College Camps: a Journey of Discovery

Posted: May 22, 2024

Many high school students are finding new ways to impress colleges. Is going to a college camp one of them?

Stepping onto campus, you take in the sprawling grounds. You inhale the warm summer breeze that carries anxious excitement. The possibilities are endless, you are on top of the world. This is how senior Phillip Sonstegard felt entering his first college camp: Project Select at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Project Select is just one of the pre-college summer programs held for high schoolers all over the country. College and university-based camps are one of the many ways to enhance your transcript when it comes to getting into your dream college.

Christine Paton, an upper school counselor and manager of counseling services says they also have a lot of personal benefits.

“I think the number one most beneficial thing is that it helps a student learn more about themselves and more about the careers or fields that they’re interested in studying,” said Paton.

She also said that they prepare you for college and help you understand how a college course is taught.

Yuehan Xu is a senior at Minnehaha. He went to two college camps in California, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara.

“After spending almost two months in California, they really helped me know what kind of things I want to do in the future,” said Xu. “I knew I wanted to do science, but that’s a really broad concept…One way to do that is to try new things, find out what you like.”

Another benefit of going to a camp is that they can make you more comfortable being away from home and more familiar with dorms.

“You learn a lot about life there [at college] which is kind of nice,” said Sonstegard.

“At Rose-Hulman, the dorms are a little Spartanesque. There wasn’t a whole lot in there. Just a spare bunk bed and a desk.”

And it’s just a really fun way to spend your summer and meet new people. At UC Santa Barbara you can choose different tracks, or subjects, to learn about.

“I really enjoyed my time doing college camps,” said Xu. “You can meet people from different tracks… Over the weekend we could take the college bus and spend half a day in downtown Santa Barbara.”

So the personal benefits are there, but what about when it comes to the ever-stressful college application process?

“[Say] I got into the program at UC Berkeley or I got into this [summer] program at Yale,” said Paton, “[That] does not at all mean that that’s going to help you get into that college.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean that college camps don’t help, it’s just not a guarantee. There’s also the chance that the camp will be taught by an actual professor, and they can put in a good word with the admissions staff after you impress them at the camp.

Paton went to a meeting where some selective universities, such as Princeton and Syracuse, said they were looking for people who make their summers productive.

“That could be a summer enrichment camp, or that could be a job or volunteer work or something else,” said Paton.

On the other hand, college camps can be really costly.

“It is a moneymaker too for some colleges,” said Paton, “So you have to be aware of this: Is it worth it? Is that a value? Or could you go to a local school like the U of M, or Carleton or any college that does those kinds of programs locally, where you don’t maybe have to spend quite as much, but you’re still getting a lot of value.”

Applying to these camps can be no easy feat. They are often quite competitive and require an essay and uploading grades. This can be a great way to prepare for actual college admissions and the process that comes with them. One example is MITES, a camp at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston for science and engineering. MITES is a free summer program at one of the most prestigious STEM universities in the world, so obviously it’s going to be hard to get into. In 2023 the acceptance rate was reported to be a little less than 3 percent.

“I would encourage students to look into pre-college programs early on,” Reimi Hicks, associate director of recruitment and admissions at MITES, told US News. “We receive hundreds of inquiries in the winter and spring, and that’s often too late because there’s an extensive application process that takes place in the fall.”

Don’t be discouraged by the workload. Take this summer into your own hands and make the most of it! Even if you don’t have the opportunity to go to one of these camps, be productive. 

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