Buenos Aires Times

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Added value: pre-university summer programmes

Now a thriving global activity, pre-university programmes have become common practice for international students. The rewards and benefits of such schemes are numerous and long-lasting.

Tuesday 20 March, 2018
Students walk past Sather Gate on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, California.
Students walk past Sather Gate on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, California. Foto:AP-Ben Margot

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The phrase “Summer Programmes” may be a bit of a misnomer in Argentina. Being in the Southern Cone, Argentina is actually in the height of winter when the highest number of these pre-university courses are happening. Still, the July winter break allows for participation. Furthermore, there are also programmes scheduled for students for the southern hemisphere – and they are well worth considering.

In recent decades, prestigious universities around the world have been leasing out their campuses for summer programmes and courses that let high-school students spend several weeks taking classes and wandering around campuses, just as any university student would. Other universities now operate their own summer programmes, specifically designed and tailored to the needs of pre-university adolescents.

Not everyone is in agreement, of course. “While parents often think that these programmes will help their kids matriculate at a prestigious school,” Forbes magazine has written, “the gatekeepers to those universities say that these summer programmes rarely give students an advantage when the time comes for them to apply to university.” Other voices, however, have noted that these programmes can be beneficial if the courses students take further their academic and extracurricular interests, demonstrating strengths that help a student to stand out on the written page before admissions officers. In general terms, there are more inexpensive ways to demonstrate interest in a university, and families would be advised not to consider pre-university programmes as leverage for applications for admission in the future.

So what are the benefits of sacrificing vacation time and considerable fees, in order to engage in these activities?

The first obvious answer that comes to mind is that these programmes – designed with adolescent needs in mind – tend to be, well, simply fun! Ample opportunity is provided throughout the week (or two, or three) for students to engage in enjoyable activities, be it outings to their host city, nature exploration, social events, cultural immersions and so forth. For many students, this may be the first time they stay away from parents for a while and this in itself can be an exhilarating experience, a precursor to what may lie ahead.

These may be collateral points for the programmes but they provide a necessary ingredient for its success. The focus is, of course, on students learning and experiencing something new, something that’s not available in their normal everyday lives back home. Living for the first time by yourself in a new culture is a life-changing experience. Being placed into a socially diverse group of peers who represent different languages and cultures is enriching and exciting. Programmes highlight bonding and team-building skills – it is not unusual for students to forge friendships that can last a lifetime.

Many former students tell me now, years later, that they still communicate with some of the friends they made on summer programmes.

In a similar vein – that of social and personal development – living away from one’s parents for a short time provides invaluable opportunities for growth and life lessons. Developing independence and the skills necessary to actually survive on your own is a fantastic and important milestone in all of our lives. In these situations, the young adolescents will be required to stand their ground and be their ‘own person.’ Decisions about daily living and interactions with others, about curriculum, about social situations – all of these will be coming at them with high frequency. Yes, they will be supervised and advised by adults, but one of the main achievements of these programmes is the way they help an adolescent make the leap into young adulthood. Thus, self-confidence will be enhanced and a tremendous repertoire of social skills and adaptation abilities will flourish, as the youngster learns to negotiate unfamiliar territories and life situations. Young people learn and grow best when they are able to exercise their freedom and assume responsibility for their decisions. What better way is there to do it than being away from one’s parents and usual routine, while still being in a safe and guiding environment?

Participating in a pre-university programme is also a great opportunity for students to explore and become familiar with campus life in general or at a specific university of choice. It’s a fantastic way to test one’s chemistry with new environments, to see whether or not this is a lifestyle you would choose to take on for the four years that a bachelor's degree lasts. You can inspect the residence halls, cafeterias, talk to current students, perhaps attend a lecture, visit the library and many more things that will provide a snapshot of what life there will entail.

Additionally, such programmes provide excellent opportunities to explore your future chosen career path. Many pre-university programmes centre around a theme, an academic subject or a set of skills. Thus, you can choose to enroll in a programme for students interested in engineering, or international relations, the arts and so forth. You will be taught, most likely, by university professors and you will be accompanied by students from all over the world with similar passions.

Summer programmes also keep young adolescents active during a long period when school is out, which in itself is very important as it prevents the so called ‘brain dump’ that tends to occur during long periods of detachment from academic engagement. Likewise, the schemes provide unique enrichment usually not available in your everyday high-school programmes of study. This enrichment includes not only experiences but new sets of actual skills that become part of the student’s repertoire and high-school resumé.

Finally, pre-university programmes can also serve as a good tool in beginning the reality check that all students need before the university application season opens. Students have an opportunity to place themselves in the context of an institution’s expectations and level of demand, as well as compare themselves with their peers who will compete for limited spots at any given place of study.

Many universities all around the world now offer pre-university courses for high-school students, whether in the United States, the United Kingdom or Europe in general. You can usually find information directly on an institution’s website about programmes, dates and costs. In some cases, there are also large companies that collaborate with universities to promote the offerings that are available.

It is also worth mentioning that in some cases, admissions to certain pre-university summer programmes are selective, as many of the most sought after courses have now reached a situation where demand exceeds supply. Therefore, it is wise to apply to several and keep your options open. The time to apply for July 2018 programmes is now and I advise everyone to do so as early as possible. Enjoy the experience.

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