What are pre-college programs?
Many colleges offer high school students the opportunity to experience college life and explore a topic of interest over the summer through pre-college programs. You will usually live in a college dormitory (unless you’re commuting from home), eat in a college dining hall, and there will be field trips and other activities when you’re not in class. There are a lot of these programs out there, and the variety can be confusing, so it’s important to be able to distinguish between them.
Credit vs. non-credit
A helpful way to distinguish between pre-college programs is if they will give you college credit or not. With college credit options, you will be taking an actual college course offered during the summer term. In addition to high school students, there may also be college students in the class. You will be awarded a college grade at the end and will have to send your transcript from the course to the colleges you apply to.
Non-credit options often closely resemble college courses, but they are designed specifically for high school students. There will only be other high school students in the class, and you will not have to report any grades you might receive to other colleges. Non-credit courses can be as short as one week or as long as the whole summer. In addition, because they are designed for high school students, the course topics might be more “fun” or less traditional than for-credit options.
Open enrollment vs. application
Some pre-college programs are “open enrollment,” meaning that they allow anyone to attend. Other programs are more selective and require a rigorous application process, often involving teacher recommendations and application essays. Make sure you look into your options early so you’re aware of any requirements to apply.
Benefits of a pre-college program
Experience college life. Pre-college programs often give students the opportunity to live and learn on campus. You’ll get a taste of independence and have a better idea of what to expect when you go off to college. These programs can be useful for the college search process, too. You might realize that certain features of college life are important to you (that you wouldn’t have thought of without this immersive experience). And if you can attend a pre-college program at a school you’re considering applying to, you’ll have a much better sense of what you like about it when it comes time to apply.
Explore your academic interests. Pre-college programs might be ideal for students who want an academic challenge or who want to study topics that aren’t traditionally part of a high school curriculum — like journalism, public policy, or entrepreneurship. Exploring new subjects can help you become excited about the possibilities that lie ahead when you go to college and might even help you decide what you want to major in.
Will it impact college admissions? Typically, attending a pre-college program at a particular college won’t give you a leg up when you later apply to that institution (a common misconception). Whether or not the specific program catches the attention of admissions officers, the most important thing is what you get out of it. If you leave with a new passion, find your independence, or engage in meaningful debate with your peers, you’ll have had an experience that makes you a more compelling applicant (especially in your college application essays!).
Regardless of the impact on admissions, there are definite advantages to spending a summer exploring intellectual interests with like-minded peers. If you do choose to enroll in a pre-college program, make sure you give it your academic best and spend some time reflecting on the experience!