When Hard Work Never Stops: Summer Programs at Stuyvesant

Summer is ample amount of time for students to test their limits and pursue their passions, and summer programs are one of the best ways to do so. However, are summer programs worth the difficult process, and is it the end of the world if a student doesn’t get accepted into one?

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For many Stuyvesant students, hard work doesn’t stop when the school year comes to an end. Instead, students spend their summers expanding their interests and getting involved in activities that will contribute to their post-high school lives and careers.  

Summer programs like internships and courses are appealing to students, as they can choose one subject of focus rather than following an all-encompassing academic schedule during the school year. “It's really about what piques your interest, and doing a program solely dedicated to that one subject or that one passion that you have that is very enjoyable, while also giving you the benefits of putting on your college application,” sophomore Hannah Moon stated. 

Summer programs are an excellent way for students to discover new interests or even figure out what they aren’t interested in. Although schools attempt to offer students small bits of every subject to gauge their interests for the future, what students learn in class often does not reflect the workplace or give students the necessary hands-on experience for their future career of choice. Summer classes are more specialized than school courses. For senior Dorothy Ha, participating in summer programs that she ultimately didn’t enjoy helped her understand what she would want to major in as an undergraduate. After taking an architecture course, she realized that it was a field that she didn’t want to pursue. “Alternatively, I took another summer course that was at a museum, and we were learning about [art] history [...] I'm going to major in art history now,” Ha said. Though finding her passion took some trial and error, Ha felt that trying out different summer programs was more than worthwhile for the insight that it gave her. “I’m glad for the [course] because it made me realize that [architecture is] not something that I want to pursue in the future,” she said.

One of the most valuable benefits of summer programs is the connections a student can make there. Summer programs are a haven for networking: whether it’s meeting students who share the same passions or meeting mentors who want to help students succeed, creating connections in summer programs comes naturally. “For me, a lot of the bosses that I worked with over my summer programs helped me proofread my college essays, and they gave me tips during the application process. And some of them even offered to write me something like a supplemental recommendation letter. So that was really helpful as well,” Ha stated.

Although many students express the value that summer programs can have for finding and furthering one’s interests, others prioritize the experience to include them in their college applications. This greatly impacts their decision in choosing to participate in a summer program, rather than just their interests. In an email interview, freshman Caleb Lee expressed, “[Stuyvesant] students definitely feel a great pressure to be involved in summer programs no matter what grade they are. We’re just all so competitive and trying to one-up each other. We're all known to be the Ivy-league bound school, and for a lot of us that just entered [Stuyvesant], we all believe that we will go to an Ivy.” Due to this competitive environment, the true value and purpose of summer programs—learning and enjoyment—are diminished for many students.

Simply participating in summer programs and classes where students have to pay does not guarantee a seat at a specific college. Pre-college summer programs, for instance, have been noted to hold minimal weight in the college application process, so the emphasis on participating in these programs mainly boils down to interest and the willingness to learn. Despite the competitive environment and the desire to match up to their peers, many students at Stuyvesant acknowledge that the main point of summer programs should be to gauge interest, not to boost your resume. “I think it depends what field it’s going into. If it’s relevant to your field and crucial to what you’re passionate about, it is extremely helpful to get a college course if it’s particular to the field you want to pursue,” Moon stated.

Many students plan which summer programs they hope to take part in months in advance. The competitive admissions process in such programs can discourage many students looking for a summer opportunity. Sophomore Karina Huang shared, “I only applied to two [programs] and got rejected from both. One of them I got rejected from immediately after the application [stage], and the other one, I went through five steps [and then] got rejected.” 

Once a select few do get into summer courses, they face another obstacle: the cost. Many summer courses at prestigious universities are unaffordable for many high school students. “I feel like [colleges] should try to do something to make [their courses] more accessible to students, because [...] no matter how good they are, they're still crazy expensive,” freshman Melody Qu said. 

Some students believe that the high price tag is worth the unique experience as well as preparing for the future. Freshman Kaden Ng said, “It’s an absurd amount of money, [but] it's reasonable on [the college’s] end, right? Because they're offering this education that's probably only limited to them [...] So honestly, it is fair.” Many of these programs also offer financial aid to help students who otherwise would not be able to afford them. 

However, the fact remains that these programs are simply inaccessible to many students, because financial aid isn’t guaranteed. “For me, as someone who really is officially in the lower part economically, it really is not nice to know that there’s so much being held away from me just because of money. And yeah, there is generous financial aid, but that’s something you have to hope for,” freshman Mark Primak said.

Sometimes, finding an appropriate and affordable program is about knowing where to look. There are many free opportunities that can be found through Internship Coordinator Harvey Blumm’s Weekly Opportunities Bulletin, which outlines opportunities for students in various fields. “If you look through my newsletter, you’ll see that there are many, many programs and opportunities that are either free or low-cost. Even if they are expensive, they may offer financial aid,” Blumm said. Blumm added that the City University of New York’s College Now program offers many courses on subjects ranging from computer science to psychology for free. 

In addition to the finances, it may be difficult for families to support students in completing summer programs and internships, so their inaccessibility is further highlighted. Taking care of siblings and a lack of access to transportation are some struggles that some students may face depending on their familial situation. “Both of my parents work as well. So managing one kid is hard, but with four kids, the amount of responsibility it takes on top of the work you already have to do, even if it’s just basic necessities, is so hard to do,” Moon stated. “So if it's a summer internship on top of that, they won’t have the time to be able to do so. It’s asking for a lot on top of their already large amount of responsibilities. Summer internships are unrealistic especially for big families that are super busy.”

Blumm highlighted that working over the summer is an excellent option for students who are looking to make money and an alternative to expensive summer programs. “Instead of paying money, you can make money. [...] I always tell every Stuyvesant student, you should always apply for the Summer Youth Employment Program,” he explained. “New York City funds an employment program for all New York City high school students [...] You can be a freshman, sophomore, junior or a senior [...] It doesn't matter what your GPA is or SAT scores; it's strictly a lottery thing. You can get a paid job that's funded by New York City.”

Ultimately, summer programs, though they can be expensive, offer students unique opportunities to pursue their interests. No matter what that interest is, there is likely an opportunity for them to develop new passions and continue to learn outside of school. There are many programs that are free, and if not, several offer financial aid. While students shouldn’t feel pressured to pursue a program they may not enjoy, participating in a summer program they are passionate about can transform their summer.