A lot of people are looking for advice on how a summer program can make their college application more competitive – but let’s back up a minute first. What if you should actually focus on how to write a compelling application to land a spot in a competitive summer program for high schoolers? There are many great summer programs in which space is limited and the application pool is very large; these types of programs typically require a merit-based application to ensure that the students chosen represent a good fit for the program, have the skills necessary to succeed and help the program itself exceed expectations.
But what’s the secret recipe to make your application stand out for a summer program? While applying to a competitive summer program doesn’t need to be stressful, it should not be taken lightly; in fact, many competitive summer programs intentionally make the summer application process feel similar to a college application.
The truth is, there are a lot of similarities between the two application processes; submitting applications for a competitive summer program is great practice for the college admissions process. There is a lot of advice on building and writing a great college application that is absolutely going to be relevant when crafting an application for a competitive summer program: always use good grammar, follow the application instructions strictly and provide good references.
How to Stand Out When Applying to A Competitive Summer Program
1. Show Your Passion
The big secret is that what can make your Summer Program application competitive is You – it’s not just about putting together a list of requirements on paper that seems impressive, like a transcript of grades. Sure, summer programs and colleges will want to see this. However, what lot of top schools and camps want to see is your passion – they want to get to the root of what makes you who you are. Applications will often, for example, include an essay or section explaining why you want to participate in the program. Just like a college, a summer program will want to ensure that you are truthfully very interested and excited about the curriculum for the program.
Takeaway Tip: Plan ahead with your extracurricular activities. If you know you want to start applying to a summer program look into what kinds of programs or activities your school or community provides. You don’t want to start filling out your application only to realize you don’t have anything to show you are passionate!
2. Demonstrate How You Are Pursuing Your Goals
While colleges may want to see that you have a dedication to a certain topic and a sincere interest in their school, many are often more concerned with your overall academic performance and overall ability. While grades and test scores will certainly be important in getting accepted into a competitive summer program (most require both a transcript of grades and at least one standardized test score) they are often more interested in getting students that are genuinely involved with the summer program topic. The next level here is demonstrating that you have worked hard and achieved something in this field – the good news is that if you have something you are passionate about, you are more likely to spend more time and seek mastery of that field. This is why summer programs will often ask about awards and honors in your field – even at a high school level. If you want to get into a summer program, taking an interest and initiative is key. If you haven’t won any awards or honors yet, that’s okay! You will still want to demonstrate any steps that you have taken in pursuit of your goals.
Takeaway Tip: Leadership skills are always a valuable asset on an application. If there isn’t a clear program or award in the field you are interested in, think of something you can start on your own! Think starting a podcast, creating a club at school, creating a business or finding an internship; anything that shows you have the motivation to find new ways to learn and grow your passion.
3. Examples of Your Work
For some specialty camps or college majors, such as Art or Architecture, examples of your work, typically a portfolio, will be required or expected – this is a tangible representation of how much time and effort has gone into improving and enjoying your craft. However, even if you are applying to a camp where this is not required, there may still be an opportunity to demonstrate your dedication. For example, if you are attending a summer program on writing, be sure to share some of the works you have written that make you the most proud.
Takeaway Tip: Follow directions! Many programs have requirements about how your work should be submitted; make sure you read directions and meet all deadlines.
3. Quality References
Even your references should follow this lead. While all references should demonstrate your positive personal character, it is beneficial to have at least one reference from someone who knows your skills best. For example, if you are trying to get into a competitive robotics summer camp, a reference from your English teacher may be helpful. BUT, a reference from your technology teacher, who also runs your school’s yearly technology competition and has worked with you on some of your projects and seen your passion – now that would be an ideal reference.
Takeaway Tip: Ask politely and ask in person, when possible. You want to make sure the person writing your recommendation letter will be enthusiastic about writing it. You may even be able to elaborate about why the program is important to you - both things will help you get a better recommendation.
4. Focus on Your Strengths
One way a specific interest may benefit some students applying to summer programs is that this focus often allows for a little more latitude regarding any perceived weakness. Just as colleges typically understand that most students have areas of relative strengths and weaknesses, summer programs are often able to overlook weaker grades or scores for topics that are less relevant to the summer camp. However, they will expect to see good scores in relevant areas. For example, if you are applying to an Architecture summer camp, they will likely want to see that you have scored well in Math, while they may give less weight to your English SAT score. You will want to lean on your strengths and areas of excellence, but this is a good reminder to not sweat the small stuff; nobody has a perfect summer program application!
Takeaway Tip: The essay portion of your recommendation can be a great time to highlight your strengths.
Remember that admission counselors for these summer programs are looking for passionate students that will be a good fit and be able to succeed in a certain field – there is no competition for well-roundedness. Some of the most brilliant computer programmers, for example, may not be great in History or English, but this will not limit their success or ability to change the world. And this is one thing that competitive summer programs absolutely strive for: they want to help facilitate growth, learning and passion to help their alumni achieve incredible things.