By Evan Forster. Photo by Malcolm Manners.

Wondering about Summer College programs--and whether any of them will help you get accepted to the college you want most? If not (just being real here), what's the point of applying, or even going?  These are some of the very valid questions that students and parents have been  asking me lately – here are my answers.

Whether it's the RISD Summer Pre-College Program for that high school Leonardo da Vinci, the Carnegie Mellon National High School Game Academy for the world’s next Shigeru Miyamoto (think Super Mario Brothers)  or Wharton’s "Leadership in the Business World"

for that rising Meg Whitman or George Soros, summer college programs can be of great value, demonstrate that you follow your passions, and teach you great skills. But no, they don’t guarantee you an admit to the university sponsoring the program.

Let’s use Wharton’s “Leadership in the Business World” (LBW) as a case study. The program is highly selective.  Its website also reinforces that participation in the program is no guarantee of admission to Penn.  This program is US$7,500 for four weeks. Yes, it's truly selective, and some say there's a good correlation with admission to Wharton—perhaps because the admitted applicant pool of LBW is so competitive and qualified. Wharton claims that 40% of last year’s LBW participants applied to Wharton Undergrad, and that 30% of those participants were accepted. That’s a 75% admit rate, which dwarfs the usual 9% -- but again, remember this is a stronger applicant pool to begin with, and about half of them applied early decision, which strongly influences top universities these days. So take the numbers with a grain of Auntie Evan’s best brand of salt. Even top students with 36 ACTs, straight As and heavy AP schedules applied last year--highly ranked in their high school/secondary class--with strong leadership do not get in. For the students who do, independent business achievement is at least as good a yardstick for adcoms as are programs like LBW.

And as for RISD and Carnegie Mellon, numbers are harder to come by, but anecdotal evidence suggests that for highly motivated students, they can be pipelines into their parent universities -- sometimes. Recently, a friend of mine, certain her daughter was the next Frida Kahlo, pushed her  to apply to RISD Summer Pre-College Program. She was accepted, and it cost a lot of money. She even went so far as to have her daughter create her company logo and was certain that she would be accepted to RISD full-time. However, the daughter did not get in, and Mama was furious. She thought the summer program was the Yellow Brick Road. Daughter did get in to SCAD, however, and is doing quite well in her graphic design career.

So back to my earlier question – if you aren’t guaranteed an admit, why would you go? Well, there's always pure academic growth (What a concept!). Then there's the opportunity to see if you're really into the subject enough to continue your journey in a particular area of academic or artistic area of study. It also ensures that admissions will see your "demonstrated interest". Life is what you make of it. It is not based on a summer pre-college program.

Summer college programs show interest and commitment--especially if you do well and have other extracurriculars that focus on this same academic or artistic area of study. So it's always a good thing. Just not a sure thing.