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Forget Camp and Day Care: Summer College Programs for Kids

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Colleges and universities have been holding summer programs for high school students for years—classes and activities that give ambitious teenagers the chance to pursue hobbies, interests and potential college majors while giving them a taste of campus life.

As colleges struggle with budget cuts and declining enrollment numbers, more and more schools are offering summer programs for younger kids as well as high schoolers. Who needs camp or day care when you can send your kids to college?

Prices Vary for College Summer Programs

Sending your elementary and middle school-aged children to various math and science pre-college summer programs sounds impressive, and some of the programs carry rather “impressive” price tags in conjunction with the bragging rights.

Prices can vary widely from school to school, but anywhere from less than $200 to more than $2000 per week is considered normal, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Smart Money. Day programs in which students go home each evening are typically much cheaper than overnight programs in which students spend the night in dorms.

Some parents feel that sending their kids to summer college programs will provide a huge advantage when it comes time to apply to colleges “for real,” but experts warn otherwise. Katherine Cohen, a private admissions counselor that provides educational counseling to students, tells SmartMoney that colleges won’t ask for an applicant’s coursework prior to ninth grade.

Jon Reider, the director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School and a former admissions officer at Stanford University, says that admissions officers are more concerned about grade-point averages, SAT scores and a student’s overall academic achievements than their pre-college summer program attendance. Some experts even feel that summer programs are mainly an opportunity for colleges to market themselves to students and parents.

8 Summer College Programs for Kids

Even so, college summer programs for kids give students the opportunity to share new experiences with new friends and stay out of trouble while Mom and Dad are at work. If you live near a college or university you’ll probably be able to find a summer college program for kids in your area, but I’ve profiled a few below to give you a taste of what’s out there!

1. Michigan State University

Michigan State University’s Spartan Youth Programs are available for students of all ages, from pre-kindergarten through high school. Some programs are dual enrollment college courses for high school students interested in earning college credit, while others provide exciting activities for younger kids. With programs ranging from agriculture and animal care to social studies and writing, nearly everyone can find something they enjoy. For more information, visit Michigan State Spartan Youth Programs.

2. Central Texas College

The Continuing Education Department at Central Texas College offers Saturday enrichment programs throughout the year as well as a popular summer enrichment program known as College for Kids. Children and teens from age 3 through 16 can participate in fun courses designed to be hands-on for maximum learning potential. Popular classes include Robot Arms; Can You Dig It? Exploring the Past with Archaeology; and Crime Scene Investigation, among others. For more information, visit Central Texas College for Kids.

3. University of California

Each summer, University of California campuses hold a four-week residential program for talented and motivated students in grades eight through twelve. The summer program is known as COSMOS and includes hands-on, lab-intensive courses emphasizing current research going on at the University of California. Space is limited and students are encouraged to apply early. For more information, visit COSMOS.

4. Penn State Erie

This summer, Penn State’s Erie campus will be offering its 18th annual College for Kids summer program. The program runs from June 13 through August 12, 2011 and classes are available for children aged six through sixteen. Fun courses are offered in a variety of subjects including computer skills, sports, arts and crafts, math, science and more. For more information, visit Penn State College for Kids.

5. St. Louis Community College

The Continuing Education office of St. Louis Community College at Meramec offers spring and summer programs known as College for Kids, or CFK. CFK is a program for gifted and talented elementary and middle school students who have completed kindergarten through eighth grade. The courses offered are designed to challenge and advance students’ skills, which is why students must meet eligibility requirements. For more information, visit St. Louis Community College for Kids.

6. Columbia College Chicago

The summer arts camp at Columbia College Chicago is a six-week program for children in 3rd through 9th grades that explores the visual, performing and media arts. “Campers” have access to Columbia College Chicago’s theaters, screening rooms, galleries, classrooms and equipment while they learn from the college’s top students. For more information, visit Columbia College Chicago Summer Arts Camp.

7. University of South Florida

The various colleges located at the University of South Florida offer a wide variety of summer programs for kids, ranging from Oceanography Camp for Girls, Band Camp, STARS Science summer camp, and more. For more information, visit Summer Camps for Kids at USF.

8. New York Film Academy

New York Film Academy summer camps for high school students and “tweens” include acting, filmmaking, screenwriting, journalism, musical theatre, video game design and 3D animation programs. Students from each camp will work together to create a short film. The intensive day and weekend camps take place right in New York City, but also at Universal Studios in Hollywood, Disney Studios in Orlando, Harvard University in Boston, and more. For more information, visit New York Film Academy Summer Camps.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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