Preparing for College

National Youth Leadership Forum or Brown Summer Program?

Question: Thank you in advance for whatever help you find yourself able to give. My predicament is as follows: I am in 10th grade, and I've normally been a perfect student, but at the beginning of my second semester, I was diagnosed with insomnia... Joy (I write this past midnight). So my math grade has dropped, terribly. This is undoubtedly my last year to be accepted to anything worthwhile, in the way of summer programs. Regardless of my "career aspirations" I need to weight my college application. I've been accepted to Summer@Brown and invited to the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine, and I'm unsure which to attend.

Which carries more weight with admission officers? I know Summer@Brown is an open-application-type program, and NYLFM is invitation only, and in the past 10 years, 8 students from my school have attended, some of them valedictorians, and all of them notable. NYLFM also gives college credit at George Mason, while Summer@Brown does not give any college credit.

NYLFM seems like the more prestigious program all in all, but I'm unsure, after all, Summer@Brown is still an Ivy League summer program. Can you give me ANY inkling of information about what looks better to colleges? Thanks you and have a nice, err, whatever it is for you at the moment :)

Don’t lose any more sleep over this decision. NEITHER of these programs will impress elite-college admission officials. If you are interested in attending, and the money won’t put a big dent in the family coffers, then I don’t mean to deter you. They are both reputable programs which most students seem to enjoy and find worthwhile. But don’t use them as application ammunition. Admission folks, especially, at the more selective schools, are up to their eyeballs in candidates who thought that pricey summer gigs would highlight their academic passion. When these candidates are accepted, it’s more likely to be in spite of these summer endeavors rather than because of them.

A couple other things you should know:

1) NYLFM is NOT selective. Well, okay, not everyone is “invited” or is “qualified” to go. But the admissions bar is not set high because their savvy administrators realize that many smart students (like you) want to believe that they have been culled from the masses for this special opportunity. College admission officials, however, know otherwise. Trust me, this program is not prestigious at all. In fact, some college folks may even roll their eyes when they spot NYLFM on your résumé because they’ll suspect you were duped into thinking that you’d be selected for a special honor.

2) The “credit” you receive from most summer programs will not be accepted at the majority of the more competitive colleges. It will be accepted at some places, but it is not nearly as widely recognized as typical program propaganda will lead you to believe.

Both of these programs are reputed to be well run, and they receive high praise by many of the students who enroll. So if either one offers you an opportunity to explore an area of interest in depth, then don’t cross it off your list. If you’re determined to go to one or the other, I’d vote for Brown—not because it offers any inside track to affirmative admission outcomes but because it will at least provide a chance to sample college life and perhaps will give you a snapshot of what you may want to seek—or avoid---in your “real” college later on.

But don’t waste any more of your precious potential minutes in dreamland trying to decide which of these summer stints will improve your admission odds. Taking a class (in math?) at your local community college while volunteering at a nearby nursing home or literacy center and putting in a few hours behind the fry-o-lator at Mickey D’s would actually carry a lot more admissions clout.

Good luck to you with your decision … and your insomnia.

(posted 3/31/2011)