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Should You Apply to a Pre-College Summer Program at a College or University?

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

Get Informed About the Pros and Cons of Pre-College Programs

It’s that time of year again. School is winding down, summer is fast approaching, and the emails about “elite” summer programs are going out to students and parents. I often get questions from my clients about the value of these offers, which, on outset, sound quite promising.

While pre-college programs can be a great way to get experience living on a campus and taking college-level classes, there are reasons to be skeptical of these seemingly competitive summer options. Two of the most important caveats to consider are that 1) these programs in no way have an impact on a student’s likelihood of admission to the host college, and 2) they are quite expensive — ranging from about $4,500 to $9,500 —and typically serve as a means of generating revenue to the institution.

Here are the pros of attending an elite summer college program:

  1. You get to experience what life on a college campus is like, including being away from home, living in a dorm, having a roommate, eating in the cafeteria, and attending classes independently. This means students will need to set their own alarm to make sure they get up without someone telling them to, figuring out how long it will take to walk to each class, planning their time appropriately, etc.

  2. You will meet other students from all over the country.

  3. You might earn college credit for the classes you take, depending on the program.

  4. You can get a feel for how much you like that institution’s campus in terms of its setting and the surrounding community—but keep in mind that the campus will feel very different when actual students there and activities are going on during the academic year.

  5. Attending a pre-college program does communicate to admissions (at any college) that you like learning so much that you chose to spend your summer learning rather than laying out by the pool and doing nothing with your summer.

  6. You will gain experience with what the college admissions process is like, since you have to write an essay, submit an activities list, get recommendations, etc.

Here are the cons:

  1. Attending a pre-college program does not give you a leg up in gaining admission to the institution hosting the program in any way whatsoever.

  2. These programs are typically very expensive and are designed to be a money maker for the institution (For example, at Brown Pre-College, 70% of the fees paid are straight profit to the university, while only 30% of the fees pay for the student’s dorm, food, classes, etc.)

  3. Generally, these summer programs are not as selective as colleges want you to believe — generally, students with a decent academic record who can pay the full price will be accepted.

  4. Attending these types of programs can significantly limit a student’s availability to work and make money during the summer... and college admissions professionals do like to see that you have actual work experience on your resume.

In summary, if your family has the financial means to pay the hefty price tag for a pre-college summer experience, and you are curious what life is like on a specific college campus, you might find the program valuable. However, for most families, working a structured summer job (or internship) and gaining valuable work experience might be the better option. My advice for rising juniors and seniors is simply to consider how they choose to spend their time off during the summer. Admissions professionals want to know that a student has explored their options and taken the incentive to pursue a productive option that furthers both their learning and personal growth. If you know what you plan to major in, having experience by working or interning in that specific field may be more useful for admissions. And, for rising juniors, remember that summer is the time to write their personal statements and essays in order to be prepared for application season in the fall.

If you need help applying to a pre-college program, writing a resume for summer work, or crafting your personal statement, College Futures can help. Contact us at

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