Summer programs don’t help students get into college

Wondering what to do this summer, I shuffled through brochure after brochure of programs. I skipped over the first couple, which boasted glossy pictures of abnormally happy teens riding camels and hiking up mountains. The next few sported headlines such as “Generation Leadership” and “Push your Boundaries.”

The overly-posed photographs did not impress me, and I quickly moved on. The Oxbridge brochure, however, caught my eye with a simple picture of England and the headline “The World’s Best Classrooms.” I opened it, and began reading about its classes and community service opportunities.

While this sounded like a great way to spend my vacation doing something both academic and fun, I couldn’t help but think about how it would look on my college application.

Like most students my age, choosing school activities that look impressive to an admissions officer is a constantly looming pressure. An academic, structured program at Oxford, complete with community service, sounded more impressive to me than a summer spent saving marine wildlife while conveniently having time to surf and tan in Hawaii.

The shock came when I delivered the brochure to a college counselor. I dropped it on her coffee table, expecting excitement. How could anyone dislike a summer at one of the world’s most prestigious universities? I was surprised and somewhat disappointed when her facial expression did not suddenly brighten with interest.

She began to explain why what I thought would be “good for college” might backfire and make my application look less interesting. She said that in terms of impressing colleges, I’d be better off doing community service in my hometown than taking an expensive trip to Oxford. She explained that unless a student has done consistent service throughout high school, a sudden overseas trip would imply that the student had picked up “The Road Less Traveled” brochure in summer planning desperation to impress the college of their choice.

I was also surprised to hear her mention President Obama as part of the reason why Oxbridge would not be the best option. Obama has made public service a popular new movement. As a result, grassroots community service projects for youth are replacing fancy international excursions to pad college applications. In this new era of Obama-encouraged service work, simplicity and genuine care for your community is the new trend.

After further contemplation, I’ve come to agree with my counselor. I chose not to attend Oxbridge and am looking for other ways to be productive this summer. More kids are applying to college than ever before. It is imperative that I show the admissions office who I really am by doing activities that demonstrate that I actually care about making a difference, not about traveling five thousand miles to sit in a classroom with other private school kids.

I now understand what my counselor wanted me to see. Those who actually want to save sea turtles through Rustic Pathways or go to Oxbridge’s program in Paris to become fluent in French deserve recognition from colleges because they are passionate about the experience. Genuine interest deserves praise. However, if you’re looking for a new summer experience, think about how it could be perceived on a college application. In the spirit of the Obama era, do things for the right reasons.