It costs $10,490 for a high school student to spend seven summer weeks at Harvard, $11,900 for two months at Stanford, and $8,170 to spend a month taking classes and living in the dorms at Johns Hopkins. Students take the time and effort — and parents spend the money — because it makes them feel as though they’ve got an edge when applying to competitive colleges. But increasingly experts are decrying these programs as, well, kind of a scam.
“A lot of these programs really prey on the anxiety of parents about getting kids into selective colleges,” Elizabeth Morgan of the National College Access Network told Bloomberg News. “It’s a revenue strategy. It’s available to those who can afford it.”
Summer programs are cash cows for universities, which would otherwise be un- or under-occupied during summer months. High school students often opt for programs at extremely selective schools as a way to prove that they’re academically serious, and in hopes of getting preferential admissions treatment later. But college admissions officials are wary: “These programs are not a back door to the university, nor should they be,” James Miller, dean of admissions at Brown, said in the Bloomberg News article. “It’s something that not a lot of people can afford, so we don’t want to advantage those who have the opportunity.”
And considering that admissions to summer programs is way less competitive (the University of Chicago accepted 70 percent of applicants to its summer program, while its admit rate for undergrads is a measly 8 percent), spending a summer at a dream school might actually set up a student for heartbreak.
Meanwhile, by attending these programs, students are missing out on other opportunities, like taking meaningful (or non-meaningful!) summer jobs, or taking on an internship. But don’t expect these programs to go away anytime soon; as college admissions gets more competitive, these summer programs start to seem like a smart way to get an edge — even if they’re really not. The Johns Hopkins-run Center for Talented Youth offers intensive summer academic programs for second graders, even. What, you spent your second-grade summer running around playing in a field somewhere? You’re already so far behind!