Are expensive summer camps worth it?

Ever since we started our Summer Opportunities web page years ago, we have received versions of one question over and over. Are expensive summer camps worth it? How do we decide if a pricey experience will live up to the marketing material put out by the camp? Does it make a difference on the college application?

This time of year, families are receiving emails and snail mail invitations. Parents commonly ask about the legitimacy of camps held at prestigious college campuses by National Youth Leadership Forum/Envision and National Student Leadership Conference (just two examples). These programs will set you back at least $3,000.

What do you get for your money?

Often programs like these will allow a student to focus on a specific career field. Students spend a week on a college campus and will learn about that subject/field of interest. They often have a chance to meet professionals and get to hone their interpersonal relationship skills away from home. They’ll meet other students who share their interests.

Can a similar experience be found elsewhere?

College admission officials like to see that a student took a step to engage over the summer in a field they were interested in pursuing, but it could be at a camp that was a fraction of the price and closer to home. It could also be in the form of a part-time job or volunteer position.

A student interested in medicine can attend the NYLF camp for $3,500 or choose the MD Camp at OSU, a 3-week experience, for $700. It might be more beneficial to explore options offered by the colleges themselves rather than a third party that simply rented the college facilities to host the event at the prestigious location.

Can an expensive summer camp help a student explore if a subject is a potential career field that they would enjoy and do well in?

Maybe. However, we’d probably choose a less expensive option combined with other exploratory activities like informational interviews, job shadowing, volunteering, part-time employment, and Guided Self Assessment. (Had to mention that one of course!) It’s always good to get a wider base of experiences to shape a student’s sense of whether to pursue a career field.

To learn more about Guided Self Assessment, schedule a free, 30-minute family meeting.

Do certain camp experiences look better on the college application? Will students have an edge getting into the college they visited at camp?

Short answer…nope. Yes, students can definitely list their camp experience on their college application and use their experiences in their essay. Colleges want to see students explored their career interests, but colleges are familiar with these camps and their price tags. Participating in these camps can be perceived as a negative because it conveys a situation of privilege/affluence, and many admissions counselors bristle at college application details like these.

Bottom line: although these camps are held at a variety of college campuses, they won’t give a student a leg up on being accepted at that school.

How to decide for your family?

Ultimately, a family has to decide if the experience is worth the cost to participate, which is the case for any camp under consideration. Search for reviews online. It would be interesting to read what families shared after the experience – probably both positive and negative comments. Search the Better Business Bureau’s website.

We pulled a few quotes from college counselors on the topic for you to review. College counselors shared….

  • “to do it because of the experience, not because you think it will make a difference/look good on a college application.”
  • “If you have that kind of money, then that the program will offer an interesting experience. There are so many better potential uses for those funds, though.”
  • “Summer programs are awesome if kids have the money, but colleges aren’t going to hold it against a kid who didn’t do one (especially a kid who clearly couldn’t afford it). Kids should use their summer to explore their passions within their budget. When a student finds a great way to explore their passions ‘on the cheap,’ I would think that would demonstrate their creativity and drive even more than an overpriced summer program.”
  • And finally, “…many students enjoy the programs tremendously, many students find them exciting and interesting. They are way overpriced as far as I’m concerned and the gimmick of persuading students that they’ve been nominated and that it special and the gold seal on the envelope etc. It’s just too much.”

So, consider carefully and weigh the pros and cons and decide for yourself. Happy summer planning to all!


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