Weekly College Column

What about those elite summer programs – “pay-to-play”– worth it??

February 24, 2022

By Lee Shulman Bierer

Many students have probably been impressed with the fancy mailings they’ve been receiving notifying them that “You’ve been nominated” or “Congratulations, you’ve been identified as a strong candidate for our selective program.”

Hopefully your scam antennae is up. You’re probably asking yourself, why are they spending so much money on these fancy envelopes, the personalization, the multitude of enclosures, etc. Yes, you’re right, it is a marketing ploy. I often wish I could convince these companies to reduce their marketing costs and then cut the costs of these programs.

The programs are solid, students have great experiences, learn a lot, enjoy being in an academic environment on a college campus away from their family – those are all points in their favor. The downside is that they are very pricey, hence elite and are typically not very selective at all. I refer to them as the “pay-to-play” programs. I believe they carry little or no weight in the college admissions process.

The companies behind the programs are typically for-profit enterprises that often try to present themselves an non-profit organizations. They run elaborate marketing campaigns that make the programs look as if they are incredibly selective. That is usually not the case.

The big question is, “Will these programs help get me into college?”

I think colleges are happy to see these programs on a student’s resume but it mostly indicates that the student is from an upper-middle-class background and can afford a $3,000 – $10,000 summer experience.

So, if the biggest reason you’re considering attending one of these programs is because you think it will seal the deal to gain acceptance at your dream college, think again. These programs won’t hurt you and if your family can afford it, they can provide great learning experiences and exposure to professors and other motivated students.

Another motivation might be to “test-drive” a college campus or a city to see if it represents a good fit; if that’s the case, then these programs can be incredibly valuable on a variety of levels. You may have assumed you wanted the hustle-bustle of a city, but the reality of noisy streets and a more impersonal campus and student body, doesn’t jibe with what you anticipated for your college experience. How wonderful to learn that now, while you’re still in high school, instead of finding that out freshman year.

The most important thing to do this summer is do something that matters to you; show a college what you care about, what you’re curious about, what motivates you, what makes you different. Use your summer wisely.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: leesbierer@gmail.com and visit www.bierercollegeconsulting.com


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