What Is a Pre-College Program?

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Pre-college programs, at their most fundamental level, are designed to give high school students an early glimpse into the realities of university life. They typically involve focusing on a particular field (such as writing, physics, or chemistry) in a setting similar to that of which you would experience at a university.

These programs generally occur over the summer. They are almost exclusively hosted by colleges rather than independent organizations, so they’re uniquely situated to give students an authentic look into life and academics at a particular school.


A common (and understandable!) misconception about pre-college summer programs is that they’re designed to be completed during the summer between high school and college–that is, the summer immediately preceding your freshman year at college.

In reality, many of these summer programs are open to high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Depending on the school, the programs may be divided by year.


Pre-college summer programs generally range from one to six weeks in length. Some schools offer various length options rather than just one; Harvard, for example, allows students to decide whether to attend for two, four, or six weeks. Georgetown, on the other hand, offers one-week and three-week options.


You’re already well aware of the importance of grades in the college application process, so it’s great to consider how (and whether) grades from a pre-summer program will affect your overall transcript.

Unfortunately, there is not a definite answer. It depends very much on the school and program. Harvard is at one end of the spectrum; it doesn’t use grades at all, letting you focus on learning about something you’re passionate about (even if it’s unfamiliar) without the threat of bad grades hanging over your head.

George Washington University is an example of the other end of the spectrum. It offers an intensive pre-college program that allows juniors and seniors to take true college-level classes and earn transferable college credit for them.

The good news about this range is that you can choose whether you want to take a program where you can show off your ability to get good grades in a higher education environment, or whether you want to expand your horizons and broaden your education without impacting your GPA or transcript.

Accommodations and Meals

During most pre-summer programs, you stay on (or near) the college hosting the program in official university housing. In other words, students (or parents) don’t need to make their own accommodation arrangements.

And parents, don’t worry. These programs tend to involve significant supervision, and they almost universally include a strict curfew. (Sorry, students.)

Most of these programs also include three meals a day for the duration of the program. These are typically offered in the college’s dining halls, which gives students a taste of both the food and the university’s atmosphere.

Questions? Let us know!