Do Colleges Care About Summer Programs?

Should you attend a summer program for college?
May 6, 2024
3 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/26/24

Will that alluring summer program from an elite college give you a leg up regarding admission? Read on to find out!

Finding out the best way to spend your summer to get into the college of your choice takes planning and drive. Every student uniquely progresses towards their academic goals. Although there’s no catch-all approach for every student, there are simple guidelines to remember when planning your summer break.

Excelling during the year is straightforward. It’s just a lot of hard work. But working hard with clear goals is very different from deciding what goals to pursue. Every summer, ambitious students plan out their time and try to get the best extracurriculars  to impress college admissions committees.

But what about those summer programs? You know, the ones hosted by elite schools. The ones that offer a complete getaway and immersive pseudo-college experience. How about summer classes? Maybe you even heard your friend volunteered or got a job. There are many different pathways to pursue.

So, do colleges care about summer programs? Let’s unpack everything you need to know!

Do Summer Programs Look Good on College Applications?

Summer programs offer a makeshift college experience. Students usually get to live in dorms and experience campus life. What’s more, there’s the opportunity to get a sense of the city or town the college is in. And there are classes on various topics (although not for credit) that students can learn from.

Most of the top schools offer such programs. But do summer programs look good on college applications? While they can show a bit of commitment to the school, most of the value is from the students experiencing the institution for themselves.

Summer programs are usually pricey, and there’s rarely any government assistance to help with the financial burdens. When deciding if such programs will make your application more impressive, it can be unclear. Colleges will often laud the prestige of their programs, while others openly say it has no impact on admissions.

If you want to experience campus life, the city culture, living in a dorm, and the financial costs aren’t an obstacle, then go for it. If you hope it will be a shortcut to admission, then maybe hold off. However, that’s not to say there aren’t any good summer programs.

How Do Summer Programs Help With College Admissions?

Summer programs help students understand what college life will be like. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably lived at home your entire life and had the structure of high school classes to help you succeed. College is very different. You’ll be able to talk to people interested in the same schools and a similar situation.

But do summer programs help college admissions? Maybe not, but they can give rise to unforeseen circumstances. It’s really easy to feel you’d fit in and mesh with every school when they present everything in a positive light. From campus life, city culture, and academic opportunities, colleges know what is appealing to incoming students.

But many students still get homesick. Some don’t enjoy their majors. Others find it difficult to make friends in a new environment. Summer programs can give you a personal insight into your admissions process. If their price tag isn’t offputting, it can still be a meaningful experience, even if summer programs don’t help admissions.

FAQs: Do Colleges Care About Summer Programs?

Still wondering, “Do colleges care about summer programs”? Check out our detailed FAQs, where our experts weigh in on some tips!

1. Do Summer Classes Look Good on College Applications?

Although you may find many colleges advertising the prestige of their summer program, they generally won’t significantly impact your application. Doing something is always better than nothing. But, for the trade-offs, many alternatives to summer programs may be more rewarding.

Also, there are reasons beyond improving your application to look into good college summer programs. If you’ve struggled with anxiety or changing your living situations seems daunting, then college summer programs can let you experience what living on campus is like. After you sign up and pay residence fees, changing your mind can be a lot more difficult.

If you’re sure you’d still like to try out a college summer program, you can always highlight key areas of the experience that look good on the application. If you got particularly involved with a class or an area of the campus, these could be potentially appealing on a college application.

2. Do Colleges Look at What You Do in the Summer?

Yes, colleges consider what you do in the summer. That’s not to say they’ll toss out an otherwise impressive application if no summer activities are listed. The beauty of the summer break is the open-endedness to decide what areas to get involved in. 

Even if you must apply for a summer job to pay the bills, this shows drive, hard work, and commitment. Remember, there are a lot of people who don’t do anything at all in the summer. Having an extra activity or slot to list your achievements and previous accomplishments is another way to stand out amongst the stiff competition.

Colleges care about summer programs if they show positive traits. But there’s also an individualized aspect to your summer activities that programs don’t demonstrate. If, for example, you were particularly interested in working in STEM and managed to land an internship or volunteer in a related area, this can be incredibly impressive to admissions boards.

3. Are Ivy League Summer Programs Hard to Get Into?

Although Ivy League summer programs carry excessive costs, they aren’t nearly as selective as getting into the school. This is why they don’t carry the same weight on a college app. Getting into them isn’t as impressive since the pool of candidates is significantly smaller.

Many of these programs require transcripts and recommendation letters. As a result, students often feel they’re competing as though they were regular admissions. Hence, there’s a sense of achievement when getting into these programs, despite not necessarily improving the chances of admission to the school.

Besides, there are other activities that Ivy Leagues look for.

4. Does Harvard Summer School Help You Get Into Harvard?

No. Harvard states the program doesn’t guarantee admission. They say attending and performing well will improve your application to any college. This is true for any summer activity in general. In addition, alternatives like summer classes, internships, work experience, and volunteering don’t carry the same heavy price tag.

It’s logical to think joining a program from the school you're interested in would make them more likely to accept you later. But admissions boards have their own set of very specific criteria they value. And summer programs don’t indicate a higher level of achievement than other options.

Final Thoughts

Planning your summer is tough. Most ambitious and hardworking students are likely looking forward to a break from spending their year studying and getting top marks. But part of the highlights of the summer is getting the freedom to try out things you otherwise wouldn’t have time for.

The question “Do colleges care about summer programs?” seems like it would be intuitive. No parent would mind saying their kid spent some time at an ivy league school. However, a deeper look shows that most of these programs are money-making schemes to fill dorms during the summer. Ironically, they rarely even organize them themselves. 

If you have the money and want a taste of university life and experience, you can still gain value and insight from summer programs. If you’re like most students, you’ll likely find more benefits and rewards with alternative summer activities.

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