Pre-College Summer Programs Are Expensive, Don’t Guarantee Admission

A degree from Harvard, the oldest university in the United States, can open doors. But can a summer program run by the university do the same for high school students who may want to get into Harvard? According to Mary Camille Izlar, writing for Bloomberg, it’ll cost those who want to try more than $10,000 for seven weeks.

Harvard isn’t alone in offering such a high-priced summer program. They’ve become big business across the country, and although schools don’t make any guarantees about what attending one can do for participants’ chance of admission, critics say that the programs knowingly traffic in these kinds of expectations — and at the same time lock out low-income students who can’t afford to take advantage of them.

“A lot of these programs really prey on the anxiety of parents about getting kids into selective colleges,” said Elizabeth Morgan, director of external relations at the National College Access Network in Washington. “It’s a revenue strategy. It’s available to those who can afford it.”

Filling the dorms for the summer is a common method for colleges to make money, said Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, an organization that works to expand student access to higher education.

“Colleges and universities are facing lots of budget pressure, and many of these programs draw $5,000, $7,000 or $10,000 per student in a few weeks,” Merisotis said. “That’s pretty good money from the perspective of the universities.”

In addition to Harvard, summer programs are now offered at schools like Stanford, Duke – which doesn’t offer financial aid for the 4-week stretch – and Columbia University, which costs nearly $7,800 for three weeks, making Harvard seem like a bargain in comparison.

Those who run the programs spend a lot of their time tamping down expectations. As Kristine Billmyer, who is the dean of continuing education in Columbia, explains, parents shouldn’t be sending their kids to the program if the only reason they do so is to improve their kids’ chances of getting in. However, Billmyer did say that a quarter of the attendees do end up enrolling in the university in some way.

“If you need to borrow to attend one of these programs, you should think twice about doing it,” Kantrowitz said. Parents looking to familiarize students with college life would derive the same benefit from “taking the campus tour.”

Some high school counselors say the good use of summertime can be worth the cost. Lisa Sohmer, college counselor at the Garden School in New York, said her students have mostly enjoyed the Columbia program, among others. It provides students with an opportunity to learn material beyond the scope of high school offerings while living in dorms and experiencing a new place.