Pre-college programs make no guarantees


In the midst of endless suburbia and a frenzied college-obsessed community, a multimillion-dollar industry has emerged: college-preparation programs. There’s a lot of money to be made off the test-score, Ivy-league-obsessed students and parents, and this craze has fueled the rise of dozens of tutoring companies, SAT prep programs, and college consulting firms.

Colleges have gotten involved in the market too. For the past 30 years, prestigious universities such as Harvard, Stanford and Brown have offered summer programs known as “pre-college programs” for high school students that claim to provide the elite college experience. Most of these programs are centered around the purpose of allowing students to experience a college-level introductory class in order to ultimately provide valuable skills to aid in the student’s future academic and career success. Beyond academics, the programs provide students with a small taste of the quintessential college experience: staying on campus, living and dining with friends and doing laundry.

This summer, around 5,000 students will attend one of the many programs offered at Brown University, programs that range from one to seven weeks in duration. The university offers a catalog selection with a wide variety of classes and subjects.

The real selling point for most parents and students though, is the notion that attending these assumed “feeder” programs will give an applicant a leg-up for college admissions.

However, this is not the case.

Nowhere on Brown’s website does it say that attending these programs will increase admissions chances. In fact, Brown’s own senior associate dean at the School for Professional Studies, Robin Rose, clearly stated that “[their summer program] is not a feeder program for Brown.”

And it’s not just Brown. Princeton’s Director of Media Relations, Martin Mbugua, also stated that “there’s no special consideration given to any particular program.”

Stanford’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Richard Shaw released a similar statement noting that, “It’s not a good idea to engage in something because the student or family believes it will augment their ability to get in.”

To attend these programs is not without hefty price, and for some families, the price is worth it. Tuition for a seven-week stay at Brown is $7,993 for enrollment in one course and $11,879 for two courses. With the addition of a meal plan, enrollment fee, room rates, and plane tickets, the cost of a summer at Brown can easily total well over $15,000. These price tags are too costly for the average American family to afford, but often many families fork over money to these programs in the hopes that attending these programs will boost the value of their children’s application. To some, attendance at such a prestigious program is invaluable.

However, there is some value in the experience of living on a college campus for a few weeks, even if there is no direct pay off in college admissions. If the programs help students learn and mature, then there are some positive benefits to these programs.

And sure, it’s a fun experience for many students. Since these programs don’t award any credit or give any real consequence for failure, students can relax and enjoy a summer at their dream college.

But, if you’re going to these programs to strengthen your college application, you’re better off going somewhere and doing something else. Otherwise, you’ll only be adding to the mounds of revenue accumulated by these colleges through these “pre-college” programs, without any tangible admission benefits.