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Why summer schools matter for your college application

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

If you’re planning to apply to top universities or Ivy League schools, you might find that their admission officers care more about how you spend your summer than you do.

Browsing through your activity list, admission officers get a picture of how you spend your spare time. Therefore, if you use your time wisely, participate in activities that demonstrate your academic abilities, interests and personalities during summer break, you are more likely to stand out among all the applicants. From this perspective, a well-known summer program does help.

Today, we will evaluate some prestigious summer programs in the U.S., discussing how to correctly interpret the value of a specific summer school and how to leverage that opportunity to boost your admission chances.

The allure of summer schools

Throughout the entire application process, the summer school experience is more like the icing on the cake. However, if you did it properly, it will definitely make your profile more competitive.

Office of Admissions from MIT once said:

“It’s who you are that really matters. It’s how you embrace life. It’s how you treat other people. It’s passion. And yes, that stuff really does drip off the page in the best of our applications. It’s not anything I can explain — you just know when you read an application. . .”

What he meant was, an impressive application will let admission officers get a picture of what kind of person you are. With more well-rounded and high-quality activities, you will be able to showcase yourself in a comprehensive way.

A step-by-step guide to “hacking” summer schools

Based on Thinktown’s decade of experience coaching students to get into their target programs, we extracted several key points from problems and challenges students had encountered over the years. We hope these steps will guide you in your quest for the best summer plans.

1. Have a clear purpose

When choosing summer schools, many students only pursue programs hosted by prestigious universities, but neglect to understand their inner objectives. It should be noted that attending the summer school of a college has no connection to securing admission. Instead, you should focus on an academic area related to your interest and find the best program in that area. For some, a summer school experience is also an opportunity to enrich their profiles, especially if they come from a small high school or lack outstanding GPA. You should know your expectations beforehand.

2. Plan and prepare early

You will need to have a clear plan for each summer break when working on your application timeline, since you only have three or four of those. You should make sure you have time to maintain a good GPA, do extracurricular activities and take standardized exams. If you do not plan ahead, taking time to attend summer schools is likely to mess with the progress of other tasks.

3. Benchmark with highly recognized programs

Once you decide to go for summer schools, you can start learning about some highly regarded options. Their admission requirements will give you a sense of where you stand in terms of competitiveness. Here are a few examples:

(1)Stanford University Mathematics Camp (Sumac) is hosted by the Stanford Mathematics department and the Epsilon Foundation of the American Mathematical Association. The project does not put emphasis on competition, credits or grades, but instead focuses on research in advanced undergraduate math topics. Admitted students will enjoy the charm of mathematics by conducting in-depth research on topics that interest them.

(2)Research Science Institute (RSI) is co-hosted by MIT and Center for Excellence in Education. The program is six weeks long and has an admission acceptance rate lower than 5%. It consists of both STEM courses and research opportunities, suitable for students who want to demonstrate their academic prowess in the STEM fields and to challenge themselves.

(3)There are also summer schools that have gradually expanded their enrollment, such as Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS) or Stanford Summer Humanities Institute (SSHI). If students can make full use of the opportunities provided by these programs, the valuable experience they bring may also be a stepping stone to a top university.

4. Conduct deep research on specific programs and their curricula

As you narrow down your list, you must determine whether a program is worthy to attend. Summertime is precious as the opportunity cost is high. You need to do a thorough research on the program’s faculty, course offerings (pre-college or college credit courses) and admission requirements. This information will help you determine whether a program meets your needs.

5. Practice for college application

The application process of many summer schools is actually very similar to applying to colleges. Therefore, this process can be regarded as a drill for college applications in the future. If the summer school you are applying for is your dream school, it will provide you with material for your future application as well. You can put this experience in the why school essays, making your essays more specific and genuine.

6. Experience college life in advance

If you successfully got into a summer school, seize the opportunity to experience real college life. By studying in your dream university, taking classes with undergraduates, you can have a better understanding of its academic rigor, school environment and campus life. You will be able to know whether it’s a good fit and identify areas you need to improve to strengthen your application profile.


A summer school experience is not required for college application, but showing how you carefully planned each summer DOES matter a lot. More importantly, summer schools should serve as a catalyst for self-improvement.

We hope this post is helpful for you when planning your journey to college. If you have more questions about summer schools or college planning in general, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Thinktown’s team of educational consultants are ready to help!


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