Question: I plan to attend a summer program on a college campus. Is it better to choose a program at my number-one college that doesn't offer a class in my intended major field or to take a class in that field (architecture) at a so-so college?
Many good high school students sign up for a college summer program with the belief that it will be a ticket to a top-choice college. However, 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 rÃ©sumÃ©, especially when the student comes from a privileged (or even fairly privileged) background.
Sometimes taking a summer class at your number-one choice college CAN have a positive impact on your admission there down the road, but--typically--the more competitive the college, the more minimal (or rare) that impact will be. You are far better off if you pursue an interest of yours (e.g., architecture) at ANOTHER school (even one you don't plan to apply to). Admission folks are always looking for signs of academic passion in their applicants. They don't want students who simply TALK about an area of professed interest ... they want those who DO something about it.
However, if your summer schedule permits, try to balance out your on-campus architecture class 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 architecture skills, etc. This will not only enrich your summer but also fend off the growing cynicism I see among admission folks as they wade through piles of applications from top students 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.