Expensive summer programs augment financial inequality


With news of the crackdown on parents illegally paying millions for their children to attend top universities, it would seem like the days of flaunting wealth in order to secure admission to college are over. Still, students at Gunn are likely to continue paying upwards of $5,000 for month-long summer camps that provide them with resources they are only able to get due to their affluence. But how is attending an expensive summer camp in order to be able to put it on a college application any different from paying one’s way into college? Students should realize the over-privileged position their money puts them in and reject expensive summer camps in favor of those that are free, easily accessible and merit-based.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the 2017 median household income in the US was $61,372. An out-of-state student from such a household wanting to go to a camp like the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) would have to pay $6,000 of those $61,000, or 10 percent of their total family income, just to attend. Meanwhile, a student from Palo Alto, a city with an average income of $137,000 ac- cording to the Census Bureau, would be lucky enough to only have to pay 3.6 percent of their family’s total income, making such programs far more affordable. The financial burdens, or lack thereof, for each family creates summer camps where attendees are homogenous in income level, and these rich kids are allowed to play together while less fortunate students are left behind.

Some might argue that financial aid should be more than enough to cover for low-income students. However, camps may only offer minimal quantities of financial aid packages, creating competition between less wealthy students. At best, this means that well-off students outnumber those that are less so. At worst, it affects the mental health of students who can no longer go places they’ve dreamed of because of a lack of funds. Furthermore, financial aid doesn’t go far enough to bridge the divide, as many students also need to get summer jobs in order to support their family. Even if aid offers students an entirely free camp—which is an unlikely occurrence— they’re still losing all of the money they could have been making from their job during that time period.

Aside from the financial aspect, expensive summer camps don’t always provide the booster that teenagers are looking for in their college applications. According to the Dean of Admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology Stu Schmill, boards across the country have agreed to look more at an applicant’s character than the prestige of their summer programs. This means that making an impact over the summer would be weighted more heavily than expensive camps. Programs like YCS-Interact, Second Harvest Food Bank, Dreamcatchers, Streetcode and Animal Assisted Happiness are all excellent resources for teenagers who want a leg up in the admissions game, but are also looking to create real change in their community. Another great resource for volunteer work within the Bay Area is the Stanford Haas Community Volunteering page which lists multiple different organizations that accept student volunteers. At the end of the day, these alternatives benefit both the volunteers and the less fortunate.

However, let’s say a student is interested in a subject that a pricey summer camp covers. In that scenario, rather than attending that camp and perpetuating the divide between the rich and the poor, the student should instead look for more affordable summer camps that field the same topic. One excellent example is the Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP), a six-week humanities program that allows students to discuss global issues and leave the program with a greater sense of their ability to shape the world and discover their own place within it. The program also subsidizes job pay, meaning that students who need to provide for their family over the summer are still able to do so. For students who are interested in STEM, Stanford Institutes of Medical Research (SIMR) is another internship that offers stipends to students. A quick search for “free [insert field] summer camps” will yield hundreds of results that are accessible and affordable even to low-income students.

Ultimately, students at Gunn need to be cognizant of the opportunities that they have been granted and make a conscious decision to level the playing field. By intentionally foregoing pricey camps in favor of those that benefit others without affluence, we can help broadcast the message that the admissions game should never be fueled by money. Students should take the time this summer to give back to the community that has built them up and allowed them to succeed, hopefully stepping up their admissions chances and truly making meaningful change.