Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Perfect Summer School
There are thousands of summer schools worldwide, all promising to offer a life-changing week or twelve, but only the very best can actually live up to this claim. So, without visiting every single one out there, how do you find your perfect summer school?
We’ve put together an ultimate guide, covering everything from goals and interests to pastoral care. We’ve also given some examples of schools you might like to check out, although you should make sure to do your own research as well before you settle on one.
Why choose a summer school at all?
The first thing you need to do when considering any sort of summer camp is to work out why you want to go in the first place. Do you want to try out a course before committing to a degree at university, or just relax and try out something new? Are you looking to make a network of new friends, or explore a new city? You’ll probably have a lot of reasons, so ranking them in a list from most to least important could help you to narrow down exactly what it is you’re looking for.
What sort of school is right for me?
This early stage is a good time to work out what sort of programme you would enjoy, and work out whether you have the appropriate skills.
Summer schools can range from outdoor adventure or sports camps, to intensive academic courses, some of which are accredited or can count towards your high school grades. You might prefer a wide-reaching arts camp, which would give you the chance to paint, sing, dance, act and more, or opt for something more focused like a language school. The most important thing is to sit down with your parents and work out what it is you want from a summer school before you start really looking online. Don’t worry if your list looks quite specific – there are plenty of courses out there, so you’re sure to find at least one that’s a good fit!
Spotlight on: PGL
With sixteen different sites across the UK and France, PGL holidays are action-packed adventures you won’t forget in a hurry! Offering everything from abseiling and kayaking to a Cook’s Academy and surf school, the camps all centre around taking on new challenges with your new friends! PGL offers 3, 4 and 7 night trips, as well as non-residential camps. They offer programs with different focuses for people aged 7 to 17 years old, as well as facilitating school trips and birthday parties.
Age and level
You’ll also need to make sure you find a summer school suitable for your age and level of education. Some specialist courses might require you to have a certain level of skill before they accept you, e.g. proficiency in the language the school is taught in. If you don’t meet the requirements for a camp you really like, don’t be put off! Treat it as a goal to work towards for a future summer, and look for similar courses which are better suited to your skills this year.
Spotlight on: Summer at Doon Leadership Academy
The Doon School is one of the most famous boys’ boarding schools in India, with a sparkling academic reputation. During the summer, they open their doors to boys and girls aged 14-18 years for their comprehensive leadership programme. They ask for a personal statement as part of their application process, and are looking for bright individuals who will be able to keep up with their intensive programme. Looking at everything from History and Economics to Philosophy, Rhetoric and the Performing Arts, the academy is rigorous but incredibly rewarding. The two week course includes hiking and camping portions, and the school heavily restricts use of phones, laptops and tablets in order to allow students to optimise focus.
To co-ed or not to co-ed
Lots of summer schools are co-educational, meaning they take both boys and girls, and encourage collaborative work between genders. If the school is residential, rooms will never usually be shared by mixed genders, but the separate rooms may be in the same building. Co-educational summer schools are great for developing social skills and interacting with a wide range of people, but some students (especially those who attend boys’ or girls’ school during the year) may prefer the familiarity of an all-boys or all-girls summer camp.
Spotlight on: Camp Chinqueka
Camp Chinqueka offers two to eight week long adventure camps exclusively for girls between 6 and 15 years old. Based in Connecticut, the facilities are spread along the banks of Mt. Tom Pond, which makes it perfect for boating and swimming, both of which are popular morning activities at the camp. Their guided activities include everything from water skiing to yoga to ceramics, with skilled staff guiding each one. Camp Chinqueka has a brother camp, Camp Awosting, which offers a similar experience for boys nearby. They organise some joint activities, which are always well-supervised.
Residential or non-residential
The same applies to the decision between day schools and residential camps. If you’re not quite ready for a residential camp yet, but find one you really like, bookmark it and consider it for a future summer when you do feel ready. Some summer schools offer both day and boarding places, but many are only set up for one or the other. For children under 8 years old, you might struggle to find residential spaces, and lots of people wait until they’re twelve or older before staying away from home.
Spotlight on: Interlochen High School Summer Programme
Interlochen is an American high school in Michigan, USA, specialising in the arts and preparing students for university- or conservatoire-level teaching. They also run a range of summer schools, covering everything from the Harp to the Motion Picture Arts. They require video or audio audition tapes, and by ensuring everyone is of a suitable level, their tutors are really able to stretch students to achieve their maximum potential. This is a great opportunity for high-schoolers looking to transfer to the Interlochen Centre for the Arts full-time, and more especially for those students looking to pursue higher-level musical or artistic study.
Choose location carefully
When choosing a summer school, the location can be amongst the most important considerations.
If you’re looking at non-residential programmes, then your job will be a lot easier when it comes to settling on a location – wherever you choose will have to be within commuting distance of your home. It’s also important to work out how you would get to and from the school; if you’re looking at using public transport, make sure you would be able to get to any early-morning activities, and home from any later nights.
With summer schools where you stay overnight, you’ll need to think a bit more carefully about your location. If you want to improve language skills, the best thing you can do is find a programme in a country where your target language is widely spoken. This means you’ll be exposed to it and learning even when you’re not in class. It would also give you an opportunity to learn more about their culture first-hand.
Spotlight on: King’s Academy Summer Programmes
The King’s Academy is a top-tier boarding and day school in Jordan, catering for male and female students between 12 and 18 years old. During the summer, they run a renowned Arabic programme for students aged 12 to 16, as well as English and Maths courses. If you’re looking to develop your STEM skills this summer, consider taking one of their advanced courses for 11 to 15 year olds, which cover things like 3D printing and building lunar colonies! For younger students aged 6-13, they also offer an action-packed sports and activity camp.
Places of interest
For more general summer schools, you should consider places you’d like to find out more about, or have always wanted to visit but may be unlikely to go on a family holiday. If you’re going to a summer school for university prep or to test out a subject you think you might like to study further, it can be good to find a programme near the place you’d like to study. This gives you the chance to try out the academics and see whether you like the area at the same time.
Spotlight on: The Oxford Scholastica Academy
If you’re looking to apply to the University of Oxford, our courses are a great way to engage with the city and try out some advanced study in your chosen subject. Although we are not affiliated with Oxford University, our style of teaching is modelled on undergraduate study there, and many of our tutors and staff members are past or present Oxford students. The Oxford Scholastica Academy also offers the chance to stay in University of Oxford accommodation, learn in their facilities and even brunch in Corpus Christi College’s formal hall. For those hoping to study in London, we also run courses in the capital, using facilities of the London School of Economics.
What else might determine my chosen location?
Other things could be important for the specific type of summer school you’re looking for. A watersports summer course, for example, might be better suited to a coastal town than somewhere that just has a small lake or a swimming pool. Likewise, a musical theatre camp might be more fun if it’s located near famous theatres, like Broadway or the West End.
The most important thing is choosing somewhere you’ll feel comfortable and have fun, though. If you want a hot, sunny vacation, northern Europe might not be your ideal location. Similarly, if you’re not a fan of big cities, check out some of the many rural camps available.
We know this sounds like there’s a lot to consider, but you’ll probably have an instinctive preference for most of these things. Again, you might find it helpful to write a list and go through the options with your parents.
Things for parents to consider
If you’ve got more than one child and would like them to go to the same summer camp, there are some extra things to think about. If they have varying interests, you’ll need to find a camp which offers varied activities, so they all have fun. Some schools also offer a discount for second and third children, which can be an important consideration when funding several children through summer programmes at once. The final thing to bear in mind is that, while they might accept a wide age range, some summer schools are really tailored to older or younger audiences. Try to find one which really tailors its programmes to the different ages of your children.
Different summer schools approach their staffing differently. Some will have a slightly older workforce, made up largely of qualified teachers or academics. These are relatively uncommon, however, so if you’re set on one of these you should be willing to travel to find one. Lots will instead employ university students or recent graduates, supported by more senior staff. This is great for the students, as they can ask the staff about their experiences at university and may feel more comfortable approaching them with any issues. Students also often get along well with younger staff, making it feel more like a holiday than it otherwise might.
In most places, all staff regardless of age will undergo background checks and first aid training before being accepted for the role. When you’ve narrowed your search down to a few schools, feel free to contact them and ask any staffing questions you might have.
Health and safety
Especially important with activity and sports-based camps, levels of health and safety provision will again be regulated by the local governments at most summer schools. If this is of particular concern for you, you could again ask specific summer schools for an outline of their provision, or for a copy of any risk assessments they have.
If your child has any additional needs relating to their health and wellbeing, have a chat with any summer schools you’re considering to make sure they would be able to facilitate them before you book anything.
As well as keeping your child safe, a summer school should offer pastoral support. This can include anything from comforting students if they’re homesick, to adjusting activities or academics to keep them feeling engaged, to helping them make friends. Some schools have specific members of staff, like a matron or house parent, specifically on hand to deal with these sorts of issues, while others make it the joint responsibility of all of their staff. Many do both. You should choose a summer school that both you and your child will feel comfortable with, and make sure you have emergency contact details for the camp to hand at all times. Most have at least one phone number which is manned 24/7, so if you or your child have any issues or worries at any point in the course, you’ll be able to get in touch immediately.
Levels of supervision
This will often depend on the age of your child, but different summer schools do have different levels of supervision. Some camps will have staff members living in dorm rooms with the students, and provide pretty much total supervision throughout their stay. Others allow their students more freedom, with unscheduled time which allows them to explore their surroundings with their new friends. If this will be your child’s first time staying away from home, you might opt for a programme with more supervision, and work up to one which offers more independence later on.
Summer schools can be found to fit any budget, with some offering scholarships or community-funding, allowing children to attend for free, and others costing upwards of $13,000. Lots of universities and colleges will offer subject-specific, free summer programmes for prospective students from less affluent backgrounds, so if you’re looking at a particular school that’s an option worth pursuing. It’s important that everyone involved in the search knows the budget, so if your child is looking for summer schools themselves, make sure they’ve got realistic expectations. You’ll find plenty of amazing opportunities to suit every budget, just make sure to factor in any additional costs like travel and meals, as these aren’t always covered in full by the summer school.
Spotlight on: The Sutton Trust
The Sutton Trust runs summer schools at thirteen of the UK’s leading universities, including Cambridge and Durham. They also offer a week-long trip to America, visiting various top US colleges along the way. The Trust’s summer programmes are aimed at widening participation, and are offered to UK state school students on a means-testing basis. They cover all expenses involved, including travel to and from the chosen location, meals and accommodation. Similar programmes are offered at other leading universities and colleges around the world.
We know there’s a lot to consider when choosing a summer school, but hope this has made your search easier. It’ll all be worth it when you have the most memorable summer of your life at the best camp for you.
So, in summary, what are the main things to take away as you start searching for the perfect summer school?
Work out what you’re looking for before you start the search
Location, location, location – the perfect summer course will take place in the perfect place for you
Consider you budget and pitch your search accordingly
Make a decision as a family
Book your place, and get excited for an unforgettable summer!
Choose a summer course in Oxford!
Take a look around our website to find out the range of summer courses available with the Oxford Scholastica Academy.