Last week, we talked about fantasy summer camps.
This week, I get more practical.
I do my best to answer this very common question:
"Should I go to XYZ summer enrichment camp?"
Listen to this episode to hear the pros, the cons, and the questions you should ask yourself before registering for any camp.
[00:00:24] Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. In today's episode, I want to build on last week's episode about summer camps. Last week was all about using this notion of a fantasy summer camp to try to discover what your child is really interested in. This week I want to get more practical because summer is fast approaching and one of the most common questions I get is should I or should my son or daughter go to X-Y-Z enrichment camp? I get this question at least three or four times a week and the usual suspects are national, blah, blah, blah. Global leadership camp computer programing camp, Astro Camp, Marine Science Camp, Creative and performing Arts camp, Computer science camp. And the list goes on and on. My answer, as you might guess, is that it depends. So why don't I start out with what I like about X, Y, Z enrichment camps, and then what I might not like as much about these types of camps. So what do I like about these camps? Well, number one, they can signal or reinforce your interest in a particular subject. If you put computer science camp on your activities list, it highlights the fact that you're interested in computer science and that you devoted some amount of time and money and energy toward learning more about it. So that's a plus. It starts to shape the reader's perception of what you care a lot about.
[00:02:01] Pro number two is that presumably you will learn something about the subject. Obviously, one of the goals in going to a camp like this would be to learn something about computer science in this case. Maybe you'd learn a new computer language or a new way to think about programing, or maybe you would work on a new device or in a new development environment. This could be valuable learning and education. Pro number three It does fill a spot on your college applications activities list. As you probably know, the Common Application has ten spots where students list their essays, their extracurricular activities, and going to a camp like this would certainly take up one of these ten spots. One down, nine to go. Pro number four is that it allows you to network with other like minded peers. This is always a good thing. Students get to meet other kids from around the country, maybe even around the world, and become friends. Maybe one or two of these friendships blossom over time. Either way, it's always fun for teenagers to be around a peer group focused on a similar topic of interest. Pro number five It will get you out of the house. These camps are often 1 to 2 weeks. They're usually away from home, and that's a good amount of time to break up the summer so that things don't get quite so monotonous as they sometimes can over the summer. It's always nice to have something on the calendar. Pro number six. These camps often afford a typically a pretty laid back environment. Most of these camps are pretty chill. And while there may be some projects that you're working on, rarely are they going to be overly competitive to the point where you're going to get stressed out.
[00:03:49] Usually the food and the lodging and the social outings are all mostly taken care of. Pro number seven A camp like this will give you something to talk about. Your experience at the camp, whether it's good or bad, may find its way to your college essay or a supplemental essay or to a college interview, presumably spending a week or two working in a field that you're interested in should bear some fruit. In terms of war stories. Pro number eight you will learn about a certain college campus or whatever the environment is, where the camp is. Most of these types of camps are run on actual college campuses. This gives you an opportunity to see what it's like to live in a dorm room, to stroll around the campus, to use the facilities. It would be even better if the camp was on a campus that was on your target list of schools. And lastly, pro number nine, it can reinforce or call into question your presumed interest in that subject. Did the camp help you fall even deeper in love with computer science, or did it actually cool your interest in the subject? Either way, this is good information to have. It's always good to kick the tires on the actual subject or even an intended major that you think you might be interested in down the road instead of just guessing. Okay. So those are some of the pros of considering an enrichment camp. Now, here are some reasons that you might want to pause before signing on the dotted line. Number one, they can be expensive. Most of these programs are at least $3,000, 4000, 5000, which is not chump change. That's a lot of S.A.T. tutoring that you'd be giving up for a week of learning about computer science.
[00:05:39] In the big scheme of things. If that $3,000 was put toward SAT tutoring and it would have helped you go from a 1280 to a 1470 on the S.A.T., that probably would have been a better use of money. Generally speaking, your S.A.T. or ACT score has way more influence on the types of colleges you'll be competitive for than any one or two week enrichment camp. No matter how gushy or how well aligned it is with your interests. It's not even close. So make sure you're using your money wisely. Now, if money is no object, then I would do both. Do the 25 hours of S.A.T. tutoring and go to your computer science camp. If your parents say that you can do one or the other. My guess is that most of you would probably opt for the camp over the 24 hours of S.A.T. tutoring. Unfortunately, that would probably be the wrong call. Number two, going to a camp like this is a relatively passive activity. The camp director's job is to make the experience fun and seamless for most students. The fewer challenges and obstacles, the better. In most cases, everything is going to be set up ahead of time, and you basically just show up. Listen to what the counselors tell you to do. Sit in a classroom, do a few group projects, and that's about it. And if you're not super motivated and engaged and ready to make the most of your time and money, it could be very easy for you to sit back, listen to a few lectures, go to the pre-arranged social events, and have a grand old time. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but will you be making the most of your time and money? And will it be worth it? Number three, listing this type of camp on your activities list on your college application may not be as impressive as you might think it is.
[00:07:39] I know it sounds kind of glamorous and sexy to go to a computer science enrichment camp, and it will take up a spot on your activities list. But the admissions officers have seen most of these camps before. They're not going to be blown away by any means unless this is a very unique and unusual camp and or you accomplish something way out of the ordinary, which isn't out of the question, but just understand, just know that it's not a super unique thing to do. Number four, signing up for a camp like this and going to that camp gives you an excuse not to explore other options. Sometimes when you have something like this on the calendar for the summer, it gives you license to get lazy with the rest of the summer. After all, you've got this one week camp lined up and you start to get complacent and you don't really push yourself for the other seven or eight weeks of the summer. Number five. Sometimes going to a camp like this will tie you to a certain demographic. In some cases, admissions officers may have a preconceived notion about where you come from, how much money your family has, and how many resources you're willing to commit to this type of experience. Again, not that that's a bad thing, but understand that it might paint you in a certain light. And these days that might not be the light you want to be painted in. And lastly, the camp just might turn out to be a dud and not well run. Not all camps are created equal. It could be a total disappointment. Now, obviously, do whatever due diligence you can and look for reviews and such, but there's never a guarantee. It could just be an environment that doesn't really suit you well.
[00:09:24] So don't assume it's going to be awesome and a great use of money. It very well may not be. So as you can see, like many things, there's no one simple black and white answer. I have been a big proponent for camps like this for some kids and encouraged others to try something else. If, for example, there's no chance that the student would do anything else for the whole summer if they didn't go to the camp and if money was no object, then of course going to that camp would certainly be better than sitting at home swiping on your phone. However, I also work with a lot of high aspiration students who get seduced into going to a fancy camp when they really should be at home. Shadowing people, interning, working at a lab, doing research, starting a business, refining an app, creating a robot, learning a new computer language, volunteering, or any number of activities that would show more industriousness, initiative, resourcefulness, motivation, determination. Leadership. Humility. Instead, maybe they take the easy way out and they get complacent. In other words, sometimes taking the bull by the horns and striking out on your own to do something more challenging, more gritty, less conventional will not only look better optically, but you will likely learn more life lessons from it as well. Now there are some students who are motivated enough to do this on their own, to create their own summer programs. But oftentimes it takes a parent or someone like me to help them design a plan to make something like that happen. It's much harder to create your own opportunities than it is to get sent to a camp where all you have to do is sit there and watch. Now, if you are considering going to a camp like this, here are some questions that you should ask yourself.
[00:11:24] Number one, how expensive is it? Including airfare, transportation, spending money. Number two, can you afford it? Number three, is there a better use of money? For example, S.A.T. tutoring. Number four, how excited are you about the subject of the camp? Number five, how well does the camp align with what you're interested in? Number six, Does the camp seem to offer the appropriate level of challenge? Could it be too easy? Could it be too hard? Or is it going to be just about right? Number seven. What are your alternatives? What else would you be doing over the summer during that same period of time? And number eight, are you doing this to avoid having to do other more challenging things like finding a job or an internship or a shadowing session? So if you're going to consider a camp like this, I encourage you to do so strategically. What do I mean by that? Maybe you plan to go to a camp like this after your junior year when you're more mature and more convinced of what you like and don't like. You have a better idea of what you might want to major in. You're more apt to learn and get more out of the program, and you will have had some time to save some money up for the camp as well. Maybe to help your parents out. If you are mapping out your summers, as I highly recommend that you do. You may lay out the following scenarios. Some are after ninth grade. I'm going to go heavy on volunteer work, community service and independent academic study. Some are after 10th grade. I'm going to focus on shadow sessions, internships, studying for the S.A.T. summer after 11th grade. I'll be able to drive.
[00:13:09] So I plan on getting a summer job and registering for an enrichment camp that's aligned with what I'm interested to try to bring everything together. That would be one example. The other thing you want to do is to try to figure out how challenging the camp will be. You certainly don't want a camp that's too easy or below your level and not challenging. That would really be a wasted opportunity. You also don't want to go to a camp where you're in way over your head and the challenge is too great. You want to try to find a camp where you can operate right on that edge of your competency, where you will have to stretch yourself to perform. But you don't want to implode either. This can be challenging and can take quite a bit of due diligence on your part or on the part of your parents. I hope this has given you some food for thought when it comes to these summer enrichment camps. Like everything else, it's important to think about these things early and in the context of a multi-year plan. If you'd like to have a session with me to go over some of your thoughts or a strategic plan, reach out and we'll set something up. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for the continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships. Many parents who listen to this podcast already have their high schoolers enrolled in PrepWell Academy, which is great.
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