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Dec 1, 2004, 12:01 PM

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mySummerCamps.com makes the Boston Globe Can't Post

SUMMER CAMP FOR THE COLLEGE-BOUND


Author(s): Ben Gose, Globe correspondent
Date: November 28, 2004
Page: E5
Section: Education
It used to be that for ambitious high-school students, the angst would set in during senior year, when they faced the question of where to apply to college.

Now it can start years earlier, when students face another daunting question: Where to apply to summer camp? Academic-enrichment camps high-powered summer sessions that augment high-school classes and look good on a college application are all the rage these days. Bob Musiker, an owner of Musiker Tours, which runs enrichment programs for high-school students on several college campuses, says the programs give students a chance to sample college life complete with roommates, dorm food, and coursework.

"Because of the highly competitive nature of college admissions these days, students are scared about applying and going to college," he says. "We take away the anxiety."

Although some of the programs are held at prep schools, most are based on college campuses. Some offer a broad menu of classes. Others are extremely specific: Students can check out England while taking a course at Oxford University, pursue an interest in visual arts at the Rhode Island School of Design, or learn about the stock market at "Wall Street 101," a one-week program at Bentley College.

Either way, the choice is enormous. The website mysummercamps.com lists more than 1,700 academic and pre-college camps. So with no U.S. News & World Report rankings of summer programs, and with possibly thousands of dollars at stake, how are families supposed to decide?

Seeking out the big names isn't necessarily the best way to decide on a summer program. Counselors and other specialists suggest students narrow their options by thinking seriously about their reasons for attending a camp. Some students want to try out a particular college or type of institution; for example, a lifelong Boston resident might want to experience a rural college for a few weeks before signing on for four years. Other students are more interested in identifying whether a budding interest could be a potential career. An aspiring architect would be wise to seek out a program that offers a college-level course.

Aside from camps that cater to individual interests, students have two basic choices: academic camps, which run for three weeks to six weeks and allow students to take one or two courses, and college-admission camps, which are relatively new, last about two weeks, and focus exclusively on helping you figure out where to apply to college and how to get in.

Academic-enrichment camps, which cost between $3,000 and $7,000, have been around the longest. While many are held at elite universities, don't expect admission to a summer camp held at Dartmouth College to give you a leg up on admission to the college itself. And in most cases, despite the college-level cost, you won't be taught by the university's professors: You'll be taught by instructors hired by the contractor running the camp. Each year, 1,300 students attend the Exploration Summer Program at Yale University, but the instructors come from all over the country, not from Yale's faculty. One exception is Harvard University, where students take summer courses taught by Harvard professors.

Vanessa Rooney, a sophomore at Gann Academy The New Jewish High School of Greater Boston, attended the Exploration program at Yale this past summer. Rooney took one course called "popular sciences" and another that focused on hip-hop music. She wants to be a veterinarian, and she was encouraged that she handled the same material in the science course as students who were two years older.

"I would definitely suggest that other kids have this experience," she said. "You get to know what's out there, and you get an idea for things that you might want to pursue in the future."

Rooney also concedes that a minor factor in her decision to attend the program was that it may some day look good on a college application.

"It fills in a blank space," says Midge Lipkin, a private college counselor in Belmont, "and there are a lot of those to fill in."

Does a high-powered academic camp really help applicants? Some admissions deans say they do view the programs as a plus. "I would say the students we see in our applicant pool here at Boston College are mostly pursuing these programs for the right reasons," John L. Mahoney, the college's director of undergraduate admission. "They love academic life, and they want to be intellectually challenged in the summer."

The camps that focus on college admission are shorter and cheaper. A two-week program held by Musiker Tours at Northeastern University, which costs $3,000, provides instruction on interviewing, essay writing, and deciding where to apply, and shuttles students around for tours of 20 campuses. A company called Academic Study Associates held similar camps last year at Dartmouth and Amherst, at a cost of $2,900 per student.

But these camps are far less popular with the very people the camps are set up to impress: college admissions deans. Bruce Poch, dean of admissions at Pomona College in California, calls such programs "the most insidious form of summer camp."

"Students don't learn a subject they learn how to game a process, and I don't even think they learn how to do that very well," he said. "The admissions people I've talked to are wholly unimpressed by that kind of polish."

SIDEBAR:
CHOOSING THE PROGRAM FOR YOU
Which of the nearly 2,000 academic-focused summer camps is right for you? Most of the programs are held on college campuses, allowing you to "try out" college life and a particular type of campus to get a sense of what you like. But many programs are also held at private high schools, which may offer more structure and nurturing than those at colleges.

If your primary interest is finding a program that will help you choose a college, consider one of the college-admission camps; just keep in mind that if you intend to include the camp on your resume, admissions deans at elite colleges are likely to be more impressed by a program that includes real academic coursework.

Start by looking over one of the websites that compiles camp listings, including kidscamps.org and mysummercamps.com. Books that could help guide you through the process include "The Summer Camp Handbook: Everything You Need to Find, Choose and Get Ready for Overnight Camp and Skip the Homesickness," by Christopher A. Thurber, et al; and " Guide to Summer Camps and Summer Schools," by Porter Sargent Staff and Daniel McKeever.

Student Camp & Trip Advisors, an international company with headquarters in Newton, has been matching students with camps since 1970. You can fill out a questionnaire at the company's website, www.campadvisors.com, and a representative will make recommendations from among the 700 camps the company represents. The service is free for students and parents; the company is compensated by the camps.

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