Like any high school student participating in the Hunger Games series that is the college admissions process, I’ve stumbled upon pre-college summer programs, hoping to add something eye-catching, or at least mildly interesting, to my application. However, the more I read about them, the more undecided I became. Are they really worth it, all cons considered? Do they actually make a difference on your application? If you’ve been asking yourself these questions (and a lot more), then you’re at the right place. Let’s settle this debate, once and for all.


1. You gain a lot of experience.

One thing that makes these summer programs so great is the experience you can gather during your time on campus. The program which you choose to attend will, of course, be focused on an area that you’re very passionate about, so attending is a great chance for you to dive deeper into those particular topics and gain extensive experience.

2. You meet new people.

One of the scariest things about heading off to college is that it’s likely you won’t know anyone there and you’ll be forced to make new friends, which can sometimes be very stressful. Pre-college programs fix that to some extent, as during your stay on campus you get to meet other people your age who share the same interests, passions and, obviously, are looking to attend the same colleges. These programs are also a great place to hear new, interesting stories, as high school students who attend are not only from across the U.S., but from a lot of different countries around the world.

3. You can decide if your school of choice is actually right for you.

A lot of people have a hard time choosing which college to attend, even when they sign up for a campus tour. Sometimes you need to spend a little more time on campus to actually see if it’s the right fit for you, and pre-college programs allow you to do that, as you’ll be spending anywhere from a few days to four weeks there. You also get to meet potential future classmates, which is also very helpful when committing to a school, since you’ll want to make sure you’ll get along well with the other students.


1. They don’t really have much of an impact on your application.

Sure, you are taking college-level classes and attending one of these programs can show that you have had an interest in a particular school for a long time and have worked specifically towards attending it; however, a lot of people working closely with colleges, or even on college admissions’ boards, have previously said that these programs don’t really mean a lot on a college application. They are organized mostly for students to meet new people and become comfortable with the schools they wish to attend by spending time on campus, with actual teachers of that college or university. Elizabeth Morgan, director of external relations at the National College Access Network, said, “I think the reality is that they don’t really give a leg up in the college process.” Katherine Cohen, founder and CEO of the college counseling firm IvyWise, agrees with this idea: “Going to a certain summer program will not be the tipping point for their admission.”

2. They cost a lot. Like, A LOT.

Like most high school students looking into pre-college programs, I too almost fell out of my chair when I saw how much tuition was. There are, of course, some programs which are more affordable, like the ones at LIM, a university focused on the business of fashion, which are $300 for two courses, however programs at prestigious schools like Stanford, Harvard, Yale and Columbia can venture anywhere from $5,000 to $10, 000, not including accommodation, which is crucial for international or out-of-state students. Cheaper alternatives are the online courses, however taking those means ignoring all the pros I’ve listed above, as they no longer apply.

3. The programs don’t last very long.

It’s difficult, if not merely impossible for someone to form a clear opinion of the school and its teachers after one week on campus. Before you finally settle in, get to know everyone a little better, fight the jet lag and familiarize yourself with the material, you’ll find that the program has ended. However, some schools do offer the possibility of staying for longer, such as 2, 3 or even 4 weeks. If you choose to apply, make sure you have enough time there to fully take everything in.

All in all, I think if you’re able to afford to attend a pre-college program and you’ve weighed all the pros and cons, you should definitely attend. If you’re unsure about which school to go to or are anxious that you might not like life on campus after committing, you should definitely attend. However, if a campus tour is enough to convince you, if covering the costs is a stretch and you have your doubts about whether a program is worth the money, don’t feel pressured into going. It’s important to note that these programs will not be a tipping point in your admissions and will not be what really sets you aside from the other applicants. There is no recipe for getting into your dream school and it’s impossible to tell how the admissions process will go. Focus on what is important to you and what you love doing, rather than what worked for someone else, and you’ll see that what you truly put your heart into will become what sets you aside when your application is read — not the $10,000 dollars you spent that one summer in junior year.

Photo: Rider University

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