The Truth About Summer Enrichment College Programs What Parents Need to Know

Photo by Charles DeLoye on Unsplash

Welcome to the LatinoDad College Series in partnership with Quetzal Mama to bring you guidance on getting your kids on the college track.

Quetzal Mama

Every year, hundreds of thousands of high school students receive invitations to participate in “prestigious” summer enrichment programs.  Sometimes it’s a lovely gold or silver embossed invitation that mysteriously shows up in your mailbox.  The letter is addressed to your student and it typically says something like this:

“Congratulations to your student for being selected to [name the program].  Your student has been nominated to attend our exclusive summer program.  You should be proud of this recognition and honor”

Wow.  Who wouldn’t be impressed?  The marketing sounds fabulous to many students and their parents.  You – the parent – thinks, “Hmmm, surely if Gabriel or Nayeli was accepted to one of these programs it will look great on their college application!

You may not have heard of these programs but they typically have names that include “Leadership Forum” and “Leadership Council” or “Pre-Collegiate” and “Pre-College” programs.  Here are a few such programs?

Global Young Innovators Initiative $2,795 (owned by Envision)

Global Young Leaders Conference $4,294 (owned by Envision)

The National Youth Leadership Forum $3,395 (owned by Envision)

Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash

Or, you might remember the famous “People to People” student ambassador program?  They charged students upwards of $3,000 to participate in their travel programs.  It was actually run by a for-profit travel agency that paid millions of dollars in licensing fees in order to use the People to People’s name.

Then, there is another group of programs referred to as “pre-collegiate” or “pre-college” programs that operate at various institutions.  While some of these summer programs may very well teach your student specific topics such as nano-technology, coding, law, politics, or international relations, to name a few, it certainly does not justify the huge price tag that comes with it.  This is especially true when there are far less expensive – even free – opportunities for your student to pursue.  And, I’ve not seen these programs benefit students when it comes time for admission decisions.


Here are a few programs you might recognize:

Columbia University Campus Emersion Program $10,645.00

Stanford’s Pre-Collegiate Institute $6,300

Brown University Pre-College Programs $2,500

Here’s the truth Latino parents need to know about these summer programs:

  1. Most (but not all) of these programs are not run by the university.  Instead, they’re typically organized by a for-profit enterprise that capitalizes on the name of the prestigious campus.
  2. Most (but not all) of these programs admitall students who apply, as long as their parents pay the hefty tuition fees.
  3. There isn’t a true vetting or selection process.  Many of these programs use mailing lists from the PSAT, SAT, or ACT to mass mail their promotional materials.
  4. Summer dorm rooms are vacant during the summer when the current undergraduates are gone until fall.  Dorm facilities that sit unattended are not generating income!
  5. College admissions officers know the difference between extremely competitive summer programs for high school students and these summer enrichment programs.  They are not impressed.

Let me share a great quote from an article published in Inside Higher Ed:

“Colleges and universities see [the programs] as money-making opportunities. They’re ways to make revenue off of buildings that would otherwise be empty but still costing the institutions money,” Van Buskirk said. “And they increase applications by giving students a glimmer of hope that they’ll be able to get into the college because they got into the summer program.”   — Inside Higher Ed

I’m not saying all of these summer programs are bogus.  What I’m saying is that many families cannot afford the $3K, $5K, or $10K price tag to enroll their student for a 10-day “enrichment” program.  Most importantly, these types of summer enrichment programs are not correlated with odds of earning admission to a particular college.  If this were true, I’d be sending my son Emilio to these camps and encouraging all of my parent groups to enroll their kids as well!

Will your student learn some potentially valuable skills, or engage in practical hands-on activities at these camps?  Probably.  Will they meet new friends and experience a new setting?  Most likely.  Could the university setting help inspire them to pursue that particular campus?  Who knows.  However, what is certain is that merely participating in these programs and physically being on the campus will not enhance their college admissions portfolio.

Where would I rather see parents spend hard earned money?  Invest in sending your student to a local community college to complete a higher level mathematics course.  Cost?  Likely less than a few hundred dollars and sometimes free of cost.  Or, invest in an ACT or SAT test prep program to increase your students composite score.

Want your student to really stand out?  Have your student create an “enrichment” program for local students who would otherwise not engage in such an experience.  It can be as simple as teaching younger students how to perform slam poetry.  How about a workshop for gaming or coding strategies?  How about hosting a chess tournament and inviting local youth.  Cooking class with a chemistry lesson?  Organizing something like this would look much more impressive on a college application.  In doing so, students project many desirable characteristics such as leadership, altruism, organizational skills, and impact within their communities.

In contrast, the following are a few examples of summer programs that indeed look impressive on a college application, do not cost a penny, and in some cases, the program pays the student a stipend!

Chicano/Latino Youth Leadership Program

The Smithsonian Latino Center’s Young Ambassadors Program (YAP

Stanford University Summer Medical Youth Science Program (SMYSP)

Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program (SIMR)

Telluride Association Summer Program for Juniors

Massachusetts Institute of Technology MITES Program

COSMOS (full financial aid available)

Latino parents can now help their children find valuable summer enrichment programs that are free, credible and valuable, and related to college admission success.  More importantly, they can expose your kids to topics and concepts they won’t otherwise learn in school.

Good luck Dads and Moms!

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More from Dr. Roxanne Ocampo (Quetzal Mama)

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