Socioeconomic bummers of summer programs


Sophia Ho

JUST A GLIMPSE OF OPPORTUNITY: Finances often outweigh ability for summer programs.

Megha Kishore, Staff Writer

“Congrats! You’ve been accepted into the pre-college program” is a letter many students eagerly await at the end of the school year, hoping they’ll have a chance to experience a few life-changing weeks at their dream school to impress their future admissions officers. For some, this opportunity is unavailable because they simply cannot afford it. Summer programs intend to provide extra profit for universities, rather than unique benefits like they are marketed. 

Pre-college programs at prestigious universities cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, not to mention the commuting and mandatory application fees which can be a struggle to pay for low-income families. Pre-college programs are a luxury that not every family can afford, especially with the inaccessibility of financial aid, which some rely on to participate in summer programs. 

UCLA’s summer program has a limited number of scholarships for California residents and USC does not provide any. Other universities like Harvard give out merit-based scholarships, but this causes intense competition and lessens the chances for lower-income students to secure financial aid.

However, the misconception remains that these programs are a guaranteed ticket to admission into top colleges. In reality, these programs are often cash grabs with the goal of increasing revenue and boosting an institution’s reputation. 

Christopher Rim, founder of Command Education, a college consultancy company, estimates that universities make around $4-6 million just from pre-college programs.  

Institutes guarantee they assess students based on academic merit and essay responses, but often family background and financial status allows an upper hand at admission if universities see that students can afford high tuition.

“They might ask you to write an essay or for a recommendation letter, but if you can afford the price tag and show evidence you can handle it by being a halfway decent student, you’re going to be accepted,” Elizabeth Heaton, a former admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania, said to the Washington Post. 

College admissions officers reading your application can assess whether you got into a program based on merit or financial status, and which ones are truly valuable. Rather than stressing about getting into pre-college programs, which have little value for their cost, focus on applying to free merit-based programs. They will provide worthwhile experiences that showcase you were impressive enough to be accepted into a program that chose you for your personality and skills. 

“I got into a medical summer program and I don’t think it was worth the money,” senior Santhoshi Ramkumar said. “I learned everything from that program again in greater, informative detail from a free ROP program.” 

Productively spending your summer means doing something you are passionate about, without having to shell out thousands of dollars. Activities such as starting a passion project, volunteering, taking IVC courses or getting a job show that you can take initiative for your individual learning and extracurriculars. 

“An admissions officer would be more impressed with a student who wanted to explore a particular discipline and found a free way to do it,” Elizabeth Morgan, director of external relations at the National College Access Network said to Insider. “That kind of self-directed work is more impressive.”