials. It takes time to gather those materials and put them together to form a compelling application, so it’s wise to start the process early.


Competitive admissions processes mean that you won’t always get accepted where you want to get accepted, making it important that you research and apply to a range of different options. Even programs that don’t select participants based on merit may have limited space that fills up quickly, giving earlier applicants a better chance at actually getting in.


Of course, not all of your summer options will have deadlines that fall so early in the spring. Summer jobs in your hometown or courses at a local college, for example, might not require you to apply or register until closer to the time that you’ll actually start. However, it’s always a good idea to start researching opportunities well in advance.


Since summer programs are many and varied, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the different options. Starting early on the process of researching and applying for summer opportunities gives you more time to consider your options and decide which suit you best. Don’t just pick a summer program at random; give yourself the chance to find one that’s truly a good match.

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How to Get Started

We’ve covered when you need to get started on researching summer programs, but what do you need to do? Here’s an outline of the steps you’ll need to take as you consider summer options and move forward with your favorites.


  • Gather information. Pull in opinions from guidance counselors, people in your community, older students, and any other resources you can find. Cast a wide net to see what kinds of programs are available that sound interesting.
  • Define your needs. What can your family afford? Are you comfortable being away from home for an extended period of time? What topics are you most interested in? Can you meet the program’s admission requirements? These and other questions will help you figure out what type of summer program you need.
  • Research your options. Dig deeper to get all the pertinent information on each program you’re seriously considering. Then, narrow down your choices based on which programs are the best fit.
  • Put together application materials. Exactly what you need to submit will depend on the type of program, but these could include essays, references, or transcripts. Put in the time and effort to make these materials polished and professional. (Here’s a hint: much of CollegeVine’s general advice for college applications can be applied on a smaller scale to summer program applications.)
  • Submit application materials by appropriate deadlines. You don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity because of a silly mistake like a missed deadline. This is good practice for the higher stakes of college application season.
  • Keep looking after you apply. You’ll need a backup plan in case your first choice doesn’t pan out, and as we’ve mentioned, some excellent summer activities don’t have early-spring deadlines, or may only be announced closer to the summer itself. You may come across something enticing later in the spring—you never know.


Choosing the Right Summer Opportunity

Just like with college, you’re looking for a summer program that will be a good fit for you as a student and a person. A prestigious name or an exciting location isn’t everything; there’s much more you need to take into account in order to choose a program that will truly be a great experience for you and contribute to your overall goals. Here are the main factors you’ll need to consider.


  • Cost. Some summer activities are inexpensive or free, or even pay you for your labor. Others can be very expensive, especially those that involve travel or a residential component; however, some of these do offer financial aid and scholarships to help with the cost. Talk to your family and know your budget before you apply, and fill out any aid forms with care.
  • Location. Not every high school student is ready to spend time at a residential program far from home, but some relish the experience. It depends on your level of independence and what resources are available. Day programs in your local area can be excellent options too. Whether you’re looking near or far, you’ll also want to think about transportation options and if you feel comfortable traveling alone. 
  • Topic. Summer is a fantastic time to follow your passions and fully immerse yourself in the subject of your choice, especially in ways that your high school doesn’t provide. These opportunities can help you build your background in and demonstrate your commitment to the field you want to pursue, which is helpful for your personal development as well as your resume. (At the same time, don’t worry too much about whether you’ve selected the topic you’ll eventually pursue as a major or career—colleges won’t hold it against you if you change your mind, and the summer commitment will still reflect well on you.)
  • Type. Getting a job or internship, taking an academic course, and participating in an intense extracurricular activity are all very different experiences. Different types of opportunities exist in every field; for example, if you’re interested in drama, you could work at a theater, take a class on playwriting, or attend a performance-focused camp. Consider not only the list of topics that interest you, but the different angles from which you could approach that topic.


The bottom line is this: using your summer to do something productive is important, particularly when it comes to your future college applications, but it’s just as important to choose the right summer program, job, or other activity. The most useful and enjoyable summer opportunity for you will be the one that’s the best match for both your future goals and your current needs. It doesn’t have to be expensive or prestigious—it just has to be something that will help you grow.


Ready to get started on your summer program search? We’ve got plenty of ideas for you to explore. Take a look at our blog for our favorite summer programs, internship opportunities, and creative ideas for making the most of your time. Here are a few posts you might find interesting when planning out your summer.



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Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.