It’s been widely documented that the battle for admissions into selective colleges is more intense than ever. As a result, students are agonizing over how every decision they make impacts their “narrative”. One decision that’s gaining attention and creates stress is which summer program to attend. There are thousands to choose from and many come with a hefty price tag. And lately, it seems like every prestigious university offers some type of summer program.
While interviewing several admission leaders of selective colleges for my podcast, I heard a consistent theme regarding summer programs: avoid the trap of using them as a “resume builder” versus an enrichment opportunity. I tried to take this advice to heart when choosing a program the last two summers. I ended up choosing two radically different programs each touting a unique value proposition, which they delivered upon flawlessly.
The University of Chicago summer program promised a fully immersive experience in an actual undergraduate course, and boy did they deliver. The Pathways in Economics class I took as a rising sophomore can best be summed up with Tom Cruise’s quote from Jerry Maguire: “It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about.”
University of Chicago doesn’t mess around – it was simultaneously one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve done academically.
As a rising senior, I applied to the Yale Young Global Scholars program which is rooted in a philosophy they describe as “and” – where students are promised a diverse and immersive experience including lively discussions, group simulations, and lectures from some of the greatest minds in their respective fields. The focus of the program is not so much on academic rigor as it is on fostering intellectual curiosity, self-discovery and creativity – a fact that became obvious just from the application.
Ever thought about what fictional character you most relate to? What if you could change any historical event in the 20th Century? When did your courage fail you most? It turns out that these prompts are by no means random. Contemplating my answers took me on a mini-journey of self discovery – each answer revealing core aspects of my character, value system, and life priorities in a subtle yet powerful way. And that was just the application!
I was fortunate to be accepted into the program and took a course on Politics, Law, and Economics. Immediately striking was the diversity of the program student body – 57 countries were represented in my 200 student program. My small discussion group alone had six continents represented. The cultural diversity was only surpassed by the intellectual diversity which led to dozens of fascinating discussions, debates, collaborations, and some flat out laugh out loud experiences (like watching a student in France “drain a red” during a lecture). I attended lectures from professors who were quite literally the world thought leaders in their fields. The program found the right balance of fascinating lectures, team building, and collaborative problem solving. Nothing was graded, but that did not diminish how much I gained from the program.
My experiences with UChicago and YYGS taught me three things. First, like most endeavors, you will only get out what you put in. That’s particularly true for programs like YYGS that are designed for students who are fully prepared to immerse themselves (versus a didactic format). Second, take advantage of the social media age and do the research – you’ll learn all you need to know. Lastly, do yourself a favor and don’t worry about how your decision looks on your resume and focus on what you want or need from a program. You might be surprised at how ‘freeing’ it will feel to be your authentic self, and you just might be rewarded with an enriching experience that’s worth the price of admission.
To hear more about the college admissions process, check out ‘Hold Me Back’ on Spotify.