Columbia Summer Program

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Columbia University campus

Perhaps this will sound familiar: You managed to score 1600 on your SAT after countless hours of mind-numbing hard work; you completed 500 hours of community service; and you excelled in all of your extracurricular courses. All that’s left is to find the hook of your personal statement, which has been eluding you.

After years of hard work, you’re finally reaching the point that you feel like your whole life has been leading toward: submitting your college applications. But before you do that, you wonder if there is anything else you can do to strengthen your application. That week, you learn about a highly selective Columbia Summer Programs, and you wonder if this is perhaps the missing ingredient.

As we have discussed at length on AdmissionSight, the college admissions process in America is deeply flawed. Despite having top SAT scores, GPA, and a host of impressive extracurriculars under your belt, there is no guarantee that you will get into the school of your dreams. While we stress the importance of crafting a stellar personal statement, which is arguably the clearest way to distinguish yourself from your peers, the truth is that a balancing act must be perfectly executed in order to be considered a serious applicant to Harvard, Stanford, or MIT.

Moreover, the definition of a strong applicant is changing a little more each subsequent year. It used to be that a high GPA and SAT score would make you a shoo-in for any Ivy League school. Now, however, those who work in college admissions not only expect top scores as a given, but are interested in other areas of your application, such as how you spent the time between high school classes, choir practice, volunteering, and studying for the SAT.

Young woman talking to a teacher.

What is Columbia Summer Program?

In this article, we will explore Columbia University’s Summer Program, discussing the variety of programs, what each program offers, who it is accessible to, and whether it will give you the edge you need in your college applications.

Of the summer programs offered by Ivy League colleges, one of the most popular is Columbia University’s Summer Program for High School Students. And it’s not hard to imagine why. Established in 1986, Columbia gives students the opportunity to experience college life while living in the heart of New York City. Open to students in grades 9 through 12, participants select an academic focus from over 70 courses in a dozen subject areas. Once a focus is chosen, students will engage in class discussions, labs, debates, and group projects designed around their chosen subject area—all alongside a cohort of like-minded students from all over the world. This is a list of the subject areas currently offered:

  • Architecture, Design, and Urban Studies
  • Arts
  • Business, Economics, and Entrepreneurship
  • Core skills
  • Creative Writing and Journalism
  • Law and Conflict Resolution
  • Marketing, Media, and Communications
  • Mathematics
  • Philosophy and Humanities
  • Physical Sciences
  • Politics and International Affairs
  • Social Sciences and Psychology
  • Technology and Computer Programming

Each provides an in-depth and interactive examination of a particular subject, and is taught by members of the Columbia community who are devoted to the highest standards of research and teaching. Courses meet for approximately two hours each morning, followed by a second two-hour afternoon session, Monday through Friday.

Students talking in a table.

Let’s take a look at the intensive summer programs Columbia has to offer for academically exceptional high school students.

Summer Immersion: New York City (available as a 3-week or 1-week program)

The most coveted of the programs available to ambitious high school students in the Summer Immersion Program. Here, students enrol in an intensive pre-college course designed to challenge and engage them in a supportive environment. While the summer program provides a rich academic experience, it is also an opportunity for students to get a taste of college life in New York City. In addition to the main curriculum, this program offers college preparedness courses that students are encouraged to attend on their midday break. Unlike the academic focus each participant will choose, which is essentially a condescend version of undergraduate courses offered during the formal academic year, midday programs focus on preparing students for the application process:

  • Tutorials on applying to college by Columbia Undergraduate Admissions
  • Seminars on how to write a strong college essay
  • Campus tours
  • Discussions of college life led by current students
  • Study skills
  • Saturday Immersion Program

In this program, students will spend five consecutive Saturdays engaged in academically rigorous coursework in a chosen subject area. They also get to participate in college preparedness events. This program offers the same list of courses as the 3-week immersive program. Unfortunately, on-campus housing is not available for this program.

Online Immersion Program

Like the NYC Immersive program, the Online Immersion Program offers a 3-week course and a 1-week course. As the name implies, the program is completed through Columbia’s interactive online platform. But this will in no way hinder the experience of the participants. The online platform allows students across the globe to engage with one another through the same instruction that is offered in the NYC Immersion program, in addition to providing the same student life activities and informative college success events.

(NOTE: With social distancing measures in place in light of COVID-19, the online immersion program is the only available option at the moment.)

How it works

Participants will attend class during designated meeting times, wherein a live instructor will teach the course using Zoom, an online video-conferencing platform. If you’re concerned about precious classroom time being wasted by technical problems (who hasn’t experienced difficulties using Zoom, FaceTime, Skype?), rest assured, all online courses will have a designated Course Facilitator, whose job is to assist with technical issues that may arise.

Technology requirements

In order to successfully participate in all aspects of the online immersion course, students will need:

  • Computer
  • Internet Connection
  • Webcam
  • Headset with Microphone
  • Zoom Installation
  • And, of course, a quiet, well-lighted learning space, free of distraction

What are they looking for in applicants?

It goes without saying, that admission committees search for exceptional students who display a passion for learning and a desire to enrich their knowledge of a particular field. However, while admission to the program is competitive, the committee looks beyond a high GPA. The application must establish that the student has the necessary academic background and level of ability, motivation, and maturity. Students are also expected to fulfil any prerequisites that are listed in the program description before the program start date.

Residence Halls, Dining, and Campus Resources

Students who will be 16 years of age by the start of the program automatically qualify for residential status. But that does not mean anyone under the age of 16 is barred from participating. Students who will be 15 years old by the start of the program may live on campus with permission from a parent or legal guardian. Students under the age of 15 do not have the option of residing in the dormitories.

Though participants who are of age are encouraged to live on campus in order to receive the full immersive experience, applicants who live near the campus may apply as commuter students. This requires that they provide documentation at enrollment showing that they live at a residence that includes direct adult supervision. They are strongly discouraged from attempting to take unsupervised housing in the form of hotel rooms, Airbnb rentals, or hostels.

Grades, Evaluations, and Credit

While the courses are academically challenging, they are designed to prepare students for the rigours of college, rather than earning credits. Successful completion will be determined by instructors and the Program Director, who will base participants on their attendance, class participation, satisfactory completion of assignments, and adherence to the program’s community standards, which is designed to ensure the safety and well-being of the students and the integrity of the University. Upon completion of all of these areas, students will receive a Statement of Completion.

Multiracial students sitting on a bench.

Community Outreach and Special Interest Clubs

In addition to academic courses, participants will be treated to a bevvy of exciting events that take place on and off-campus. While many events take advantage of New York City’s rich culture by exploring staples such as the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, Central Park, and Chinatown, participants are also given the opportunity to engage in community outreach activities, such as volunteering at a local soup kitchen or teaching computer skills to the elderly. In addition, after classes are over for the day, students are encouraged to attend special lectures that cover topics not necessarily found in their chosen subject area. They may also choose to participate in a special interest club of their choice, which can be an optimal time to network and get to know people in a less formal setting. Past clubs have included various dance clubs, LGBTQ Alliance, and ethics discussion groups—all ideal for adding flavour to your college application.

Supervision and Community Standards

No doubt, students opting for the full immersive experience will be excited by the simple fact that they will be on their own, in one of the greatest cities in the world, getting a glimpse of what their future holds. For many, this will be the first significant amount of time they’ve spent away from their parents and families. While the program encourages students to forge their own path and make their own decisions, they will be doing so under direct supervision of the faculty, as well as trained Resident Advisors, who are available to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They not only look after students, but they are responsible for instructing them on personal safety measures, how to properly navigate the city, and the strict student sign-out policy. In addition to covering safety protocols, Resident Advisors also act as mentors to students, ensuring that they do not become “lost in the crowd.”

It is worth mentioning that Columbia University has a strict policy about student behavior while they are enrolled in all summer programs. Students are responsible for their social or public conduct, including in digital forums such as text messaging, social media posts, emails, and discussion boards. In short, participants are expected to act in a sensitive, considerate, and responsible at all times, and respect the rights of others.

College student looking away from the camera.

How to apply

As you can imagine, admission to Columbia’s summer programs for high school students is highly selective. Though there are no specific GPA requirements, all application materials should establish that the student has the appropriate academic background and ability for the academic focus for which he or she is applying.

  • Completed application form

If completed before January 23, no application fee is required. After this date, the application fee is $80.

  • Transcript

Unofficial transcripts are acceptable as long as they are submitted directly from your school. Students must also provide a copy of their most recent report card.

  • Personal Essay

In 600 words or less, students must discuss where they are from and how it has shaped them into who they are.

  • Two letters of recommendation

Applicants are required to submit one letter of recommendation from an academic advisor, guidance counsellor, or principal that speaks to the student’s intellectual ability; and a second letter by a teacher that describes the student’s academic talents and how they will benefit from attending this program.

The completed application and all supporting materials are then submitted online by the following dates:

  • Session 1 application due by June 5
  • Session 2 application due by June 26
  • Session 3 application due July 29

Will participation in Columbia’s Summer Program guarantee you a slot at Columbia?

In deciding if this is a worthwhile path for you to take, students should be under no illusion that acceptance into one of these programs will translate to acceptance into the undergraduate program at Columbia University, or any other Ivy League college. Rather, AdmissionSight encourages students to utilize an experience such as this as the hook of your personal statement, reflecting a strong passion for your chosen academic subject. It goes without saying, there is nothing more deleterious to a college application then covering the same, uninspired ground as thousands of other eager students. Your best chance of getting into the college of your dreams is to write a quality personal statement that reflects your singular voice.



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