Academic summer programs aren’t worth the cost

April 2, 2020 — by Megan Chen

To many Saratoga High students, summer vacation goes to waste without the resume padding of a pre-college summer camp. Whether it’s in a lab doing grunt work or wasting away in the heat of a run-down, unairconditioned college dorm, many students feel the need to spend their summer being “productive” through often expensive, college-sponsored academic summer programs.

But has anybody ever stopped to consider the real benefits here? As someone who has participated in my fair share of summer programs, I can confidently say that investing in the academic potential of a majority of summer programs is a waste of both valuable time and money.

During the summers before freshman and sophomore year, I attended Johns Hopkins’ summer program, Center for Talented Youth, taking various $2,000 three-week courses centered around logic and cryptology. While the program’s social scene was definitely unforgettable, with daily interesting activities and weekly dances with electrifying traditions, the academic rigor was weak, and my friends who had attended in hopes of getting a head start in math and science classes during the school year walked away sorely disappointed.

While the thousands of dollars my parents poured into CTY wasn’t justified by the academic material that I learned, the unique social scene and traditions — to some degree — made up for it. However, there are many other ways to be social without having to fork over four grand to stay in a college dorm. 

Last summer, I attended a one-week course through Summer at Brown and enrolled in a program exploring architecture.  It cost about $3,000. When I arrived on campus, I was quick to learn that many had come as a getaway from their families for the summer, and they seemed to know and enjoy the fact that they wouldn’t learn anything substantial over the next few weeks.

Many of these summer programs have nothing more to offer than a couple weeks worth of simple, surface-level material that could be found in a free online class. Programs like these are designed to attract the largest number of students while still appearing to be selective by requiring essays, or specialized testing or both. 

Instead of wasting away in a classroom during the summer for a couple of grand, students and parents should consider how the summer could be spent: real experiences like taking formative trips with family, learning how to cook, building a LinkedIn profile, creating a small business, or starting that book you always wanted to read.

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