PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 222 | Summer School For Smart Students

It used to be that the less academically-gifted students would be forced to take summer school. Today, the smart students are the ones taking summer school classes.

In this week's podcast, I make a pitch for summer school.

All four of my sons took classes over the summer (for different reasons) and many motivated PrepWellers have done the same.

Listen to this week's episode to learn why summer school has become a "thing".

Show Transcript:

Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. If you've been tuning in for the last few weeks, you may recall that the topics have been more general about the state of play in college admissions from, say, a 30,000ft perspective. Today I want to get super tactical because every once in a while we have to take off our strategic, long term thinking hats and put on our hard hats and actually get in the trenches.

And that's exactly what every student out there has. The opportunity to do this summer. Today, I'm suggesting that your son or daughter, almost regardless of their circumstances, should take some kind of academic class this summer. Why is that the case? Well, that's easy because if they don't, they are going to have significant learning loss. Now, summer learning loss is not a new concept.

It happens every summer, really, except that most of our kids, including my own, are still trying to dig themselves out of a massive academic hole brought on by the Covid 19 lockdowns. So in my opinion, it's different now. And if your child wants to get back to status quo just to a baseline, they will likely have to put in some extra work.

And I know they don't want to hear this, but it's true. Many of them have short memories. You should remind them that they basically took a year or two off from school and sat on their beds listening to zoom lectures. All those Covid 19 lockdown policies had significant costs, and the best time for a catch up strategy is over the summer.

And other than to limit the learning loss, what are some other motivations for taking summer classes? Number one, at the most basic level, keeping your brain engaged. You don't want to go to zero brain activity for two and a half months and expect to pick up where you left off. If you're not making progress, you're going backwards. Maybe it's to get high school credit on your transcript from whatever class you take.

Maybe it's to make your life easier next year by familiarizing yourself with the subject that scares you the most. Maybe it's AP physics or Honors chemistry or calculus. Maybe you want to skip an entire high school class. For example, you want to bypass integrated math three and jump directly to Pre-Calc. Maybe you want to free up time in next year's schedule to fit in a particularly interesting elective class.

Maybe you want to avoid a particular teacher next year that everybody hates. You take the class over the summer and you avoid that teacher. Maybe it's to explore a subject that you're intellectually curious about just to become a smarter human. Maybe it's to probe a budding interest of yours in a particular subject, or industry, or career. Maybe it's strictly for optics to show colleges that you're super gung ho and super academically inclined.

Maybe it's because your parents require you to take at least one summer class. Maybe it's because your siblings took a summer class. They had a good experience, and they convinced you of the same. Maybe it's because you took the class this year, but you never really quite got it, and you want to make sure that you're filling in all those gaps before you plunge ahead next year.

These are all valid reasons. In fact, these are all reasons that I have experience with and many times recommended to my prep level students, including my four sons. For example, my two older sons took a math class over the summer specifically to get out of a sophomore math class that had the worst teacher in the school. I won't get into the horror stories about this teacher right now.

Suffice it to say, they succeeded in bypassing the teacher and the class altogether by taking an accelerated math class that was compressed into 6 or 7 weeks, I think, and they got it out of the way. This was an official math class. It was accredited, it was online, and their grades and credits made it onto their official high school transcripts.

My third and fourth sons also took a math class over the summer, but for different reasons. Their reasons were number one to stem the learning loss, number two, to reinforce what they had been taught half heartedly over zoom during Covid three, to make sure they didn't jeopardize their goal of getting into a service academy. Because service academies care a lot about math competency, and they didn't want to leave any doubts there.

And four, because they had a parent and older brothers who were pretty, how should I say it persuasive about the benefits of taking a summer class? They both took the class, but without the intention of skipping next year's class like their older brothers did. They took the class mainly to make their lives easier the next year because they would know the material so well.

My fourth son, who's a freshman right now in high school, he's having no problem in math this year because he took the entire class over the summer and got an A in it. So now it's basically review for him. This has given him a lot of confidence. It's reduced the workload during the school year with all of his sports and extracurriculars, and he's become a leader in the class.

And by the way, neither of these two sons of mine even bothered having their summer class grades, which happened to be A's put on their transcript. Why bother? That wasn't the point. The point was to learn the material ahead of time to make life easier. The next year. So as you can see, students have different reasons and motivations and enthusiasm levels for this type of suggestion.

And I'm not suggesting that it's going to be easy to convince your child that taking a summer class is a great idea, especially a legitimate class for a grade. And I don't know if it's a hill worth dying on. If they're really pushing back on you, I'd have to get more details on your child's specific situation to opine on how much of a stink you might want to make to make this happen.

I will admit that it will be rare for your child to be super excited about taking a summer class. None of their friends will be doing this, likely, and they're going to hit you with every excuse in the book. Yes, there will be a few super mature teenagers who understand the value, and they're willing to take a little bit of near-term pain for that long term payoff.

Thankfully, I work with a lot of those students and a lot of those families, and it's a joy when they seem to get the big picture and they get to work. It's no different from anything else. There will be students who kick and scream about watching a five minute prep well, video every week, despite spending 5 to 6 hours a day scrolling on their phones.

That's just the reality. Unfortunately, if it's a priority, they will make the time. And believe me, I know I'm preaching to the choir here. I would think long and hard about how to bring this topic up with your child. Try to get them invested in the idea, and try not to just jam it down their throats. It's always better to get them on board.

Rare as it is. And at this point, you might be wondering what kind of class or what type of classes are we talking about in person? Online community college, summer school, Khan Academy? Well, they come in all shapes and sizes, especially these days. With the ubiquity of online classes, it could be a legitimate online accredited class that will actually count toward your high school.

Transcript. By the way, pro tip make sure you check with your high school first to see if they will give you credit for any particular class. And keep in mind, to cram an entire year's worth of content into a summer class. Let's call it 6 to 8 weeks. It's going to be pretty intense, so brace yourself for that.

You could take a class like I just described and not have the grade count or be transferred to their transcript. Just take the class for fun. Audit the class that might take some of the pressure off to perform. You can take an in-person class at a community college. Your high school might support summer school classes. You can take Khan Academy online for free.

You can take nearly any subject math, English, foreign language, physics, chemistry, you name it. And it might take some strategic thinking to figure out what would be the best for your child based on their aspirations. I could talk for hours about the different types of summer classes that students take, and the motivations and the reasons behind them. I've been doing this for 12 years, and I'm also happy to get on a call with you and discuss the particulars if you think that would be helpful.

The three main things I want you to take away from this episode are as follows. Number one, summer school is a thing. It's not for dumb kids. It's for smart kids. It's for motivated kids. It's for kids who want to be special and different. And with today's technology, it doesn't often require your child to show up at a physical location a couple of times a week.

It's mostly online, so no, it's not going to be interrupting your vacation, your travel, your lacrosse tournament. All those things can likely be managed if they can time manage. Number two, there are lots of different motivations, as we've talked about, from avoiding bad teachers to genuine intellectual curiosity to enhancing the optics of your resume or your transcript, or your college application to making your life easier next year by familiarizing yourself with the content over the summer and many other motivations.

And lastly, number three, it's not going to be an easy sell. I want to be honest here. Just like everything else, it's hard to be different. It's tough to zig when everybody else is zagging. Don't be surprised if your child puts up some resistance. And again, if you want to involve me in this process to give an outside opinion and remove yourself, subcontract me in there to try to help persuade your child, if you will.

Set up a call and we'll hash it out together. Before I wrap up, I don't want to make it seem like your child needs to go full throttle with summer classes every single summer. That's probably overkill. It's probably unrealistic. Maybe you want to negotiate one summer class is taken for a grade. The next summer class you can audit, and the summer after that is ten Khan Academy modules.

Be flexible. I don't want this to be a baton death march. Every time summer comes, some type of academic engagement should be on the agenda. And a summer class is just one of the options. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports Prep Academy's online mentoring program.

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Podcast Host:

PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.

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