Question: I am a high school sophomore. I feel that I should do a summer school program to learn and have a college experience for a few weeks, but many of my friends are saying that it would just be a waste of money. My family doesn't have that much money and would only like to use a set limit for my extracurriculars. What would be best for me?
Are you interested in an on-campus experience because you think it will help you mature and be comfortable away from home as well as to learn something about a field that interests you? Or do you want to do it because you feel it will "look good" on your college applications later on?
If the latter is your concern, don't worry. Admission officials usually agree that summer programs on college campuses count as "time well spent," but these programs rarely serve as "hooks" to help students get admitted, especially to the more selective institutions. There are simply way too many students choosing this option for it to stand out in the crowd at admissions-verdict time. In fact, admission folks are usually more impressed when an applicant has undertaken something unique in the summer or has simply done volunteer work or held down a job (including a very menial one). So certainly don't feel that a college-campus summer is a prerequisite to wowing admission committees.
If, however, you believe that spending time away from home on a college campus would be good for your personal growth, or if you have a specific academic area that you would like to explore in depth, you may want to try to locate a program that is short and thus perhaps not extremely expensive. You can also look for one that offers financial aid, if you feel that you may qualify. "Enrichment Alley" is a good Web site for searching for summer opportunities. In the program description, you will be able to see if financial aid is offered. You should also talk to your guidance counselor. In some states, there are selective programs held on college campuses for top students that can be inexpensive or even cost-free. So ask your counselor about "Governor's Schools" in your state as well as about other possibilities.