Summer Fun at Admissions Camp

College-bound teens should be wary of exorbitant and unneeded admissions 'camps'

Come summertime, many teenagers typically lounge on the beach, catching some rays. The more enterprising among them might volunteer at the local community shelter, research in a lab, take a course on Shakespeare or train to be world-class athletes. But for some of those with an eye on a top college, these options simply don’t cut it. Instead, they—or their parents—feel it’s necessary to attend one of three different college application camps that give students “the edge.” The new fad for highly-motivated, college-bound teens is to spend part of their summer vacation learning how to beat the competition at purportedly low-key college application camps that offer SAT preparation, mock interviews, essay polishing and admissions strategies. Welcome to the world of Camp Get-Into-Harvard.

Some of the savvy companies behind these college application camps are Brighton, Musiker Teen Tours and Academic Study Associates. The cost of their programs is exorbitant, ranging from $2295 for nine days for Brighton to $2899 for thirteen days for Musiker. But you’d better bet you get your money’s worth—at least when it comes to hours spent in the classroom. The website for Academic Study Associates insists that a typical day includes no less than three hours of the Princeton Review’s Beat the SAT, two hours of essay writing and an hour-and-a-half of one-on-one counseling and admissions workshops. All three programs claim that these activities will give students a substantial—if not necessary—advantage over their peers in the college admissions process. In a March 7 press release, Brighton’s executive director David Allen nicely sums up their message: “Colleges don’t accept people, they accept applications.”

Spending immense sums on getting into college is hardly the newest fashion; in fact, the college admissions industry has been sprawling for several years. Countless SAT prep classes, essay-editing services and college consulting companies offer costly programs. For instance, IvySuccess provides a “Complete Strategy” service for the bargain price of $18,000, all but urging parents to get a second mortgage on their home to ensure their child gets into the right school. To be sure, the market for more affordable products such as the popular SAT review books is very reasonable considering the realities of the college admissions process. But IvySuccess and college admissions camps go over the top by construing college admissions success as a feat accomplished by “experts” rather than by the students themselves. As IvySuccess emphatically puts it on its website, “Getting into the right college is a matter of INSIDE KNOWLEDGE, EARLY PLANNING, and STRATEGIC POSITIONING.” Aren’t they forgetting something? Character, talent, drive perchance?

College admissions camps are the worst development yet in an already alarming trend. If these programs actually live up to their grandiose claims—admittedly a rather generous assumption—they put applicants who cannot afford their astronomical costs at a disadvantage in the admissions game. They also ratchet up the tremendous pressures students already face when applying to colleges. The Musiker program insists on its website that “the school you attend will help determine your future—your career, your lifetime friends, even where you’ll live and work after college”—a low-key message indeed. College admissions camps simply exploit the fears of anxious parents and overachieving students to line their pockets. They portray the college admissions process as a ridiculous, high-stakes game whose solutions only they can provide—and for a preposterous fee.

Hersh Sagreiya ’07, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.