Preparing for College

Summer Writing Programs

Question: I am a high school sophomore from Manhattan, and I am trying to find a good lineup for my upcoming summers. I'm looking into Breadloaf Writing Program and Iowa Writers' Studio. Do you know of others that will be better? Thank you!

College-campus summer writing offerings for high school students abound, and you can find them from Berkeley to B.U. I can't recommend specific programs (and quality is likely to vary from year to year, regardless of where you go, depending on the instructors and participants). However, as a college-admissions advisor, what I can tell you is that the two options you've cited (Breadloaf and Iowa) are probably among the most renowned and respected by elite-college admissions staff.

Keep in mind, however, as you make your summer plans, that back in my day (and we're talking 3+ decades ago), college admission committees were duly impressed when an applicant devoted a summer to academics--especially when electing a challenge on a college campus. Today, all that has changed. Many top high school students sign up for a college summer program with the belief that it will be a ticket to affirmative admission verdicts down the road. But--with so many strong applicants opting for this sort of summer experience--admission folks are pretty jaded when they see on-campus programs on an applicant's resume, especially when the student comes from a privileged (or even fairly privileged) background.

Yet--having said all that--I'll also point out that the venerable Breadloaf and Iowa writing programs are in something of a class by themselves. So, if you do have a passion for writing, those are excellent choices. You should investigate both and see which one seems to be the best fit for you. Again, from an admissions standpoint, I might push the Iowa option, only because it will be a chance for you--a New Yorker--to broaden your horizons as you spend your summer with Hawkeyes (and it's also a chance to show the adcoms that you're not afraid to spread your wings).

However, if your summer schedule permits, try to balance out your on-campus writing program with something very different in the remaining weeks. This could include a paid job, a volunteer position, a creative project you dream up yourself that may--or may not--draw on your writing skills, etc. in order to fend off the growing cynicism I see among admission folks as they wade through piles of applications from candidates whose summer plans include predominantly pricey summer programs. Whether this cynicism is deserved or not, it's out there. So do go after your passions as you make your plans, but don't view on-campus programs as any sort of fast track to your college-admission goals. Choose a writing program because you want to, not to boost your admission chances.