SIG, EPGY, CTY, RSI, RISD, college-credit summer programs at John Hopkins, Harvard, etc.… As privileged international high school students attending competitive schools, many of us look into attending summer camps at elite universities in the hopes of embellishing our college applications, or in the hopes of gaining college credit and taking a step ahead in our education.
But with the wide variety of choices available- some exorbitantly pricey, some with scholarship programs, some residential, it can be extremely hard to decide whether or not these programs are really worth spending your summer months on. After all, there are endless choices as to what to spend summer doing – how does what those camps provide compare to the potential benefits of spending your summer training for your sport, engaging in your first real-life work experience with an internship, or simply relaxing and having a good time after a year of stressful academics?
There are three aspects to consider when deciding whether or not these summer camps are for you- what you expect to gain, academically; what you expect to gain, socially, and whether or not what you expect to gain is worth your time, energy, and money.
Many of these academic camps are held in world-class universities and university professors themselves sometimes teach classes. Obviously, this offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience college life first-hand, especially if the given summer camp is hosted by a university that you are potentially interested in applying to and attending. The quality of the academics, however, really depends on which camp you choose to attend. Camps such as EPGY and Johns Hopkins require you to choose one topic to focus on for all three weeks.
Other camps, such as CTY and SIG, operate on a more school-like schedule, with multiple courses taken throughout the day. The more focused camps such as EPGY really allow you to explore a topic that may not conventionally be offered at your school, and offer a great opportunity to be housed amongst people that have the same interests as yourself- this creates closer bonds and a more unique, personalized experience. However, camps like SIG potentially allow you to explore a wider variety of topics and often offer courses that may prepare you for your next academic year. Some of these multiple-course camps also offer SAT courses, which is something to keep in mind if you are deciding between attending a summer SAT course and an academic summer camp.
Academics aside, the social aspect of these summer camps is also imperative to consider when making a decision. Overall, the social experience of being away from your family and having to live in a dormitory setting is extremely eye-opening and a lot of fun. Many of us have helpers who take care of food, laundry, and cleaning; few of us have ever had to do our own laundry on a regular basis. And most of us have never had the experience of cohabitating with a roommate.
Summer camps are great in that they offer these experiences for a short amount of time, with very few to no negative consequences. Although serious roommate problems do arise from time to time, the experience of cooperating and living with someone your own age who has the same interests as you is largely very rewarding and positive.
Also, summer camp is an optimum time to try new things that one wouldn’t necessarily venture to do during the school year. Have you ever wanted to perform in a talent show but are too terrified of humiliating yourself in front of your peers? Summer camps offer a great opportunity for the shy to branch out a meet new people; after all, what happens at camp stays at camp- for the most part. The involvement of people you meet at summer camps in your future will be minimal, so there is little risk when it comes to humiliating yourself.
And for those who are naturally outgoing and extraverted? Summer camp is a great place to meet new people and forge lasting relationships with intelligent students from around the world who share the same interests as you. As one ISB sophomore says, “It was a great experience. The dorm atmosphere gave me a good idea what going to college would feel like. The people in camp were all very talented and outgoing so it made dorm rivalry very competitive and fun. Besides meeting gifted youth from around the world, my favorite part of camp would be the course I took. I partook in the Legal Studies course in EPGY and it was very rewarding, as I got a good idea of what a lawyer does and learned about constitutional, civil, and criminal law.
We had many field trips, including trips to places such as the 9th Circuit Court, Palo Alto Courthouse (where we had a mock trial), Stanford Moot Court, Stanford Green Library, and Google’s headquarters. We also had lectures from guest lawyers, judges, and specialists who helped with our debates and legal memos. I think it is important to take courses like these during the summer because you can really get a good understanding of a course and it is a good way to bond with people and have fun. I recommend EPGY to any high school students who have a passion for a field of study and want to make new friends.”
Despite all these benefits, the price tag for these camps is incredibly high and the academic benefits may not necessarily rival what you may gain from a few weeks of studying under a tutor at home. After all, these are summer camps and although the academics can be challenging, much emphasis is placed on the social and “fun” aspects.
If your goal is simply to advance yourself academically and prepare for the coming school year, summer camp may not be the best choice. However, if you are looking for an overall great summer experience and are seeking to explore fields of study that are not offered at your school, academic summer camp is a great opportunity to do so with low risk.
For those of you who are interested in applying to one of these programs, get to work- deadlines for applications are generally around March, but as many of these camps are highly selective, earlier applications tend to be accepted easier.
This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by Vivian Zhang, a student at the International School of Beijing.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.
Photo by California Cthulhu (Will Hart) via Flickr