Are summer college programs worth it? Look closely.


Photo by Iman Suleman.

Iman receives mail from colleges almost daily showcasing their programs and campus life.

Iman Suleman, Copy Editor

It all started with an email.

“Illuminate Your Future This Summer with BU’s Pre-College Programs” the email said. The school highlighted its many programs tailored toward high school students who wanted to get a leg up. Motivated students who wanted to be taught by the best of the best. To stand out.

I was so excited. A prestigious school wanted me to attend their university over the summer. It was a dream come true. I told my mom, and I immediately started on the application. But it didn’t stop there.

Another email from another college. And another. And another. And before I knew it, I had a torrent of schools from Brown to Stanford flooding my inbox every day begging me to be a part of their program. I’m going to be busy this year, I thought to myself. Little did I know I’ve fallen into their trap.

I asked my teachers and counselor for recommendations, I hounded administrators for my transcript, and I made sure the short responses on my applications were sophisticated and passionate. I wasn’t about to let this opportunity pass me by.

I applied to various courses provided by the programs: law and government, business fundamentals, Python and computer science, and even sign language. I was obsessed with gathering as much knowledge as possible from these elite universities, no matter how miscellaneous and unrelated they were to each other.

I applied to three summer college programs: Boston, Cornell, and Purdue University. By the time I realized I’d been tricked, I was already in the middle of two more applications to Notre Dame’s engineering program and Santa Barbara’s research curriculum.

Then, the schools’ decisions. I was so nervous I waited 2 hours after getting each email to read their decisions. When I read my statuses, I almost screamed. I got accepted into all three programs! I wanted to jump up and down. I wasn’t really sure how I’d manage all three programs at once but I was determined to make it work.

The emails gave me instructions on how to create an account and accept my admission. Once that was completed, I was presented the small amount of information that would instantly wipe the goofy grin off my face.

The price.

My first acceptance letter came from Purdue. The deposit was $400. I chose three programs in my application, and Purdue selected the Introduction to Civil Engineering course at random. The course would last from July 11-16. 6 days. Less than a week. The rest of the course cost $1264.55. The course would have to be completed on-campus, so the cost wasn’t as much of a shock compared to the other universities.

The second acceptance came from Cornell. The price of Cornell truly shocked me. I signed up for three three-week online courses. The three courses were American Sign Language I, American Sign Language II, and Law. Now sobered by the price of Purdue, I was wary toward the cost of an Ivy League school.

The price was $17,625.05. It would cost me $18,000 to attend online classes from my bed for a little over two months for mostly introductory classes.

By the time Boston University accepted me, I wasn’t feeling too positive. And sure enough, any course provided to high school students was between $2,920 and $3,120.

I felt betrayed, disappointed, but most of all, confused. Usually, I’m wary about opportunities that sound too good to be true, but this time, I was caught off-guard. Why wasn’t I told of a payment beforehand? How was I tricked so easily?

That’s when I started doing some research.

It turns out, summer college and pre-college programs aren’t there for the benefit of the students, but really for the benefit of the university.

Prestigious universities make millions off of these programs. They take advantage of their elite status in the education system to lure people in. Summer courses cost so much more because they’re compensating for the smaller number of people who apply to the program versus the number of applicants for semester and/or year-long courses. They jack up the prices since there’s less demand for it than regular classes during the school year.

Previously, wealthy or well-off families were the target of these expensive summer college programs. However, universities have started noticing the desperate nature of parents to support their children as advantageous to their pursuit for more profit.

A child would go to their parents with this “amazing” opportunity, but once they see the cost, they feel dejected. The parents don’t want their child to miss the chance to learn at a prestigious university, so they try to make ends meet. Colleges are starting to realize that guilt plays a big role in the admissions process, so they take advantage.

But despite it being expensive, it’s still worth it if you can easily or comfortably afford it, right?

Wrong. As it turns out, some summer college programs aren’t even created by the college itself. The college would hire third-party companies to form a curriculum for the program, and then they slap the university’s name onto the program to make it desirable. They take advantage of the fact that they’re a big-name university to attract more unassuming applicants.

Uniqueness is also promised by the universities. Admissions offices promise students that it will give them an advantage over other applicants, and that they’ll stand out in the college admissions process, but that’s simply not true.

As a matter of fact, colleges don’t take into consideration whether or not you attended a summer college program at all. You will be considered just like every other applicant. Even if you apply to the same college you did the program, you won’t stand out, and you certainly won’t stand out at other colleges if the former one doesn’t accept you.

Summer college programs promise an extensive curriculum into a subject not available in schools. However, the classes only last a few weeks and are very expensive.

At most, you’ll be able to connect with fellow students who have similar interests. Making friends, connections, and even building a network are the few advantages of attending a summer college program. The whole purpose of the summer college programs are to collect large profits for the universities, and in turn, provide students with a very rudimentary understanding of a subject otherwise not available in the students’ respective schools. You’ll probably make some friends, but at what cost?