summer programs at colleges

In admissions, there are rarely any in-the-know summer programs that, in and of themselves, will get an admissions officer to shout “Admit!” in committee. A summer program’s admissions impact is often more organic in nature: it might provide the foundation or connections for more challenging experiences down the road.

But what about summer programs offered at a college or university? Surely such participation is preferred by the host school in the freshman admissions process. No?


Before banking your admission dreams on a summer program at your target school, be sure to ask the following three questions:

  1. Who’s teaching, and how big are the classes? Think about it: That letter of recommendation you’ll be seeking from the grad student who’s trying to distinguish you from among the other fifty students who took his class will probably not carry much weight in an admissions committee. But if you do well in a program where classes are small and taught by professors, a strong letter of recommendation might have an impact, particularly at the professor’s home school. Take into consideration what kind of mentorship opportunities, if any, a program might provide you.
  1. Is the program more expensive than selective? Truth be told, summer programs can be income generators for colleges. But there are a few out there that do scout for talent. It doesn’t hurt to ask how competitive it is to get into the program. If it seems the program is as selective as the admissions office of the host school, there’s a chance that admissions office might be recruiting from among the program’s attendees.
  1. Is a summer stay important in determining your interest or fit for the school? Some schools are so distinctive, they want to make sure the students they admit know what they’re getting into. Perhaps it’s the service academy that wants to make sure applicants are familiar with their ethos, or a women’s college looking to see if students understand their campus culture, or a small rural school that’s interested in students who know what to make of life in the country. Some summer programs are not just about testing the academic mettle of prospective students; they’re about gauging fit and interest, which can sometimes factor into an admissions decision.

Let’s face it, summer school is summer school. If, after asking the above questions, you discover that a summer program’s most compelling factor is the name of the college attached to it, focus your energies instead on what you’d like to take, rather than the host school. There’s a pretty good chance an admissions officer will have more interest in why you took “Linear Algebra,” “Medieval Armory,” or “Europe in the Twentieth Century,” and how you fared in that class, than where you took it.


Written by Zaragoza Guerra
Zaragoza Guerra is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Zaragoza previously worked as a senior admissions officer at MIT, Caltech, and The Boston Conservatory. To learn more about Zaragoza, be sure to read his bio on