Question: If a student is accepted into a prestigious program but cannot attend because of financial or parental concerns, should the acceptance still be mentioned on college applications? What's the proper way to do so?
You can list acceptances under "Honors and Awards" on applications or on your resume or activities list. Simply say, "Admitted to ... " or "Invited to attend by ..." and then name the program.
But here comes a BIG warning >>>>>>>
Lots of students are asked to take part in for-profit programs that are dubbed "prestigious," "highly competitive," etc. by their promoters. In many cases, when a program is pricey, it is NOT prestigious. It may be a well-run and worthwhile venture that receives good reviews from its participants, but it is probably not fodder for a college application, if you didn't actually attend.
These days, outfits like that abound for young leaders, future leaders, doctors-to-be, etc. Sure, not every student in every school gets "invited" to apply. If that were the case, these programs would lose much of their appeal ("Gee, this can't be very selective if Cement-head Sam got the same letter I did!"). And, of course, by singling out only strong students, those who do attend often find themselves in stimulating environments, which--in turn--enhances the reputation of the sponsoring organization.
However, seeing these acceptances and invitations on applications rarely impresses admission officials. Listing them may even make you look a tad naive. So do feel free to include those you believe to be true feathers in your cap, but be careful and selective as you decide.