A Better Summer

Internships and traveling are more rewarding and affordable alternatives to pricey high school summer programs


Rana Aghababazadeh and Laasya Koduru

The beginning of the new year is a prime time for applying to summer programs. Parents frantically search the web for a program that suits their child’s, or perhaps their own, interests and ambitions, while summer programs collect excessive application fees.

For many high school students, summer has gone from fraternizing with family and friends to spending countless hours at an expensive summer program, hoping to get a leg up on the college application process. While it’s true that such programs may look good on a college application, alternative activities such as internships, volunteering or travel may provide students with the rewarding and more affordable experience they’re looking for.

Summer camps and programs are usually a few weeks long and cost thousands of dollars. Popular programs like COSMOS, an intensive four-week summer program offered at a variety of UC campuses, cost nearly $4,000 for in-state students. Others include Northwestern’s pre-college programs that amount to nearly $6,000 as well as Brown’s pre-college programs that cost almost $3,000 for just one week.

These programs appeal to a wide audience by spreading fallacies that if students take part in these programs, they’ll have a “higher chance” of getting accepted into a high-ranking college in the future. Yet attending these programs for thousands of dollars and for just a few weeks are “the ultimate resume padding, and universities know it,” according to an article in The Guardian. When it comes to expensive summer plans, internships may be the better choice, as they provide participants not only with stipends but also with career experience in a real-world environment, smoothing the transition into working professionally in the future.

According to NBC News, summer is the ideal time for students to follow their interests, and this can be achieved “whether they enroll in a formal [summer] program or not.” Especially for students nearing the end of high school, summer may be the best time to seek future career plans. But because of the specificity of summer program courses and subjects, students are restricted certain academic areas. Internships offer a broad playing field and can call for more interdisciplinary skills. Interns learn to work with different personality types, respond to conflict and learn the value of money. (Yes, you worked 40 hours this week, and you can only buy one new hoodie).

Travel is also beneficial to learning about, observing and experiencing the ways different people live around the world. Such exposure can be key to being globally competitive in any future career.

However, some students protest that summer programs can be beneficial. They can cultivate friendships between people of similar interests, help narrow down future career choices and expand networks with professionals. Even though all of these benefits may be true, internships, travel or a part-time job can offer the same results, all while being more accessible and less expensive.   

We often overlook the reasoning behind padding resumes — we view it as an advantage during college admissions, rather than a life experience. Internships provide better grounds that represent a person’s capabilities in the workplace rather than their ability to afford a multi-thousand dollar summer program. Soon, in college, our summers will be absorbed with job-seeking and other career-targeted activities, and time for leisure and travel will be less available. As high schoolers, we are in a better position to travel, as we are legally dependent on our parents. The summer provides an optimal time to visit more than just one place. So this upcoming summer, instead of debating between which expensive summer program to apply for, take a vacation and have some fun for a change.