这类的暑期活动对申请大学有用吗?

Ritzy Teen Summer Programs豪华暑期活动

每年暑假,父母为了增加孩子申请大学的胜算,不惜在国外暑期项目上投入大量金钱。但是这些活动值得吗?顶尖学校透露夏季招生的秘密。

在六月一个晴朗的下午,一位来自美国郊区的16岁女生来到了加纳农村。当地的一户人家接待了她,接下来的一个月她将会和这家人一起生活,并在当地的孤儿院工作,教英语,参与建造房屋项目。她将会和十几个美国高中生一起参观旧时贩卖奴隶的堡垒,学习传统手工艺,上阿散蒂契维语课。她的父母为这个暑期项目支付了近万美金,期望这次经历可以为她申请顶尖大学加分。

近二十年来,至少对小康人家来说,大学申请变成了一项精心安排、成本高昂的奥林匹克训练。许多精心策划的暑期项目如雨后春笋般涌现,以满足学生对学习外语、感受异国文化、参与国外社区服务的不断增长的需求。暑期项目的范围包括四星级度假之旅(为期两周的东南亚度假之旅),严肃的语言学习之旅(为期一个月土耳其家庭寄宿生活,包括语言课),人道主义之旅(用一个月的时间在哥斯达黎加的村庄建一间校舍)。具体数字很难确定,但是保守估计每年有数以千计的学生通过以上暑期项目出国。

大部分国外暑期项目费用高昂,为期一周的项目费用可能近千美金,去非洲和亚洲的时间较长的项目费用高达五位数。但是国外暑期项目特别吸引学生和父母——参加户外活动,感受异国文化,上一节课或做一些体力劳动,当然还因为这些暑期项目可以充实他们的简历。

问题是:这些暑期项目真的可以充实学生的简历,提高他们成功申请大学的机会吗?还是说这些只不过是昂贵的无用功,专骗那些有钱人、焦虑的人和轻信别人的人?说白了,把孩子送到坦桑尼亚建一个社区厨房可以送他进哈佛大学专家说未必。哈佛大学招生与财务援助处主任William Fitzsimmons说:“申请者不应该认为他们非要有暑期海外经历才能引起招生办的注意,申请大学没有必胜绝招。”

难道他们不羡慕那些孩子可以去肯尼亚看细纹斑马?在伯利兹的有机农场工作?怀疑者对他们的纵容和虚伪不以为然。有人可能要问,除了肝功能受损和晒黑的皮肤,学生还可以从“浸没”于法国南部的三个星期中得到什么?而社区服务项目可能会带来多重性的影响。有些项目宣传册读起来像美国国际开发署的文章,不仅刊载白人大学预科生和非洲儿童拥抱的照片,旁边还附有学生对文化和社会发展的真诚感悟,而这种社区服务项目的高昂费用可能令人乍舌。

对于许多批评者来说,这些暑期项目的问题不在于纵容而在于不真实性:花钱去做社区服务跟你独立完成根本不是一回事。

但是招生办也不以为然吗?

事实上,在申请表上列举这些活动经历可能会对学生不利。Fitzsimmons说:“有人对这些暑期项目冷嘲热讽,我认为学生要尽量避免向招生负责人展示这些经历。学生会参考不同人的意见,有时候父母或顾问会认为成功申请大学的关键在于曾参加国外暑期项目的经历。”然而,招生负责人提醒,真正的关键或是传统的全面发展,或是哈佛学生和招生负责人口中的“DE”/“卓越表现”,如在曾在音乐会演奏钢琴或出色的数学对于暑期活动经历。

斯坦福大学本科招生办主任Richard Shaw说:“我们关注的是学生所做的事情对他们自身是否有意义。学生参加暑期项目的动机不应该是因为自己或父母认为这个项目对申请大学有帮助。”

Shaw还强调,参加“3-5天的体验贫穷之旅”并不能补救学生从没参加过社会社区工作的问题,也不能表现其参与度。招生负责人认为这些活动只能说明学生曾在国外服务或工作过。Shaw说:“持续或有意义的活动经历才对申请有Bill Mayher是一位专业的升学顾问,与世界各地多所高中都有合作。他与Fitzsimmons和Shaw的观点一致,强调暑期项目并不是载着学生飞往大学的“魔毯”,也不是平凡简历的万能药。他说:“升学顾问希望给每个人公平的机会,不想受到虚假经历的影响。”

这些精心策划的项目吸引了一些为申请书寻找素材的学生,但招生负责人经常劝学生不要提及这些活动,以免给人不诚实的印象。招生负责人还强调,申请书应该着重描写学生的独特故事,增强说服力。

德州大学奥斯汀分校的招生办副主任Augustine Garza说:“暑期海外经历可以为入学申请书增添色彩,但轻描淡写是不够的,学生要巧妙地描述他们如何利用那些活动,从中获得了什么。”

Garza说:“我们欣赏那些靠自己出国、感受异国文化的学生”。另外,德州大学招生负责人通过培训学会了如何量化评估学生简历中的暑期项目。招生负责人认为,那些不能靠自己出国或拒绝昂贵暑期项目的学生不需要花一分钱。欧柏林大学招生办主任Debra Chermonte说:“国外暑期项目固然可以促进学生更好地认识和看待这个世界,但在家附近就有很多让学生开阔视野的重要机会。”例如,在7-11工作,在非盈利性组织整理文档,在救济站义务服务。

我在新泽西州普林斯顿与一位高中生Sam Kelly见面,今年秋季他将就读塔夫斯大学。Kelly参加过Putney Student Travel的三个暑期项目,Putney Student Travel是最悠久、最成功的学生旅游公司,于1951年由Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin的父母创办。Putney提供的项目遍及全球,领队多是刚毕业的大学生。Putney还提供助学金给低收入家庭学生。

Kelly说:“你要有所收获。”他发现有的学生参加国外项目是受父母所迫,这些人可能会无所事事,喝酒享乐。(Kelly的父母没有强迫他出国,而是鼓励他)。Kelly在厄瓜多尔花了一个暑假搬运煤砖建造排水系统。之后他去了卢旺达,与其小组一同参观了一所由健康伙伴基金会设计的医院。健康伙伴基金会是由Paul Farmer创办的附属于哈佛大学的非政府机构。Kelly还参观了多间诊所,见了多位美国国际开发署代表,与1994年种族灭绝事件的幸存者谈话。

Kelly说:“我的海外经历对我的大学申请有很大作用。”Kelly不满美国干涉他国主权,对种族灭绝事件一直持有学术兴趣。他花了整个春天来设计一个以种族灭绝事件为主题的课程,这是毕业项目的一部分。对Kelly而言,这些项目或许提高了他的入学机会,但是前提是他精心计划过这些活动。

Mayher说:“有些项目费用高昂,但不代表不好。不好的是,更确切来说愚蠢的是,学生认为这些项目的名字或简介足以改变招生负责人的决定。”

总的来说,招生负责人鼓励学生和父母冷静全面地思考。最后,斯坦福大学的Shaw说:“学生应该诚实坦白。”这些暑期项目正如暑期工,可以归结为长久以来父母都敦促子女的:站起来做点事。

其次,或许偶尔赖在沙发也不错。Fitzsimmons意识到现在的学生负担过重,需要放松几个星期,所以他说:“学生可以外出和阅读”,你可能不相信,但他说:“你不需要利用每一分每一秒。”

Every summer, parents of anxious teens spend thousands on elaborate abroad programs to boost their kids’ college chances. But are the trips worth it? Top schools reveal summer admissions secrets. Plus, the 10 most outrageous programs.
On a sunny June afternoon, a suburban 16-year-old arrives in rural Ghana. She’s greeted by a family with whom she’ll live for a month, while working at a local orphanage, teaching English, and helping out with construction projects. Along with a dozen fellow American high school students, she’ll visit historic slave trade fortresses, learn traditional crafts, and take language lessons in Ashanti Twi.For this, her parents will pay close to $10,000, in hopes that the experience will boost her chances of admission to the country’s top colleges.Over the past two decades, as applying to college has become—at least for the well-off—a process as calculated and expensive as Olympic training, dozens of elaborate programs have cropped up to meet the growing demand for summer language study, cultural immersion, and community service abroad. The programs range from four-star vacations (a two-week trip to the resorts of Southeast Asia), to serious language learning (a four-week Turkish homestay with classes), to humanitarian missions (a month building a schoolhouse in a Costa Rican village). Exact numbers are hard to come by, but it’s safe to say that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students go abroad with these programs each year.The trips are often expensive—weeklong programs can cost $1,000, while longer journeys to Africa and Asia carry nearly-five-digit price tags—but they hold obvious appeal for teens and their parents: outdoor activity, exposure to new cultures, maybe a class or some manual labor. And, of course, the promise of an enhanced résumé.

The question is: Do these summer programs offer truly enriching experiences that improve admissions chances, or are they merely high-cost boondoggles foisted on the wealthy, anxious, and gullible? More immediately, will sending a teenager to build a community kitchen in Tanzania get him into Harvard?

According to experts: probably not. “People shouldn’t feel they have to do something exotic to impress admissions committees,” William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions and financial aid, told The Daily Beast. “There is no magic bullet.”

When they aren’t envying the kids who go on these excursions—monitoring Grevy’s Zebras in Kenya? Working on an organic farm in Belize?—skeptics roll their eyes at their indulgence and seeming inauthenticity. One might wonder what, exactly, apart from impaired liver function and a tan, a teen will gain from three weeks of “immersion” in the South of France. Meanwhile, the community service programs can elicit more complicated reactions. The brochures for some read like USAID literature, with pictures of preppy white teenagers hugging African children, alongside earnest testimonials about culture and perspective. The premise of paying for community service can be difficult to swallow.

For many critics, the problem with such programs isn’t just their indulgence, but their inauthenticity: paying to do community service isn’t the same as doing it on your own.

But do admissions offices roll their eyes, too?

Indeed, in some circles, showcasing these trips on an application may work against students. “There is some cynicism about these programs,” said Fitzsimmons, but cautioned: “I think it’s important for admissions officers to get beyond that kind of cynicism. Students are listening to a wide variety of people. Sometimes a parent or counselor believes that the key to getting into college is an exotic program.”

Instead, admissions officers urge, the real key is either old-fashioned well-roundedness, or—for less than half of Harvard admits—what the school’s admissions officers call a “DE,” or “Distinguishing Excellence,” like concert piano playing or tremendous math ability.

As for summers, “What we care about is that students have done something that means something to them,” said Richard Shaw, Stanford’s dean of undergraduate admission. “It’s not a good idea to engage in something because the student or family believes it will augment their ability to get in.”

Shaw also drew a cautious distinction between embarking on a “three-to-five day experience to see what poverty looks like” as a sort of mea culpa for never having been involved in social or community issues, and students for whom summer programs are part of a “pattern of involvement.” Admissions officers say these trips can fit into a narrative of service or work abroad. “Sustained or meaningful involvement comes through,” Shaw said.

Bill Mayher, a counselor and consultant for private high schools around the world, specializing in admissions, echoed Fitzsimmons and Shaw, stressing that summer programs are not a “magic carpet” into college, or a panacea for lackluster résumés. Admissions counselors “want to give everybody a fair shot,” he said. “They don’t want to be swayed by ersatz experiences for hire.”

The elaborate programs appeal to some teens because of the fodder they provide for admissions essays—but admissions officers often discourage students from writing about their trips, because such testimonials can ring insincere. They also stress that an essay should reinforce the student’s wider admissions “story.”

“The summer abroad experience does lend itself to some very important essays that students write,” said Augustine Garza, deputy director of admissions for the University of Texas at Austin. But, he said, “Just having gone is not enough. That they took the opportunity given to them and made something of it, and how they tell us about it, is important.”

“We appreciate those individuals that have the means to go abroad to look at other cultures,” Garza said, adding that, in their training, UT admissions officers learn to gauge the numerical value of summer programs in the context of each student’s résumé.

And for those who don’t have the means—or don’t choose to spend them on pricey trips—officers maintain that students needn’t spend a dime. Debra Chermonte, dean of admissions at Oberlin College, said that while a summer abroad “certainly does add dimension to a student’s background and perspective on the world, there are also important opportunities for students to gain perspective right across the street.” Examples can include working at a 7-Eleven, doing filing work at a non-profit, and volunteering at a soup kitchen.

In Princeton, New Jersey, I met with Sam Kelly, a high school senior who’ll enter Tufts University in the fall. Kelly has gone on three trips with Putney Student Travel, one of the oldest and best-established companies. Founded in 1951 by the parents of Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, Putney offers dozens of trips around the world, often led by recent college grads. Putney also provides financial aid, offering scholarships for students from low-income households.

“You have to take something from it,” said Kelly, who acknowledged that some go on the trips because their parents push them, and plenty find ways to avoid work and get drunk. (Kelly’s parents were enthusiastic, not pushy, about his trips.) After a summer carrying cinderblocks to install a sewage system in Ecuador, Kelly traveled to Rwanda, where his group toured a hospital designed by Partners in Health—the Harvard-affiliated NGO founded by Paul Farmer—visited clinics, met with USAID representatives, and spoke with survivors of the 1994 genocide.

“That was sort of where service became a really important part of my story, in terms of college admissions,” said Kelly, who said he struggles with the ethics of American involvement abroad. Genocide has become an area of sustained academic interest for Kelly: he spent his spring designing a course on the subject for his senior project. For Kelly, the trips likely improved admissions chances, but they were also deeply formative.

“There are very good programs that are very expensive. That doesn’t make them bad,” said Mayher. “It’s only bad—I should say ‘foolish’—if students expect that the name of the program or a brief description of the program in their résumé or essay is somehow good enough to change an admissions decision.”

Above all, admissions officers urge perspective and calm. At the end of the day, said Shaw of Stanford, “Students should be transparent and honest.” These summer programs, like summer jobs, can be boiled down to what adults have been urging teens for time immemorial: just get off the couch and do something.

Then again: maybe some couch time would be OK. “Hanging out and reading is just fine,” said Fitzsimmons, noting that today’s overextended students are often in need of a few weeks off. Hard as it may be to believe, Fitzsimmons added: “You don’t have to account for every moment of the year.”

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