I frequently get asked about the value of various summer programs. My answer is that, like with this entire process, it’s important to be a good consumer. There are endless “pay to play” programs that bombard teenagers and these tend to target students’ egos, promising that they have been “selected” to attend, for example, the National Youth Leadership Forum. There is nothing wrong with pay to play programs—usually students have an amazing time, learn, develop confidence, and find new friends—but they will not add value to your resume. Here are a few rules to follow when deciding on summer programs:

  1.  If it’s free, it’s prestigious and selective. Unfortunately, there are very few free programs left as budgets have been cut. Some examples include Governor’s Schools in various states and Scholars Programs.
  2.  Programs at colleges-there are thousands of college and university programs and they can be a great way to learn about college life and various majors. I have had students go on programs that show students what it means to be an engineer, how to code, and various options in health professions. Some students return more enthused and motivated to go into a particular career while others learn that the career they thought was a match is not all that appealing to them. These are invaluable personal experiences. In terms of value added to a college portfolio, programs where students earn college credit from the summer program tend to be viewed as more labor-intensive and, therefore, value added. Also, there are third-party companies such as Summer Discovery, which lease space on a college campus, so these programs are not as selective/prestigious as those run by the colleges themselves.
  3.  There are countless programs out there and experts who can advise on these programs. They can be very costly and many offer scholarships–some based on need and others based on merit. The bottom line is that when your family is considering paying for a summer program, it is important to find out how selective the program is.
  4.  Other summer options are available if you can’t afford these programs but want to explore a career. Be resourceful and reach out to professionals to find out about shadowing opportunities in law firms, physical therapy offices, hospitals, and engineering firms.
  5.  Work! Colleges love to see that students work, and while summer programs can add personal value, so do entry-level positions. Students should experience what it’s like to work in an ice cream shop or other retail center, lifeguard, serve in the restaurant industry, and so on!
  6.  Use your summer to volunteer and focus on something that you’re passionate about. This does not mean that you have to pay to volunteer by going on a program to build houses in a foreign country.
  7.  A final thought-while parents can present options to students, we feel that it’s vital for students to be invested in their summer plans and learn to be resourceful in searching for options.

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