College-sponsored summer academic programs are increasingly popular among high school students, partly because students and their parents believe that these programs can give a boost to college applications.

That’s a reasonable expectation – but only up to a point. Moreover, the advantage gained by summer program participation is not quite the one some people think it is.

Summer programs can be a great way for high school sophomores and juniors to earn college credit while gaining a first-hand look at undergraduate life. These programs can range in length from a few weeks to the bulk of the summer, and cover topics as diverse as architecture, theater, medicine and law.

But participation in a school’s summer program is not a guarantee for later admission to the college involved. That’s partly because there is usually no overlap between a college’s summer program administration and its admissions office. The two offices have separate staffs and often use different selection criteria. That means that being selected for a competitive summer program doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a strong candidate for undergraduate admissions.

All this said, participation in a summer program is, indeed, viewed favorably by admissions committees. It shows initiative on the applicant’s part and a genuine interest in a given area of study. Just remember that to get the most out of a summer program experience, students should make an active effort to get to know their classmates and professors. They should also make time to explore the campus and the surrounding city.

Furthermore, a summer program should really be used to give students an opportunity to learn more about a target college than viewbooks, websites, or even campus visits can provide. And that experience can be invaluable when it’s time to address the ‘Why College X?’ question in your application essays!

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