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College Prep at Summer Camp

College Prep at Summer Camp

by Cathy Ashby

In a world where the college admissions process is increasingly competitive, even strong students wonder what it takes to get ahead and stay there.  At the same time, parents worry that their children – who’ve always relied on Mom and Dad for advice, academic motivation, social boundaries and financial support – are unprepared for the giant leap to independent college living. 

Enter a new breed of college-preparatory summer programs.  These programs allow students to tackle the challenges in a supportive, structured environment that gives them a taste of freedom, a glimpse into the future and, sometimes, a much-needed dose of reality.

Making the Right Decisions
According to Dawn London Blanchard, the academic director of Duke University’s popular Constructing Your college Experience program for college bound rising 11th and 12th graders, more and more families are choosing college-prep summer programs because they know what’s at stake.  “Parents and students want help navigating the college search process,” explains London Blanchard.  “College costs continue to rise, making the investment sizeable.  Families want to ‘do it right,’ and college-prep summer programs provide a wonderful opportunity for students.”

Anne M. Weeks, the dean of academic life at the Oldfields School in Glencoe, Maryland, agrees that families need more help than ever with the college admissions process.  She oversees the school’s summer college-prep program, The College Process and SAT Writing, which was designed around the framework of a successful course the school offers during its regular academic year.

“There is so much information available through the media on the college process, I believe parents become overwhelmed and feel they need guidance as to where to begin the process,” she says.  “Students are aware they need to be focused, organized and on task and are, therefore, looking for structure in the process.”

These two college-prep programs – and dozens like them across the country – offer just the guidance parents and students are looking for.

Getting In and Fitting In
From practice SAT tests to mock interviews, college-prep programs provide experiences that give students a solid foundation to make their college searches successful.  Addressing the applications process head-on, many programs provide valuable information about essay writing, interviewing and selection criteria.

“The amount of time students spend learning about each college is another very important factor,” London Blanchard says.  “A good college-prep program combines education, personal guidance and feedback, and a structure for completing applications and essays.  Students need to learn how to interview, how to size up a college during a campus visit, and how to assess whether each campus environment is one in which they will grow.”

This last part, she says, is critical.  “One of the most important elements of the college search process is helping students to articulate the things that matter to them both academically and socially.”
With that in mind, most college-prep programs offer a combination of in-class and extracurricular activities that prepare young people on multiple levels for the next phase in their lives.  The experience helps students determine what kinds of classes interest them, what type of people they feel comfortable with and where they will best fit in.

Getting Ahead
Some programs take college preparation a step further, inviting students to immerse themselves in campus life for days or weeks during the summer.  Living in dorms and taking college courses for credit, students, in essence, have a chance to practice day-to-day living in the collegiate world.
Angela Ashley, the director of admission communications at Savannah College of Art and Design Summer seminars and Rising Star program in South Carolina, says this type of program puts students on stronger footing when it’s time for the real thing.”

“We are seeing more and more high school students interested in taking courses designed to give them a feel for a degree program allowing them to narrow their college selection process,” she says.  Not only does this put them ahead of the game in terms of course credit, it prepares students emotionally for their new lives.  “The sooner students can develop good study habits the better,” she says.  “College-prep programs give students an opportunity to test the water and experience the expectations of pursuing a college degree without the added pressures.”

Weeks agrees.  “Our students have felt vastly more prepared that their peers at other schools as they reach senior year,” she says.  “And our graduates have come back and talked about how much better they were prepared compared to their peers in college.”

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