When Maddie Boudov ’21 stepped off the plane and saw the Los Angeles skyline, she was taken aback by its stark contrast to the rural landscape of Interlochen Center for the Arts in Traverse City, Mich. and decided that her summer experience was well worth the trip.
“I chose to travel to Interlochen because it is an internationally-ranked art school and camp that I have heard nothing but rave reviews about, but also because I like getting out of LA and meeting people from other parts of the country that I may not have met if I stayed in California,” Boudov said.
The world-class cultural and arts education program that served as the setting for her summer experience not only afforded her a space to explore her identity as a musical theater artist, but also a space to call home, Boudov said.
However, while institutions like Interlochen can provide highly immersive summer opportunities and enriching experiences, access to these facilities often come with a hefty price tag, New York Times reporter KJ Dell’Antonia wrote in an article.
“We can indulge our annual illusion of children filling joyful hours with sprinkler romps and robotics camp or we can admit the reality: summer’s supposed freedom is expensive,” Dell’Antonia wrote.
According to The New York Times, in 2014 parents reported that they planned to spend an average of $958 per child on summer expenses.
“Students who could not afford to spend their summers taking extra classes were being left further behind in ‘the college access game,’” Kimberly Quick, a policy associate for the Century Foundation, said in an article for The New York Times.
In addition to simple recreation, summer activities take on increased importance in high school as students try to fill their summers with constructive activities to improve their chances during the college admissions process or in their future career paths, Upper School Dean Celso Cárdenas said.
However, college admissions representatives are aware of the implications of the cost of high-caliber summer programs on the content of students’ applications, Cárdenas said.
“While Harvard- Westlake is great about making things a lot more equal for individuals— we’ll pay for a trip abroad and find funding for summer programs for students—not every school is able to do that,” Cárdenas
said. “College reps know this, and they would never hold that against a student.”
Cárdenas also said that while experiences in other places can be valuable, there are equally enriching opportunities for students whose financial situations limit their ability to travel.
“If someone [says,] ‘I was able to do service in my own community,’ or ‘I did it ten minutes away from my home because it’s personal to me, and I have this connection to it,’ then that’s going to add more value to something that’s a few miles away as opposed to something across the
world,” Cárdenas said.
In a Chronicle poll, 86 percent of the 147 respondents who stayed home said that they had a fulfilling summer. Although Sabina Yampolsky ’20 visited New York at the start of her vacation, she said she spent the majority of her summer in Los Angeles studying antibiotic resistance at a research program at UCLA.
“There’s a different experience you get when you travel,” Yampolsky said. “By staying in Los Angeles, I got to catch up on extracurriculars like piano and driver’s education, and I got to volunteer in a research program, so I think I got to do more and be more productive.”
Summer days offer a blank canvas for students to experiment, which Upper School Dean Adam Howard said helps students paint a picture of who they see themselves becoming through exploring new activities. However, Howard said that contrary to popular belief, how a student chooses to spend their summer plays only a small part in how an admissions department perceives them.
“Summer activities are ultimately just part of the overall package when considering college applications,” Howard said. “Grades, testing, extracurriculars; all three fit into the application, and summer is just its own part of that. No single summer program or opportunity will be a game changer as far as college admissions.”
The pressure that this misconception promotes creates a competitive culture in which the purpose of the summer becomes about building the best application, Cárdenas said.