For many Stuyvesant students, summer means hot days, trips to the beach, and, yes, you guessed it: more school. Universities and colleges all over the country give high school students the chance to be experience the collegiate world over summer vacation. Students have the freedom to choose a course in which they are interested and, often, will be taking classes with actual college students. Some students will be given college credit upon completion of a course. Summer college courses allow high school students to stay busy during the summer by learning something they otherwise could not in a regular high school.
Applications for most summer college programs are available early in the year and deadlines for applications are usually around April, but if a program is not filled, the college may accept applications in late June. Advertisements for these programs are found on college office bulletins, and many colleges even email prospective students. These programs traditionally require students to pay in order to attend, but senior Mauricio Moreyra had the chance to attend a weeklong program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for free. However, because the program was free, it was also very selective. Moreyra explained that the admissions officers look for essays that show devotion to the program, good transcripts, and often teacher recommendations, much like in the real college application process.
Senior Lisa Ng, who has taken college courses at New York University’s (NYU) Precollege program for the past two summers, says the opportunity was worthwhile, because though she was back at school, being in a college class “makes you feel so much more aware of everything,” Ng said. This summer, Ng decided to take three classes, including a music and creative writing course. Perhaps most uncommon was the class she took on special effects makeup, in which she learned how to imitate burn and gunshot wounds using makeup. Summer college courses give students the freedom to choose a class to take for the sake of learning, rather than as a requisite for a major..
Not only are the lessons taught helpful, but the environment that students get the chance to be in is valuable, as well. Because it was the fist time that NYU has allowed foreign students into its program, Ng got the chance to spend time with people from all over the world, including one Argentinean who was also taking the course on makeup to improve her work for a small film company. Ng says that in the classes she took, people genuinely wanted to be there to learn.
“No one would give up their summer if they didn’t want to learn. People are here not because they need to be here, but because they want to be,” Ng said. Though being in a classroom with people who are already in college can be intimidating, Ng said, “I realized they don’t care about whether or not you’re in precollege.”
Because the courses Ng took had a credit value, she and her classmates were graded on a letter basis and received college credit after passing the class. Usually, programs that are solely for high school students do not award college credits, and students are graded on a pass-fail system. In such courses, there isn’t pressure to pass because failures will not be noted in their records, but suspension from a program will be. Senior Eric Cerny, who spent his summer at the University of Massachusetts, was part of a no-credit program, but still found motivation to do the coursework. It would be a “waste to come for two weeks and spend money, only to not understand anything,” he said.
Senior Julia Stemmer spent her summer at Brown University taking a number theories course, and unlike Ng’s courses at NYU, Stemmer was part of a special program for high students. Courses in this program also had no credits attached to them, and Stemmer describes the experience as a “high school class with a college workload” Stemmer said. These courses were taught by graduate students or the university’s professors. Because Brown is located in Providence, Rhode Island, Stemmer was required to stay at a dorm along with other students in the program. This was perhaps the most valuable part of the program, as it allowed her to experience ever aspect of college life firsthand. Her daily schedule there was unlike the arduous schedule at Stuyvesant. Because her classes started later in the day, she was free to wake up late at noon and eat lunch. Before class, she had the options of studying, visiting other parts of the campus, or going to a museum. After her three hours in a classroom, she was free to spend the rest of the day with her friends. “Besides checking in at night and going to class, you had total freedom,” Stemmer said.
Fortunately, most programs offer mentors to manage all events and help students transition smoothly into their first few weeks of college. In many of these pre-college programs, besides attending classes, students are also expected to participate in discussions with classmates about the coursework, college life, and application process. Mentors may also arrange different events, such as dances or trips to a show.
Just as college comes with an expensive price tag, most of these programs do, as well. At NYU, each credit is worth $1,000, so a class is worth $3,000 to $4,000. However, financial aid is available, and after applying for it, Ng was able to take courses for free in the summer of her junior year. Because Stemmer had to live in a dorm, she had to pay $6,000 in total for tuition, boarding, and dining. Some programs even offer scholarships to relieve some of the burden.
Sophomore Sharon Cho attended a Junior Statesmen of America program at Princeton University that gave her a $2,000 scholarship and encouraged her to create fundraisers to raise the rest of the money for herself. As one of the youngest in the program, Cho expected it to be difficult to adjust, but “adjusted pretty quickly, especially because you’re not alone and there’s tons of people trying it for the first time, too,” she said. She added that there was a heavier workload in her program than she had experienced in high school, “not in the sense that there was more work to do, but it was harder to understand the [college] work.”
Taking a summer college course does mean spending some money and going back to school for the summer, but it also opens students up to college at an earlier age, so they can ease into college life. Students have much more freedom to choose their classes and learn what they please in these programs. Even if they’re just attending for a few weeks, students benefit from this enriching and refreshing change of pace from high school life.