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What to Do – And NOT Do – During Summers

By Robert LeVine

Conventional wisdom suggests that attending a summer class at a prestigious university will help a student’s chances of college admission. Is this correct?

Like so many of these “is that how you do it” questions, the answer is “yes and no.” However, the answer is “mostly no.”

Let us start by understanding a simple – but crucial – philosophy about college admissions. Here at UCA, our mantra is “build a person, not a resume.” Resumes do not create great applicants. Great people create amazing resumes naturally. It’s organic: a resume follows the person’s achievements, not vice versa.

Next, let’s understand that no rule fits all situations. Age and maturity change a lot during high school. For summer programs, if a student finishing 9th grade is mature enough to venture out into the world, and if that venture is valuable to the student, then our recommendation is “do it!” If a student finishing grade 10 wants to do something they already enjoy and do it more deeply than can be accomplished near home, or if they wish to try something new that is unavailable at home, our recommendation is again “do it.” Of course, both recommendations presume that the summer program is the best possible option for the student.

What about those finishing grade 11? Will a summer program make a difference? No.

In fact, that program can actually diminish a student’s chances of acceptance.

Start by understanding that America’s best universities use a holistic method of evaluation. They look at everything a student does (not just academics) and often grade each applicant in multiple areas (usually academics, activities and personality). How does a summer program fit into this evaluation?

If the program is a class, then it is likely considered to be an academic (intellectual) effort. In contrast to three of more years of grades, a short summer class is relatively unimportant in the evaluation of academic potential. Vis-a-vis a standardized test like the SAT or ACT, that summer program is not a universal piece of data that allows admissions officers to compare and contrast students fairly. Compared to original research … well, you get the idea. Summer classes do not significantly alter an evaluation of a student’s intellectual abilities.

But what if the program is considered an “extracurricular activity” instead of an academic pursuit?

Our best universities evaluate non-academic activities using four factors: length of time, quality of performance, breadth of impact, and originality.

Let’s start with length of time. A one or two-week program is not very long in the grand scheme of life. If a short program is at the top of your list, then your resume has bigger problems!

The next part of the evaluation is performance. Few – if any – summer programs “grade” your work. How will a university know if you did a good job? Although colleges will know that you paid for a program, it is not evident that you even showed up at the program (or did anything noteworthy in it).

When considering impact, understand that colleges want to see you make a difference to others, not just improve yourself. Is a summer program at a prestigious university helping anyone but you? Maybe, but even if you are making some impact during that short program, understand that admissions officers want to see broad impacts, graded by geography: international, national, regional and local. Are you changing the world? Not likely …

Finally, great colleges want to see unique attributes in their selected students. Different experiences, philosophies and backgrounds make for valuable diversity on campus. When considering a summer program, ask yourself whether that program makes you any different than the other applicants who attend summer programs.

Yes, a few programs are highly regarded and require real effort and achievement just to get in, but in the vast majority of cases, the truth is that after 11th grade, attending a summer program does little to improve your chances of college admission. In fact, because you could use your time more wisely, spending time doing little to increase your odds is actually taking time away from more valuable pursuits (and thus a better resume).

But what are those valuable pursuits? One size does not fit all. At UCA, we don’t believe in pre-packaged plans. Rather, we work with our clients to help students personalize their paths by enhancing the trajectory – both depth and breadth – of things they already enjoy doing. After working with over 1,000 students, I can confidently say: that strategy works!

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit

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