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More colleges provide summer classes for high school students

By Bryna J. FiresideSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / December 1, 1986



Ithaca, N.Y.

Will attendance at a summer college program for high school students enable your child to get a foot in the door of a prestigious college? While advanced placement sessions offer no guarantee of future admission, many guidance counselors recommend them as an aid in making informed career choices. As the popularity of these programs has been increasing, they have spread to state universities. In past years Delores Murphy, Ithaca (N.Y.) High School Career Center director, would receive brochures for pre-college programs mainly from the most prestigious universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Cornell. ``This year,'' she said, ``I have a folder with at least 100 summer programs.''

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Shirley Levin, an independent educational consultant, and co-author of ``Summer on Campus: College Experience for High School Students'' (Transemantics, Inc., Washington, D.C.), concurs.

Levin suggests residential programs that are open to high school students who have completed their junior year. She is enthusiastic about programs that offer study skills and SAT preparation. But she also looks for colleges and universities that offer courses in fashion design, business, and journalism.

Cornell University, which pioneered the summer college concept, is gearing up for its 26th year of summer college. It seeks bright high school juniors and seniors, who can choose from among 14 different programs that range from biology, architecture, and the health professions to science and humanities, dance, and theater arts. Those admitted to Cornell's summer college take regular college courses along with the summer school undergraduates in the morning. In the afternoon they attend special sessions designed, according to Margaret Haine, director of Cornell Summer College, to ``acquaint students with practitioners in specific fields. We introduce the participants to men and women who have made career choices based upon what they studied at the university.''

Many colleges and universities, new to the summer college game, provide innovative approaches to subjects for youths who are high achievers and motivated to invest in a summer of learning. The University of Delaware, for example, which has been in the summer college business for five years, offers special courses to high school students that are team taught by high school teachers and college professors. All courses focus on material that is relevant to problems of young people. For example, last summer's course in ``Introduction to Women's Studies,'' was about women, but not just for women. In it, students examined the new career possibilities now open to both sexes, according to special sessions director Diane Ebert May.

Most colleges and universities deny that their summer programs are used to recruit bright freshmen. Rather, they point out that there are many benefits both to the college and the high school student. Summer college provides additional income for many hard-pressed colleges - and added income for professors. Fees range from well under $1,000 for a six-week program at many state universities to around $2,500 at private colleges. And often financial aid is available. The fees include room and board. Students must provide money for books and incidentals. Ms. Haine points out, however, that the money spent at a summer college is a bargain. ``It provides a student with the chance to find out if a career in, say, engineering or architecture is really what the person wants to study for four years, plus graduate school,'' she says.

When Dana Levenberg, a resident of Teaneck, N.J., attended the summer architecture program at Cornell six years ago, she discovered that architecture was not for her. ``It was a fantastic course,'' she said, ``And I probably never enjoyed studying anything more than I did architecture. But I realized that it wasn't what I wanted out of my college experience. I decided I wanted a liberal arts education. That way I could put off making a career decision until I had explored other options.'' By putting that career choice to rest, Levenberg successfully pursued a degree in international relations at Brown University.

In addition to obtaining vital career information, students are often taken on guided tours by their host college. Elizabeth Chapman-Hewitt, director of Harvard University's pre-college program, stresses the importance of this, especially because many of the 1,000 high school students enrolled there for the summer hope that Harvard will accept them as freshmen.

For most, this is not realistic, and the excursions to other colleges can often widen a student's horizons. In previous years, trips to Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth have been scheduled, as well as visits to Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Amherst.

One question parents ask of summer college directors is whether or not attendance at such a program will provide an extra edge in getting into a top school. Although no one has a crystal ball, Ms. Chapman-Hewitt's response is simply that it ``can't hurt.'' What is important, however, is that students who enroll in summer college programs are characteristically more at ease when they do apply for admission to colleges. They have a clearer idea of what to expect.