How Going to a Pre-College Summer Program Helped Me Transition to College Life

My high school experience was basically one giant “make it work” moment. (Project Runway fansI hope you read that in a Tim Gunn voice.) Here’s the scoop: My school offered very few Advanced Placement and upper-level courses, and even though I challenged myself as much as I could, I was looking for more ways to study topics that I enjoyed, learn new skills that I wouldn’t be able to learn in my high school and meet other students who shared my goals and interests.

One way I expanded my learning opportunities was attending a summer educational camp or program. Many colleges and universities offer camps for high schoolers; some are designed for students with specific interests (i.e. marine biology, writing or journalism workshops, math and technology, athletics, etc.), while other camps may feature a series of classes on different topics.

I attended a summer studies program through Duke TIP (Talent Identification Program), where I took a three-week class on screenwriting and film, a course I would never have had access to at my high school. Similar pre-college programs are amazing opportunities to not only make friends from across the nation with similar interests, but to prepare yourself for campus life and broaden your horizons outside of the typical high school classroom setting. Today, I’m sharing what I learned by going to a college summer program as a high-schooler.

1. I learned to be open to new friendships

It’s easy to get caught up in the high school and hometown bubble filled with familiar faces and people you’ve been friends with since kindergarten, but the experience of attending a summer program alone made me more open-minded about forming new friendships and gave me the courage to introduce myself to other students in my dorm and in my class. In fact, one of my closest friends at the summer program was a girl who I randomly introduced myself to on move-in day because we were the first two people on our dorm floor.

I started my summer program not knowing anyone, but throughout my time on the campus, I became close with people in my class and dorm—and though we now all go to different colleges, many of us still keep in touch, which is really special.

2. I discovered what it would be like to live on a college campus

I had been away from home at overnight summer camps, but living in cabin in the middle of the woods is much different from the experiences and challenges of living in a dorm room with a random roommate on an unfamiliar college campus. The great thing about most summer programs for high schoolers is that the counselors, resident assistants and staff members are oftentimes current undergrad students who may go to the school in which you’re studying at for the summer, so they’re really great resources who can offer real advice about college about all things college life—academics, being healthy, making friends, relationships, etc.

Related: 7 Pre-College Programs You Can Join In High School

3. It taught me how to talk with professors

Though summer programs vary, most academic camps offered by colleges and universities have schedules that are centered around class time. You might spend your day in a few different lecture classes, or you might spend a large chunk of time with a smaller class. In my case, I spent about seven hours per day in the same class with the same students and professor. Going into the program, I had never interacted with college professors, and at first, the thought of spending such large amounts of time in a small class setting with a university professor—aka someone who was an expert in his field—was intimidating, to say the least.

However, experiences throughout the summer—such as asking my professor for feedback on my writing projects and taking the time to get to know him during class breaks—gave me an accurate picture of what to expect when communicating with professors in college. I learned how to interact professionally, the importance of asking for constructive criticism on my work and that it really does pay to get to know your teacher, as they could become an important professional connection before, during or after your college career.

4. I learned to not judge a class by its cover

At my high school, I didn’t have many options when it came to which classes to sign up for, so I never really had the experience of taking a class and not knowing what to expect of the workload, teacher or types of projects I’d work on.

For my summer program, however, I had to list a class that I’d like to take, but it wasn’t guaranteed that I’d get into it. My first choice was a class about writing and literature, but I got assigned to a class about screenwriting, which I knew nothing about. I was so nervous that the other students in my class would be experts, and I was secretly not-too-happy about not getting my first choice—but I ended up falling in love with the topics, and I learned about a type of writing and storytelling that was still related to my career goals and interests. Similarly, in college, I’ve signed up for classes expecting them to be “easy,” like Astronomy—which, plot twist, ended up being full of physics and one of the hardest classes I’ve ever taken.

In college, you can’t always get your first choice of classes, especially when it comes to electives and courses outside of your major—or you may take a class taught by a prof that your friends warned is really strict—but you should always go into your classes with an open mind. You never know what you’ll learn, who you’ll meet or what kinds of skills you’ll pick up over time—and it usually ends up being a lot different than what’d you think.

5. It showed me that the best is yet to come

In high school, I was surrounded by people who proudly sported the “high school is the best time of my life” attitude, and I didn’t really relate to that mindset. I spent way more time dreaming about college and post-high school life than I did stressing about how (or if) I’d be asked to prom—and though I always knew there was an amazing world beyond high school, going to my pre-college summer program reassured me that many of the best opportunities for learning, traveling and personal growth were still yet to come. At the program, I loved meeting people who also understood that there was more to life than high school—it made me feel like I had found a community where I belonged. Also, the experiences of getting used to a campus setting, living in the dorms and choosing how to spend my time outside of class gave me a clear look at what it would be like to go to college away from home, making me less nervous and more excited to apply to schools.

As a college student, I still keep in touch with many of the friends I met at the summer program, and I’ve found that screenwriting, which I learned in the class I took at the camp, is something I’d love to continue in the future. For me, attending a summer program was especially important because of the limited resources at my high school, but I don’t think going to a pre-college program is 100 percent right or necessary for everyone to feel prepared for college. Overall, I cherish the friendships, memories and skills I took from my experience because they made my transition from high school to college much smoother.

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