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The debate over how high school students should spend their summers continues to grow louder. The Boston Globe ran an article entitled Summer Fun Takes a Back Seat to College Resume-Building, outlining some of the more extreme options and positing traditional summers are losing ground to enrichment activities.

It is a trend on which I have capitalized. I started All-American Model UN with the goal of offering unique, highly specialized programs for students. My programs are not a fit for all students. In fact, I do not want to work with all students. Our philosophy revolves around working with the best students for each of our programs. Our philosophy is all about fit. Finding the right program is an important part of deciding what to do with your summer.

Each time I speak with parents, teachers, and students, I try my best to explain the benefits of our programs and see if we are a match for each other. In doing so, parents and students must know what questions to ask in return. I implore you, please do your homework; please speak with a representative from the programs you are considering; please ask for referrals and references. Here are three questions that I would love every parent and student considering a summer program to start asking:

 

“I received an invitation letter. How many did you send out? How did you choose students to invite to apply?”

Sending invitation letters is a common practice by which summer programs introduce their services and request an application. All-American Model UN sends invitation letters to students who win awards at large, respectable Model UN conferences across the United States. You must ask about the criteria for invitation and the number of letters sent.

Many less scrupulous organizations send hundreds of thousands of invitation letters to any student who took the PSAT/NMSQT. This is unacceptable. Chances are you will receive these letters in a fancy package with official foil stamps. Don’t be fooled. For All-American Model UN, we send no more than 350 invitation letters to students who have won awards at major U.S. conferences. We do this to let them know about our program and because they are the only students with whom we want to work. 

 

“Who will my student be directly working with during the program? What are their qualifications?”

Every program should be able to answer this question. The major red flag regarding staff relates to the ratio of tuition to qualification level. If you decide to spend upwards of $4,000 or more for a summer program, then students should be working with highly qualified, professional staff. These types of programs may tout the best training programs and curriculum design, but if the teacher of that curriculum isn’t qualified, I call the price point into question. 

 

“Will this program help me get into college?”

This is the end goal for most. Here’s the hard truth: there is no evidence or official record of any university placing value on what students do in the summer, provided they make an effort to better themselves or their community. If any program tells you that their program will look good on an application or résumé; they are misleading you at best. So, how do these types of programs help, if at all? I explain to parents and students these experiences provide immense intrinsic value: they broaden your scope of knowledge, sharpen your skill set, and provide you with experience. You can then draw upon those experiences in interview and essay responses.

So there you have it: three questions to help you begin your due diligence on summer programs for high school students. Do you have to spend thousands of dollars on a summer program? Of course not. If you do find a program with a high price point, please determine it is a fit for you. I hope the above questions will help you decide if the price is worth the value of the program.

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