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High School Summer Prep in a COVID World

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Because protocols and college admissions requirements have changed drastically due to COVID, the playing field has been leveled. This means that selective colleges are receiving more applications than ever before, which translates to lower acceptance rates for these highly competitive school. Because many colleges are now test-optional, and may continue to be for the foreseeable future, the spotlight will focus on the rest of the college application to determine which students are a good fit for their programs. In addition to GPA and class rank, the student’s activities will be scrutinized for year-long learning opportunities. Now more than ever, selective schools are analyzing how students spend their summers.

If your high school student is considering applying to a flagship university, or any school with a selective acceptance rate (less than 30 percent), your students must be engaged in summer learning opportunities. This conversation should take place long before the student is a senior, ideally the summer your child enters high school. The good news is that students can find lots of ways to engage in the time of COVID.



MOOCS are massive open online courses, offered at no cost, from top universities and leading companies from around the world. There are literally thousands of courses to choose from. You can find these courses on the following websites: (all topics), (all topics), (technical programs),, and MIT OpenCourseware (not classes, but the same curriculum that MIT students are learning.) Not only are students able to take classes from college professors or visiting scholars, but they are also able to listen to lectures from alumni and participate in social activities. Many selective colleges, including University of Texas at Austin, Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia offer pre-college summer programs for high school students.

CAPSTONE PROJECTS can take many different forms, mostly dependent on the topic of interest. These projects will help you convey your skill level, knowledge and initiative in an area of discipline. Capstone Projects will require initiative from the student to plan, do the research, create a portfolio that tracks your progress and a way to present it, which can include a video, Powerpoint, or Formal Portfolio.

INTERNSHIPS are not just for college students, many high school students using them to help decide what major they should pursue and to compete for spots in highly selective colleges. Internships in particular will require initiative on the student’s part and the parents part. Many internship opportunities may come directly from networking contacts that the parents have. In the Austin area, the Emerging Leaders Summer Internship Program is a great program. These applications opened late January and will close in early March.

PRE-COLLEGE CAMPS/PROGRAMS offer high school students the opportunity to take classes at a college and experience part of college life during the summer. The selective programs typically require teacher recommendations, application essays, and standardized test scores. Check a specific program's website for its admission requirements. You can take programs that focus on a number of diverse subjects, such as writing, leadership, entrepreneurship, or engineering. Most colleges have created virtual opportunities for what used to be entirely on campus. We recommend choosing selective and cost-free programs. Many “elite” programs are overpriced, and anyone can enroll if they are able to pay. We do not recommend these programs. Favor in the eyes of an admissions counselor cannot be purchased by attending these programs.


  • Can you tell what their interest is by their engagement?

  • Can you tell what issue the student want to solve for the common good by their summer activities?

  • Does the student exhibit skills and leadership in working with other? (Not always formal leadership, also in small groups and family situations.)

  • Independent Learning Opportunities (MOOCS and CAPSTONES) are expected.


Act now. Many of the selective pre-college programs have an application process and requirements to attend, due as early as March. Research what is offered in fields that interest your student. We have a free comprehensive guide for Top Summer Programs available on our website, check it out by clicking here.

The bottom line is that these opportunities can be an indicator of commitment and enthusiasm. A track record is created. Parents and students should understand that selective colleges are tracking everything, from email communications with admissions counselors to attendance for virtual events to Facebook page interactions on college sponsored pages. This includes how the student spends their summer. Now more than ever, your student needs to map out their four-year high school experience and take advantage of summer pre-college programs to help shape who they are and what academic courses they need to continue and what they need to change.


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