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#Summer Program at Top US Universities for High School kids. Part 1: Cost Comparison and Columbia University

Summer is fast approaching (or maybe not so fast, considering the wheather) and it is time to think about summer camps. Of the many options available I am concentrating here on pre-college residential programs at top US academic institutions. While the organizations mentioned here are not the only ones offering such programs, and I intend to cover many others in the next weeks, they are certainly amongst the most visible and with a “brand recognition” that spans outside the USA.

The comparison, that will cover several posts, takes into account:

Columbia and NYU in New York
Harvard and Boston University (Cambridge/Boston)
Stanford and Berkely (Bay Area)
UCLA Los Angeles
Brown (Rhode Island)

In the tabs below Oxford Royale Academy, in Oxford,UK is used as a term of comparison. Those of us who live in Europe are used to consider the UK the destination of choice for summer courses and here I am suggesting good alternatives in the USA. So far I have only directly experienced Oxford Royale, so any comment on other programs is based merely on “desk research”. I will be starting here with a more in depth description the program of Columbia University, with the rest to follow soon.

Let’s begin with the painful part: an overview of the costs. As you can see in the charts below, these programs don’t come cheap but, especially in their “per diem” cost, they are competitive with the UK comparison.

Chart 1

Schermata 02-2456339 alle 18.39.53

Chart 2

Schermata 02-2456339 alle 12.02.59

From the point of view of the european families, these programs make sense with a “strong Euro” and possibly coupled with a US vacation, so that the airfare can be better “amortized”. The idea is: many go to the US on vacation and then the kids go to the UK for the summer camp. Why not then take the vacation in the US and then drop the kids at the college of choice?


From their web site: “Now in its 27th year, Columbia University’s Summer Program for High School Students offers highly-motivated students the unique opportunity to experience college life in the Ivy League while sampling the vibrancy of New York City. Open to students entering grades 9 through 12 and freshman year of college, the program combines academic rigor and instructional excellence with lively extracurricular offerings and careful supervision and support.

Students elect one curricular option per session, either in the Junior-Senior Division or the Freshman-Sophomore Division. Each curricular option includes a variety of related components that provide an in-depth examination of a particular subject.

Between classes, students have numerous extracurricular options to choose from, including organized sports on Columbia’s beautiful campus and in nearby parks, excursions to local restaurants and places of interest, community outreach projects, organized discussions, and special events such as talks on the college application process and a college fair.”

For  students whose first language is not english, Columbia is the only one that does not require a standard test (TOEFL, IELTS etc.) but warns that “students’ English proficiency should be equivalent to 90 or above on the Internet-Based TOEFL or at least 6.5 on the IELTS”. Obviously a good command of the language is essential for learning and also contributing to the class, but it is nice not to be forced to submit a formal test. At that age kids probably have not taken any of these tests yet, so they do not have a score “ready to mail” and would have to take the test squeezing preparation between school home works and exams. Having already the student visa process to take care of, one less “burocratic” hurdle is welcome. I guess that somehow in evaluating the applications screeners would infer the level of language proficiency from the material submitted and from the resume.

Columbia offers very interesting courses, allowing for a truly motivating study experience, away from the trite “American History” or “Medieval Art” classes.

Students elect one curricular option per session. Each curricular option comprises a variety of related components that provide an in-depth examination of a particular subject.

The curricular options  are divided into two groups, one  for students who will be entering grades 11 or 12 or freshman year of college in fall, 2013 and the other for those who will be entering grades 9 or 10 or freshman year of college in fall, 2013.

Some Examples:


Students who are 16 years old by the start of the program qualify automatically for residential status.

Younger students may reside in the dormitories only with the special permission of the Director of Secondary School Programs. The student’s parents or guardians should submit a note after the student has been accepted into the program attesting to his or her exceptional maturity. Younger students are housed with the other students in the program and are assumed to be at the maturity level of 16- and 17-year-olds.

Residence Halls

Residential students are housed in University residence halls on Columbia’s tranquil 36 acre main campus. Students are placed randomly in either single or double rooms on single-sex floors or in single-sex suites. The residence halls have shared lounges, bathrooms, and—in some cases—kitchens.

All dormitories are equipped with wireless internet. Each room is also provided with one or more Ethernet jacks. Most dorms also have their own computer labs, though students will not be able to work in the labs after curfew.

Some residence halls do not have central air conditioning. Where there is no central air conditioning, window units are provided in all of the bedrooms and are included in the housing fee.

Each floor is equipped with a hall telephone that can make calls in the New York City area; these hall telephones cannot receive calls.

Each dorm is equipped with a laundry room in the basement of the building.

The dormitories are staffed 24 hours daily with security personnel. No individual without a University identification card and/or clearance for dormitory access is allowed to enter a dormitory. Parents/guardians are allowed into the dorms only during check-in and check-out times, when they are helping the students move. Non-residential High School Program students are not allowed into the dorms.

Meal Plan

Residential students are required to purchase a set meal plan that includes three meals per day, Monday through Friday. The meal plan consists of a wide variety of food served cafeteria style and includes vegetarian and vegan options.

A kosher meal plan option is available and consists of pre-packaged kosher meals that are served in the dining hall alongside the other dining options. Upon acceptance to the program, residential students are given the opportunity to select a kosher meal plan.

Columbia Dining Services can accommodate virtually any allergy-based restrictions. The dining hall is set up so as to accommodate most common food allergies; Dining Services will arrange special menus for students with more unusual or complicated restrictions. Students and parents with questions or concerns or who have special requirements are welcome to contact Kristie Koerner, Columbia’s Registered Dietitian, or 212-854-3353.

Meal times are as follows:

  • Breakfast: 7:30–9:30 a.m.
  • Lunch: 11:30 AM–2:00 p.m.
  • Dinner: 5:00–7:00 p.m.

Meals are not served on weekends. Students may purchase food in local shops or cafés, or dine at reasonably priced neighborhood restaurants.


Supervision throughout the program is provided by trained resident advisers, college and graduate students from all over the United States who participate in Columbia’s Internship in Building Community (IBC). Prior to the arrival of the high school students, IBC participants complete an intensive two-week seminar in which they learn how to provide for the safety and well-being of the students and study topics such as community building, communication skills, conflict resolution, and leadership.

Resident advisers are committed to the program around-the-clock, seven days a week; they do not hold other jobs or attend classes. In addition to their custodial dormitory responsibilities, they serve as full-time program assistants, providing administrative support, teaching assistance, and a full range of extracurricular activities.

With an average of ten students per RA, no student gets lost in the crowd. RAs and students get to know each other well, and students learn about college life from trusted mentors.

Resident advisers look after the safety of the students with the utmost care. During dormitory orientation on check-in day, students are instructed in basic safety measures, particulary for life in New York City.The Behavioral Standards Agreement, including curfew and sign-out procedures, is strictly enforced.

Resident advisers do everything possible to ensure that students have a productive and enjoyable summer. The first-day orientation is also an ice-breaking and group-bonding session. RAs organize hundreds of recreational programs both on-campus and throughout New York City (see below), so that residential students have countless opportunities to get to know RAs and other students and to explore the campus and the city.

Sign-Out Procedures, Curfew, Guests and Behaviorial Standards

Students are asked to account for their whereabouts after 7:00 p.m. by means of sign-out procedures.

Students must be in their assigned suites or on their assigned floors by 11 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and by midnight on Friday and Saturday; they are not permitted to leave until the following morning. Occasionally program-sponsored activities go past curfew; in those instances students are permitted to be out past curfew just as long as they have notified their RAs ahead of time.

Parents must submit written permission to the High School Program Office in order for a student to be away overnight. The permission note must include the dates and times that a student will be away as well as the location and phone number of where he or she will be staying. Permission notes must be submitted at least 24 hours prior to departure.

Visitors to the dormitory are not permitted either during the day or at night. Parents/guardians are allowed into the dorms only during check-in and check-out, when they are helping the students move. Non-residential High School Program students are not allowed into the dorms.

Rules of acceptable conduct are strictly enforced and failure to abide by these rules will lead to expulsion from the Summer Program for High School Students.

Evening and Weekend Activities

Several optional recreational options for residential students are offered every evening and weekend day. Those activities are specially selected to expand students’ awareness of the cultural and social diversity of New York City and Columbia University.

Recreational options include:

On-campus events:

  • dance parties
  • talent shows
  • scavenger hunts
  • open mike nights
  • organized sports

Off-campus excursions in and around New York City. Typical trips include the following:

  • The Brooklyn Bridge, Grimaldi’s Pizza, and Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory
  • Outdoor films in Bryant Park
  • Broadway Show: Wicked
  • South Street Seaport
  • Museum of Natural History
  • Chelsea art galleries
  • Williamsburg waterfront concerts
  • Restaurant: Sushi Samba
  • Broadway Show: Billy Elliot
  • Central Park
  • Katz’s Delicatessen
  • Museum: The Cloisters
  • Off-Broadway: Fuerzabruta
  • Midsummer Night Swing Dancing at Lincoln Center
  • Chelsea Piers ice skating
  • Broadway Show: Lion King
  • Randall’s Island golf, batting cages, and mini golf
  • Yankees vs. Red Sox baseball game
  • Walk and picnic on Highline Park
  • Movie: Brave
  • Shakespeare in the Park
  • Broadway Show: Phantom of the Opera
  • Beach Trip: Long Beach, Long Island
  • Six Flags Amusement Park in New Jersey
  • Museum of Modern Art
  • Chinatown
  • Coney Island
  • Princeton University
  • Washington D.C.

Students are expected to cover expenses such as admission fees, transportation costs, and meals. Though many of the off-campus trips are inexpensive or free, we suggest that residential students have access to a minimum of $900 per session. The first-day orientation prepares students to use good judgment so that they can safely enjoy the campus and the city.

Personal Conclusions: It is no coincidence that I started from Columbia. The city is everyone’s dream, the courses are extremely well thought to stimulate cross-subject thinking and the rules&regulations show a liberal approach perfect for those who would like their kid to exercise their judgement and grow independent.

The link to their web site is here

1 Comment

  1. […] #Summer Program at Top US Universities for High School kids. Part 1: Cost Comparison and Columbia Un…. […]

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