Long gone are the summer days of bike rides, camping trips, and swimming. The rules for college-bound high schoolers have changed.
Each summer, thousands of ambitious high school students pour into Boston-area colleges, filling up dorms and classrooms that would otherwise be empty, to give the students a taste of college life, as well as a leg up in the competitive world of college admissions.
At many local schools, the number of students has risen over the past few years, as both area colleges and the students find a marriage of convenience: The teenagers get a new line on their admissions application, and the colleges get another stream of revenue from families willing to pay as much as $10,000 a summer or more.
Vicky Canal, 15, who took courses at the Berklee College of Music this summer, said that with the rising cost of undergraduate tuition and increasingly selective admissions process, students who want scholarships need to begin building their resumes early.
“When you get really ahead, you can get a scholarship for college,” said Canal, who is from Spain. “More and more students want to take full advantage of that.”
At Boston University, a total of 921 high school students took courses this summer, a 24 percent increase from last year, when 745 students enrolled at the university.
Approximately 2,700 high school students participated in Berklee summer programs, which range from a few days to five weeks. The increase in the number of students from last year is slight, but the school says that with the construction of a new dorm, that number will probably rise in coming years.
The Harvard Secondary School Program, which is for high schoolers, enrolls approximately 1,230 students a year.
Lisa Sohmer, director of College Counseling & Upper Division Admission at the Garden School in New York, said that admissions officers want evidence that students were productive in the summer months. “In the old days, kids used to say, ‘I hung out with my friends during the summer,’ ” she said. “Nobody wants to say that anymore.”
Sohmer said these programs are growing, both in size and the offerings. Years ago, the summer courses tended to cover basic subjects. Now she is seeing classes in pre-med, creative writing, and leadership.
Maddy Bellman, 17, said she was attracted to the Boston University summer session for its course offerings. An aspiring fiction writer, Bellman was eager to study creative writing at the college level.
“It’s a nice school, and having that on a resume would pique the interest of any of the colleges I applied to,” said Bellman, of Clarendon Hills, Ill. “But I thought of doing it more for personal growth.”
Bellman, a rising senior in high school, said this glimpse of college life has given her confidence for next year. She had to wake up for her 9:30 a.m. class, make sure she ate at the dining hall before it closed at 7 p.m., and socialize with new people.
Bellman said that although the program was costly, the experience was worth it.
“I don’t care how confident you think are,” she said. “You aren’t totally prepared to go to college without taking one of these summer classes.”
At Tufts University, students take courses typical of a first-year Tufts student, said Sean Recroft, who serves as director for the summer session. Courses in mathematics, physics, and psychology are popular, he said.
“We expect the students who are participating to be at the highest level, and they are treated that way,” he said. “Faculty don’t make any exceptions because they’re in high school.”
Students who are hungry for that acceptance letter think of summer classes as their ticket to a dream college or university. But do these courses, in fact, put students on the fast track to receiving an acceptance letter? It depends.
At Harvard, the summer program makes it clear that admission does not ensure acceptance to Harvard College, though some students hope the courses will give them an edge in their application.
“It will boost a student’s knowledge and experience generally, and even — well, a summer at Harvard will help students select colleges that are right for them, and it might actually convince a student that Harvard is not one of them,” William J. Holinger, director of the Secondary School Program , said in a statement, adding, “It certainly doesn’t hurt to show a potential college that you are capable of doing Harvard-level work by doing well here.”
Tereza Kros, associate director of summer programs at Berklee, said that students who excel in summer become attractive candidates for the undergraduate school.
“It does not guarantee your acceptance here, but does it help? We think so,” Kros said. “For a lot of these students who are serious about pursuing a music education, [the summer programs] will make or break a student.”
These courses are not cheap, though some are worth college credit. Programs are either solely for high schoolers, or a mix of teenagers and students of other ages.
At Harvard, a full-time student enrolled in the 7-week program and who lives on campus pays a total of $10,690. Students studying and living at Berklee for the five-week program pay $8,185. Tufts, which does not offer on-campus housing, charges $2,165 for a lecture class and $2,325 for a course with a lab.
But many colleges and universities that offer high school summer programs said they give financial aid to students. This summer, the Harvard Secondary School Program awarded its students a total of $1,012,195 in financial aid, which was based on need.
Some schools, including Salem State University, run programs for disadvantaged students. Attendance is free, and the teenagers receive a stipend for their work.
Salem State University offers a program for a select group of Lawrence public school students, called Upward Bound. This federally funded initiative exists at other local colleges, including Boston University and the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Adam Kirk Edgerton, director of the program, said that to be eligible for the program, the student must live in a low-income household or be a first-generation college-bound student. His students often meet both requirements.
Since 1999, the chapter has served a total of 354 students.
“All we ask for is the commitment,” he said. “We have students who may have just immigrated a few months ago, or students who were enrolled in all AP courses. There’s a really wide range.”
Yankelly Villa, a 16-year-old student in the program, said she will be the first in her family to attend college. She plans to pursue a bachelor’s in psychology, and attend law school.
Villa said she believes the program will help ease her transition to a college, as she has already taken courses taught by professors and lived in a dormitory. The staff members encourage all the students to attend college, she said.
“Upward Bound is basically like a family; we all love each other,” she said. “It’s very important, because the reputation of Lawrence is that its kids do bad things. . . . We work harder to prove others wrong, to show that we can make it somewhere.”