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Academic ‘Summer’ Schools: Will they get your child into an overseas university?

Is doing an academic ‘summer school’ programme a sure-thing to boost your child’s chances in their university admissions? There are so many options for younger children, but what can your High Schooler do this summer break that’s going to be useful?

EL chats to the university advising team at UWCSEA, and asks whether one of the myriad academically focused programmes really can help to give your child a head-start to getting into the university of their choice – or can they do something else?

Diving at UWC
Don’t worry, academic summer schools are not the only way to help gain that place at Uni. Any form of travel or cultural experience can help too, according to the university admissions advisory team at UWCSEA.

What can a High School-age child do in the school’s holiday break that may help them either decide on their next steps, or help with their university applications?

Don’t fear, academic summer programmes are not essential for university applications and they are not the only option available that will help your child to prepare for their pathway after High School.

Colleges and universities value any kind of meaningful experience gained during holidays  – this could be work experience (paid or unpaid), volunteer work, travel or cultural experiences, spending time with family and friends, or a combination of these things. What’s important is what the child learns; many universities really value interesting essays about seemingly more mundane experiences, e.g., working as a waitress.

UWC Trip to China
Cultural experiences and travel count too!

What is a summer programme and why enrol?

Our advice is to enrol your child in a summer programme only if he or she is genuinely interested in the content of the course. There is no dotted-line between a university’s summer programme and their university admissions office; participation does not automatically increase your child’s chances.

However, summer schools can give students a feel for what university life will be like, and can help to develop skills required in the university research and application process. They can also provide your child with an experience that he or she can use in a Personal Statement or university essay as evidence of their passion and understanding of their chosen field of study.

The most common type of summer programme is an academic course on a university campus. These give a real sense of what university-level study of that subject will be like, and can help students discover whether or not that field is something they would like to pursue in the future.

A subject-specific summer programme e.g., Architecture, Art and Design, Film, Music, Theatre, Engineering, can also help your child to build material for a portfolio to support his or her applications and in the right circumstances, course credits that can be submitted as part of an application.

Other types of summer programmes include: academic programmes combined with university research and tours, leadership or other ‘themed’ programmes and subject-based summer courses. (We explain the

Oxford Summer Course
The most common academic summer programmes are taken on-campus, giving participants a taste of what life will be like at university.

se in more detail on our blog.)

What about the other options such as work (paid or unpaid) and volunteering experience?

Work experience can vary from volunteering in an old people’s home, to flipping burgers at a fast food joint, to shadowing a surgeon. All work experience is of value in contributing to a positive self-image, development of respect for self and others and sense of fulfillment, as well as giving a better understanding of the world and how it works.

Universities (particularly in the US) value students who are willing to get ‘real life’ experience. These do not have to be jobs in fancy settings or involving a highly intellectual set of skills; in fact, reflecting on what is learnt from working in an unglamorous setting can be very valuable e.g., manual labor, baby-sitting, making coffee, being a security guard. Some of the most interesting essays we have read were written by students who spent part of their holidays working in jobs that placed them at the very bottom of a hierarchy!

Specific work experience is, however, essential or highly recommended for certain university courses, particularly in the UK, including Architecture, Hospitality and Hotel Management, Law, Medicine and Veterinary Medicine. We cover this in more detail on a post on our What’s Next blog.

Participating in a summer camp or working as a summer camp advisor, mentor or leader can all be valuable experiences, especially in terms of challenging your child beyond their comfort zone physically, mentally and/or emotionally.

Oxford Summer Course Dining room
It’s worth planning a visit to your preferred university campuses at some stage.

What about visiting possible university campuses?

Campus visits, encouraged by universities world over, provide an important opportunity to get a sense of whether a particular university will be a ‘right fit’ for your child.

School holidays are excellent times to visit, in particular during in the spring and summer of a student’s second last year in high school (Grade 11, or British Year 12). Some students also visit universities during the first holiday break of their final year of High School (Grade 12 or British Year 13) but whether or not this is a good time will depend on which countries your child is considering.

Some students do some preliminary touring in the summer between Grades 10 and 11 (British Years 11 and 12) – a good option if you are considering applications to multiple destinations.

Sailing on Gap Year at UWC
Summer camp internships are a great opportunity to gain work experience.

Do travel and/or cultural experiences help?

Universities appreciate any kind of travel or cultural experiences and particularly respect those that take participants out of their comfort zone. Experiences acquired through school may fit under the definition of travel or cultural experiences, but universities also appreciate  some self-initiated experiences outside of school.

Any final words of advice?

This should go without saying, but sometimes in the ‘race’ that High School has become for some, the need to rest and recharge, to spend time reconnecting with family and friends, takes a back seat. For our children to understand who they want to be, and what they need to do in order to get there, they need to understand themselves. Part of this comes from taking time to relax, and spending time with the people who know and love them best.

What’s important is not how much money you spend or how famous the campus your child visits is, but rather what your child can articulate about what he or she has learnt. By all means help them plan to do something meaningful this summer –  but include time to rest and recharge as well!


United World College South East Asia

Dover Campus, 1207 Dover Road |  6775 5344

East Campus, 1 Tampines Street 73 | 6305 5344

UWCSEA’s team of university advisors support the students in the High School on both campuses through a personalised programme of advice and support as students explore university options around the globe.

Psst…parents of High School students, listen-up! If you’re looking for a little more advice on all things university related, head to UWCSEA’s What’s Next? blog containing university advice for expat parents, where you will find perspectives for students and parents alike.

For more about international schools in Singapore head over to our schools pages!