Question: How much weight will summer school carry on my applications versus representing my country in a national event? I have just been selected for the National Debating team (for Sri Lanka). However, our main tournament is over the summer when I was planning to attend summer school at Harvard. The Harvard summer school program will enable me to gain 8 university credits as well. I cannot do both as the time periods overlap- so which one should I choose?
Although summer programs on college campuses will be considered "worthwhile" endeavors by admission committees, taking part in one is not likely to give your admission chances a boost when it’s time to apply to college for real. In fact, most of the students in my orbit who have participated in such programs at the snazzy schools like Harvard and Brown have not been admitted to those places as freshmen. So, hopefully, they enjoyed their summer experiences and didn’t view those weeks as little more than a putative foot in the Ivy-covered door. Moreover, the eight credits that you might earn at Harvard will not be automatically accepted by every American college. It will depend on where you ultimately enroll.
The debate tournament will offer you a unique experience (certainly more so than going to college would provide ... you'll get that soon enough). It will also show university admission committees that you’ve achieved a big honor on the national level (although admittedly in a small nation ;))
So, assuming that you’re excited about taking part in the debate competition—at least as much as you’re excited about Harvard and maybe more so---that’s the choice that would get my vote.