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Pricey Pre-College Programs Don’t Guarantee Admission


Pricey pre-college summer courses offered by several of the country’s top universities may not be the ticket to admission that many students believe them to be.

A recent news report by Public Radio International quotes two admission professionals — one current and one former — who say participation in such programs does not give students a leg up.

Brown University’s dean of admissions, Jim Miller, told a reporter that his institution gives “zero” additional weight to applicants who enroll in on-campus, pre-college courses.

“We actually don’t know who’s been to our summer school,” he said. “Some tell us. Some don’t. We have no idea what courses they’ve taken. We have no idea what their grades are.”

College counselor Beth Heaton, a NACAC member who previously worked in the admission office at the University of Pennsylvania, told a similar story.

“I did not place much value on them when I was at Penn and reading files,” she told Public Radio International. “What I really felt was, ‘Oh, great, more school…’ to me it didn’t help them stand out in any way.”

Tuition for pre-college courses, the majority of which do not confer academic credit, can cost thousands of dollars.

For that reason, Brown University is “very clear about drawing a pretty clear line” preventing participation from coloring admission decisions, said Miller, who is also a NACAC member. The university doesn’t want to favor students who have the resources to attend summer courses, he noted.

Residential pre-college programs still offer valuable experiences for high school students, according to Heaton, now a college admission consultant based in Watertown, Mass. Participants get the experience of living on a college campus and exploring their interests.

But she urges students — and their parents — to approach the experience with the right attitude.

“If you’re going into it with the idea that, ‘Well, I’m going to do this program and therefore I’m going to be a more competitive candidate,’ I think that can contribute to the mania,” Heaton said.