Bleg: Did you or your kids attend a college summer program while in high school?

Where did you go, what did you learn, and did you end up attending that college? Best and worst memories? Are you thinking of sending your kids this year or next? Tell!




  1. Drs. Sampo and Mumbach are teaching the summer program at the College of St. Mary Magdalen this year. Life-changing stuff, folks!

  2. It’s been 25 years since my summer program, but I attended a summer workshop at the Naval Academy. I learned that I didn’t want to major in engineering, that I still wanted to study Spanish, and that I never, ever wanted to go to the Academy. I still ended up in the Navy for four years, but I did so by having an ROTC scholarship at a “real” college.

    This summer, our daughter will be attending the Summer Arts Intensive at Virginia Commonwealth University. It’s a 3-week residence program for fine arts. VCU is her first choice for colleges, and she wants to major in fine arts, so we’re hoping this will both firm up her choice of colleges and continue her development in the studio arts.

    Our friends have sent two (I think) of their kids to the summer apologetics camp at Belmont Abbey in NC. That’s really what I wish our kids would do!

  3. The Ecclesia institute is run by the Community of St. John. One month of college courses (philosophy and theology), crazy prayer schedule, and building community. Takes place on the campus of the University of Mary in ND. I’m starting my third year of medical school and last summer I attended this program. There were quite a few high school students present. I couldn’t have asked for a better summer.

  4. I went to a camp in middle school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for arts and sciences. We took classes from professors. I studied, dance, anthropology, writing and psychology. We lived in dorms. We walked to classes. We were divided up into groups. It was a little like pseudo-college meets summer camp. It was good except for the year we were in un-air conditioned dorms. Culturally enriching and all that jazz. I honestly have no bad memories.

  5. As far back as I can remember I worked, during the summer, as a “sack boy” for a large grocery chain.

  6. I went, about 20 years ago, to Magdalen College’s summer program. It was lots of fun (great field trips, lovely Masses which they taught us to sing for, sports that they kindly taught and encouraged even the completely non-athletic to play); somewhat weird (checking underwear drawers to make sure we were orderly enough, watching us like hawks for any particularly close friendships [didn’t matter if it was male/female or same sex friends, both were discouraged] and so on); and convinced me utterly that it would be the wrong college for me. I went to UD for college and their summer programs sound excellent.

  7. I attended Harvard’s summer school between my jr. and sr. years of high school. The dorm was co-ed and we were pretty much completely unsupervised. My classes were okay and I made A’s. The museums rocked and weren’t crowded. I did apply for my undergrad & was turned down, as were most of the summer school students I stayed in touch with. I doubt I will send my kids when they are old enough, because the summer at Harvard had almost none of the cultural events that make the Ivies extremely interesting places outside the classroom.

  8. I went on Hillsdale College’s high school study abroad trip the summer between my freshman and sophomore year. We went to England for two weeks and studied Tolkien, Lewis, and Shakespeare. Now approaching my junior year at the University of Michigan, I still feel that that trip was the absolute best and most unforgettable academic experience of my life so far. The professors were incredible, and the group of students was just so joyful, friendly, and intelligent. The work was challenging but I’m convinced it was the most productive and useful college class I’ve ever taken, and I still remember the entire experience fondly to this day. Highly recommended!!

  9. I went a couple years ago to Christendom College’s summer program. It was great fun, but I am not going there. I am going to University of Dallas.

  10. I went to Hillsdale in Michigan… participated in one of their summer study abroad programs (Italy). Loved it, but I already knew that I was going to Hillsdale, so it didn’t sway my decision. 🙂

  11. I once worked as a Latin tutor in the University of Dallas’s Latin in Rome program — 15- & 16-year-olds reading great works of Latin while visiting the actual sites referred to in the texts. A classics geek’s dream! (UD has some other summer programs as well, some on the main campus, others at the Rome campus).

    Many years earlier, when I was 12 and 13 years old (long before it became hip for universities to offer non-sports-related summer programs for kids) I took part in the Governor’s Program for Gifted Children, which was conducted on the campus of McNeese University in Lake Charles, LA — for seven weeks each summer, a couple hundred public school kids got a wonderful introduction to liberal arts educations. Changed my life forever!

  12. I didn’t attend Christendom’s summer programs, but I attended Christendom as a student with a lot of kids who had — many of them were greatly encouraged (ie forced) by their parents to go to the summer program and were dreading it– they thought they knew what Christendom was all about, they thought they knew what kind of kids went to Christendom, etc… and the summer program completely changed all of that. They loved the summer program and loved their experience at Christendom as students.

  13. Went to a summer camp for math & art at Northern Michigan U. Did not attend that college afterward. Attended an engineering camp at MSU. Did end up there for one year of college, but then transferred to a different school (Michigan Tech. U.) Learned a LOT in the subject areas, but also great lessons in being away from home. Would send my own kids if they weren’t already involved in summer stuff locally.

  14. most of the homeschoolers here try to do Thomas Aquinas College’s summer program – they love it. Personally- I wouldn’t want my children to attend a one-major school, but I’d be willing to help them with the summer program

  15. I spent four summers at college programs, all at the same place that I ended up going both for undergrad and grad 🙂 I was a total nerd in a small high school, so to go somewhere where it was actually cool to be smart was life-changing for me. My parents were not willing to visit prospective colleges, and I did NOT want to go somewhere completely alien. Plus the school gave me a full ride and refunded my National Merit money to me, so it was an easy choice. The HS program no longer exists, but the JrHi one does, only the cost has tripled in 20 years. Yikes!

  16. My daughter attended a HS summer conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville and she ended up attending there. Her experience as an undergrad was wonderful and she continued on to earn a Masters degree there (including a semester at the Angelicum in Rome).
    Since her first visit there, I have attended their adult summer conferences many times. They are awesome, educationally and spiritually! I have also brought other HSers at various times to experience Franciscan. We joke that when you are there, you are truly breathing Catholic air!

  17. I went to CY-TAG at Iowa State, and while I didn’t end up going there for college or pursuing a science degree, I did find a lot of kids like me which made me feel not quite so weird back in my own high school. There are a few of us who still keep in touch via Facebook and such even twen*cough* years later.

  18. I went to one at Christendom the summer before my senior year. It was really wonderful. The pros I remember most clearly:

    1) The philosophy classes were really delightful (is Dr. Cuddeback still there?) and were my first real taste of it. Gave me a lot of enthusiasm for college level courses that I might have just been scared of otherwise.

    2) I was homeschooled, and while I had plenty of friends and had done some daycamps and stuff when I was younger, the summer program was my first real taste of being around peers 24/7. Overall it was very positive, and gave me a nice little taste of how cool people were, how much ‘drama’ could happen in 2 weeks and, once I got home, how little it usually meant long-term but how some friends really can stick with you even if you don’t have a lot of time together.

    3) I ultimately didn’t go to Christendom. As much fun as I had it didn’t quite fit, plus I had been planning on majoring in music. All of the counselors were recent graduates, as I recall, and some of them were decent musicians and all seemed to have suffered the “I-said-I-would-keep-practicing-and-then-I-got-busy” fate. If a high schooler was waffling on whether they wanted to go to particular school, it could be helpful, although I think a weekend might be sufficient to get a sense of “fit.”

    I don’t remember any major downsides, but two devil’s advocate points:

    1) The classes were fairly discussion-based, which was great in theory but exposed one to just how much one obnoxious person could distract or derail a whole group. This is probably a good thing to learn, but if one wound up with a mediocre group, I could see becoming a bit jaded. That’s more on the individual’s attitude than the experience, though, and it did teach the valuable lesson that sometimes that obnoxious person is ME. Good thing to figure out.

    2) Admittedly, while it was really great and a good healthy taste of college life to give me an idea of what I wanted, it wasn’t necessary to figuring out my plans for life. I probably would’ve wound up where I did either way. Depending on the kid, it’s not necessarily worth breaking the bank/dipping into actual college savings to send a kid there.

    Don’t want to end on negatives, though, so I’ll come back ’round to: it was a blast, we were appropriately chaperoned, and it introduced me to “The Masque of the Red Death,” which remains my favorite short story to this day.

  19. My son went to the Experience Christendom summer program during the summer following his junior year of high school. He had a wonderful experience, so much so that he is now going to be attending Christendom in the fall as a Freshman. He was very impressed with the professors and how they brought their subjects to life. He was also very moved by the spiritual life there. It is very much a part of the daily life, so the students can really hear God whe He is calling them for a specific vocation in their lives. I highly recommend this program for Catholic high school students.

  20. My eldest daughter attended one of the one-week summer programs at Christendom. We combined it with a trip to visit family in VA and we received a scholarship from the college so it was very affordable. We live in a small town and she didn’t have many peer friendships here, so Christendom was her first taste of being with a large group of young people – socially and academically. And other teenagers who took their faith seriously. It was good for her and she enjoyed it. We’re a little unschooling, so the classes showed her what kind of an academic challenge she would face in college. I wouldn’t say it was “life-changing” but it was a milestone, definitely something she remembers fondly and a time of growth. She was accepted at Christendom but didn’t end up going.

    That said, I think summer programs are generally a waste of money (unless of course money is no object). It seems like an expensive vacation for a 17yo. One admissions directed told us that their are Catholic kids who go from summer program to summer program, their parents hoping they “get religion” at one of them. Thomas Aquinas’s summer program is expensive – about $1000, considering all expenses. I figure I could save that money for tuition! You can get a taste of the college by visiting for a few days and sitting in on classes. Summer programs are recruiting devices and are designed to be fun, fun, fun. So while the students enjoy them, they really don’t give you a realistic idea of college life. We had a friend whose son attended and he told us he loved it. It was loads of fun – at least everything but the classes! He still wants to attend. You actually could end up having a student attend a college for the wrong reasons.

    There is one summer program I would like one of my kids to attend (if I win the lottery – oh yeah, I’d have to buy a ticket) – the art program at Thomas More College. So I guess, I wouldn’t consider it a waste if the summer program were more than just a recruiting tool, but had an additional educational purpose – something like a workshop.

  21. My daughter attended the Women in Engineering program at Purdue University. She enjoyed the campus atmosphere and staying in a dorm, but decided that engineering was not for her.

  22. I did UDallas’ Thomas More in England, and then attended UD. After graduation I tutored for the Latin in Rome program. Having seen the programs from both “ends,” if you will, I can say that while there will always be some goof-offs in any program, the majority of kids really gained something by going.

  23. I (and my twin sister, and my little sister is going this summer) to the Moral Life and Classical Tradition Seminar, which is held by the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton. Actually, I went two years in a row. I *loved* it.

    I am not entirely sure whether it counts as a college summer program, since it is sponsored by an institute and not a college. With that said, I found the classes to function much like seminar-style classes at my university have, and I fell in love with philosophy there in a way I never had before, so I do think it affected both my choice of college (not Princeton–the joy of that authentically Catholic week convinced me I wanted to continue in Catholic schools) and major.

    Here’s the link: Next summer they will be doing Plato’s Republic instead of the dialogues–it switches every year.

  24. I participated in an archeology camp my freshman year of high school at a college a couple of hours from my home and I LOVED it. (I didn’t end up attending the school, but it was on my short list.) I think the experience was especially helpful to me because my parents had not attended college. The camp was the first time I was ever on a college campus and made the whole idea of higher education far less intimidating to me.

  25. I attended the Engineering New Frontiers camp at the Catholic University of America (if you go to I’m the kid in the middle wearing a gray Catholic University t-shirt and a face like a horror movie orphan).The same summer, I went to the All Girls All Math math/cryptography camp at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
    I learned that I really really love math and crypto and I’m kind of meh about engineering. (I’m a math major now.) I will say, though, that that was slightly influenced by the fact that the girls at math camp were far more pleasant than the kids at engineering camp.

  26. I went to Engineering camp at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (yes, I was that nerdy). I had a good time and ended up going there for undergrad. Later, I went off to Colorado for grad school where I met my future husband at the local Catholic Church. While we were preparing pictures for our wedding, he found a group picture of (can you guess?) high school summer engineering camp at Missouri. I took a look at the picture of the students at the camp and I was standing RIGHT NEXT TO HIM. Although it was a small camp and we were bound to have talked, neither of us remember meeting the other. He decided to go to Purdue for undergrad, so we didn’t meet again until grad school. Anyway, technically, I met my husband at summer camp 🙂

  27. I posted toward the top, about attending Harvard’s Summer School in high school. I want to add that I did earn 3 hrs. of college credit in an Intermediate language. When I entered college, that credit transferred and I had already completed my foreign language requirement right off. My college didn’t accept AP test scores for credit, and parents should be aware that some colleges don’t. If you’re going to shell out for a college’s summer program, I’d definitely look for one that offers courses for credit.

  28. I didn’t attend any HS prep course, but did participate in a scholarship competition on campus. I also was one of those homeschoolers who took JC classes in HS. I am now a sophomore at Benedictine College and doing just fine – I highly recommend looking into it.

  29. I went to the Moral Life and Classical Tradition seminar at the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton. I loved it–it was the first time I’d been around a lot of girls who were as nerdy as I was. (Boys go too, but the sexes are separated most of the week.) It made me certain that I wanted to major in philosophy and theology. The worst part was that I didn’t get as much sleep as I like to get. 😀

    I don’t have kids yet, but my twin sister went twice and another sister is going this year. I would send my children worry-free if they expressed an interest. (It was cheap too–$200 for a week of room and board.) I did not go to Princeton but it had nothing to do with the program; I wanted a Catholic school and I wanted to double-major.

  30. I went to the first year of the (now sadly nonexistent) high school summer program at Ave Maria University. I was interested in the school, but I wanted to major in French, so I wasn’t going to go there. The topic of the program was JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, and I knew I had to go to it no matter what. My now-Godparents had just moved there (I wasn’t Catholic at the time) so my Godfather could take a job as a professor. It was the first time I’d met more than one or two Catholics my own age. Joseph Pearce taught a class on Tolkien and Fr. Fessio taught a class on Lewis. After a week I was so in love with the school and the people there that I knew I’d much rather go to Ave Maria and study another subject than study French anywhere else.

    I graduated from Ave a couple of years ago. I entered the Church as a freshman there (had been planning on it for a long time before, but had to wait for various reasons.) God definitely had a sense of humor–I majored in economics with a math minor, which I wouldn’t have chosen at a school with more options, but it held my interest longer than French would have, as well as making me MUCH more employable.

    I only stayed friends with a few of the students I met at the summer program once we started college, but the friends I made in college are priceless and I wouldn’t have met them otherwise. I also met my spiritual director and a number of professors I had in college while I was there.

    The program wasn’t cheap (~$600 plus airfare for a week about 7 years ago) but I think I may have gotten a partial scholarship. It was definitely worth the money, because I ended up with a full ride to Ave, so I graduated debt-free and my college fund can go towards my brother’s education instead so he’ll be able to be debt-free as well. After I graduated (and years of trying) my mom got a job at the university, which is the first full time job she’d been able to get since her postdoc in the 80’s. All in all, I can say that that week changed my life and my family’s for the better!

  31. I went to a program called Operation Catapult at Rose Hulman Institute of Tech oh….15+ years ago.

    For negatives – I remember that it was quite expensive, but my parents thought it was worth it since I was very introverted in high school and was afraid to be smart. I quickly made some friends, although I lost touch with them over the years. It was also co-ed so I ended up getting rather close to a boy and was a bit freaked out when he tried to propose (this was two weeks during the summer).

    One of the best things was that it confirmed my desire to be in science/math fields – although I think I should have paid more attention to the fact that I loved and excelled at programming. Instead I tried more theoretical sciences and was miserable. Once I switched to scripting I’ve loved my work ever since.

    It was a good short exposure to living in dorms, being away from parents, and the kinds of things you could learn in college. Since I was able to make friends during the two week period I felt more at ease about the first semester of college. There was enough supervision that I didn’t get into *too* much boy trouble, although I’m sure I broke that kids heart.

  32. I attended the summer program at Truman State University in Kirksville, MO. Great learning experiences, some of which have stuck with me since the early ’90s. It was a lot of fun to live in the dorms and see what college life would be like, and since I felt like such an outsider at middle school, being at a place where I actually felt like I fit in did wonders for my self-confidence.

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