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Facebook LIVE Recap and Bonus Questions: How to Make Your Summer Count For Your College Applications

In case you missed it, here's a recap of my recent Facebook LIVE Q&A: How to Make Your Summer Count For Your College Applications—plus bonus questions I didn't get to answer live!

My student blogger, John Fulton, joins me once again for this all-about-summer Q&A. In the Facebook Live video below, I cover a variety of questions from both students and parents on how to best spend the summers to prepare for college and the admissions process.

    • What should my daughter do this summer that will improve her chances of admission at her first choice college?
    • Should my son be doing test preparation for the SAT this summer instead of getting a job?
    • Should I spend my summer as a campsite intern for young kids or doing something that pertains to my major, like research at a college or university on environmental issues?
    • If I already take college courses through dual enrollment at a local college, should I take summer courses? And, if so, how many?
    • After working hard all year, am I wrong to not want to spend my summer doing something school related?
    • What's the most important thing about a summer program?
    • Should my friends who are interested in medicine be doing anything related to medicine over summer vacation?
    • Can you explain the idea of students coming up with homegrown ideas rather than pre-set programs?
    • Does the length of summer activities have a huge impact on college applications?
    • How will colleges view traditional, paying summer jobs?
    • If you are undecided on a major, what can you do during the summer to explore your options?
    • Is it important to get involved in charity and volunteer work over the summer?
    • Does summer school reflect badly with college admissions?



1. In choosing a summer program, which of the following is most important:

A. Location or school reputation
B. Competitiveness of program (degree of difficulty in getting in though not sure if colleges will be able to determine that)
C. Courses being taken (college courses vs high school courses)
D. Other (like if there was a product coming from it like research or something)

This was such a great question from a mom in Florida. I covered most of this during the live session, but here's a little more detail.

Summer programs on college campuses are hugely popular these days. Why? Many families believe this can help the student get admitted to the college where the program takes place or a similarly competitive college. Colleges have pounced on this interest and quickly discovered that summer programs generate significant cash flow during the quiet months of the summer. Colleges tend to lose money during the summer even if summer courses are offered. However, these summer programs for high school students have been a tremendous revenue boost. Keep in mind that these programs are not run by the admissions office at the college. Sometimes they are run by an outside company unrelated to the college. Programs specifically designed for high school students usually involve a college-like course (although it is usually not "for credit"), lectures, and social activities.

The upside of these programs (if the family has the financial resources to send their child to it) is that it can provide a high school student with "college" experience for a few weeks. It can also give them insight into the culture and opportunities of the college where the program is being held. For example, I mentioned in the session on Saturday that spending a few weeks on the University of Chicago's campus could help a student when writing the college's intellectually challenging application essays.

However, summer programs are absolutely not necessary to be competitive at elite colleges. In fact, they can work against a student as they tend to only be affordable to upper middle class or upper class students, and elite colleges don't want to be seen as giving these students an edge in the admissions process. Oftentimes, I recommend that the student not share this information on the application unless they received a full scholarship to attend.

So, is location or school reputation better? Reputation isn't necessarily going to help as almost every elite university is offering some type of summer program for high school students these days. Then again, being on an elite college's campus for part of the summer or going to a part of the country that is new to the student can definitely give them some insight into what it might be like to go to college there.

Competitiveness of the program? Most of the programs are only competitive for admissions for students who need financial assistance to attend.

Is it better to take a college course at a local university rather than attend one of these programs which doesn't give "college credit?" Getting an A in a college course taken at your local community college or local university over the summer "for credit" is going to be more impressive, especially if it's in the subject matter the student wants to pursue in college. Just make sure to have the official transcript sent to all the colleges where the student applies!

Are programs where the student walks away with a product more beneficial? They can be, especially for students who are applying to specialized programs which require portfolios (architecture, fine arts, etc.) Spending a few weeks or a month at a summer program for the arts can result in a stronger, bigger portfolio for a budding artist.

2. If my junior daughter has a summer job (restaurant) and is in sports does she need to up her summer for resume? She is applying to Midwest universities and selective schools but some of these schools don't ask for an essay on their application. Is working going to be enough to get into an out of state universities? She has 4.8 GPA but lower ACT scores. She wants to have a stress-free summer but I'm not sure? I can only find expensive mission style camps, is it worth the money?

A summer job and/or training for a sport are perfect for high school students. If the job is substantial (20 hours a week or more) and the training is extensive, then it's even better. Large state universities may look at summer activities, but they are going to focus more of their admissions evaluation on the student's transcript and test scores, unless it is a highly competitive public flagship university which practices holistic admissions (like the University of Michigan). For a student who applies to state universities which focus more on grades and scores, they should look carefully at the middle 50% range of admitted test scores for the colleges on their list. If they are below that 50% range, applying at the end of the summer or very early in senior year can give them a slight advantage. However, the biggest advantage of applying to colleges that practice holistic admissions (and have a test optional policy) is that they will look beyond the test scores and having a strong extracurricular list can help. If doing service work is important to the student, then I would first consider doing it in the local community instead of spending money for a trip overseas.

3. My daughter is a sophomore. She has worked as a camp counselor in the summer during high school and she would like to continue doing that. Is that considered a leadership experience that colleges consider during the admissions process?

Being a camp counselor is a wonderful summer job for a high school student. My student blogger, John, does this every summer at a sleep away camp. Most colleges wouldn't categorize this as "leadership" unless the student was the "head camp counselor" or something similar. But it's fairly unusual for any student to gain a "leadership" role during the summertime. These opportunities present themselves more during the school year.