Are pre-university summer schools worth it?
My teen attended three pre university summer schools in between Year 12 and Year 13. It was a hectic summer!
I know for lots of teens the summer is a time to kick back and relax, or work at a job, but my teen’s perspective is that’s what NEXT summer is for. This summer, she wanted to take the opportunity to improve her odds of securing a place at a competitive university.
As a parent, it’s meant not seeing a lot of my daughter. She’s spent four weeks of her six week summer break at summer schools. Given that, I definitely wanted to understand if a pre-university summer school is worth the time, money and effort.
So – did we get value for money? Did Flea learn things that would support her A-Level studies? Did she gain skills that might help her select the best university course, and support her application?
If you’re interested in finding out about summer schools for Year 12 students, then don’t miss our guide to the best pre university summer schools post, which includes details of many of the most popular pre-uni summer schools in the UK.
What are pre university summer schools?
If you’re aged between 15 and 17, then a pre-university summer school is a chance for you to find out more about university.
You’ll go to a university for a residential experience that can last anywhere from two days to three weeks. You’ll get to stay in uni halls, eat your meals on campus, attend seminars and lectures. You might also get extra support and advice on university applications, personal statements and even student finance.
Why go to summer school?
Attending a pre-uni summer school is worth it if it helps support your current studies AND helps with university applications. The main reasons I think it’s worth attending would be:
- Admissions tutors love summer schools because they show your commitment to your subject, and learning about it outside of school.
- You get to try a subject before committing to a three year degree in it.
- At many summer schools you’ll have the chance to make new friends and have fun!
Flea and the Super Hectic Summer
My teen is 17 and currently trying to decide between applying to study English or History at university. She isn’t sure where she will apply. But she knows wherever she applies, most of the applicants will have a mixture of A* and A grades, so she needs excellent super-curricular activities to stand out.
For all of these reasons, she ended up attending THREE summer schools after Year 12, including:
- A 2 week residential course at Exeter University, for potential humanities students
- A short 2 night residential at Oxford University for potential history students
- A 5-day course at The Globe theatre focusing on Shakespeare, for potential English students
It has to be said that Flea found ALL of the schools a lot of fun, and she feels she learned stuff at each of them. But I have asked her to share a review of each school to give an idea of the pros, cons, what kids learn, and whether she thinks the pre university summer school is worth it for other kids to consider in future.
Summer School 1: Exeter University Pre-University Summer School
What it is: This is a two week residential course that takes around 25 students from all over the world. Runs during the last week of July and the first week of August.
Cost: £2,600 including single, en-suite accommodation in halls plus meals and activities
Academics: Students at the Exeter pre-university summer school can choose one of six academic streams in things like science, medicine, business and humanities. Students do two hours of academic lectures each day, plus two hours of work on a group project, in which they are expected to research a problem facing the world. At the end of two weeks, they must present their research findings. Alongside this there are also lectures on student finance, university applications and interviews.
Social: Students have two hours of free time each day, plus one activity most days. Flea had low-key days exploring Exeter’s restaurants and cinemas, but there was also surfing, climbing, a drive to Tintagel to explore history, and various sports and games activities. While there was a strict “no alcohol” rule, the staff turned a blind eye on the last night, and I picked up a very happy but very hungover teenager on the morning after the summer school.
Pros: Flea had the time of her life at this summer school. She loved the history and literature lectures but was also surprised to enjoy lectures in things like video game design and Marxism, that she might never otherwise have experienced. But she especially loved the social side of the school, and has come out with a lot of very close friends.
Cons: It was a BIG financial commitment. We could pay in instalments over about 6 months, which helped. Flea didn’t love ALL of the scheduled activities but had to take part regardless.
Is it worth it? We’d say this university summer school is worth it, 100%! Flea rated the Exeter Summer School an easy 10/10, and one of the best experiences of her life. The summer school gave Flea a real chance to try out university living with a good mix of independence and supervision by older (second year) students and organisers.
Summer School 2: Oxford University Subject Summer School
What it is: This is a two night residential course run by individual Oxford University Colleges. Flea attended a taster day in ancient history run by Lincoln College, which ran from Sunday to Tuesday.
Cost: Free of charge and students can even reclaim travel expenses
Academics: These summer schools are aimed at specific academic subjects – Flea attended a school about Ancient History but search the colleges and you’ll find courses focusing on everything from law to vet science. The workshop ran from Sunday afternoon to Tuesday lunchtime, and included 4 academic lectures. Alongside this, students had mock interviews, a personal statement workshop and presentations about the Oxbridge application process.
Social: There was “social time” in the JCR for two hours each evening, after which the students and their ‘academic advisors’ seemed to hit the bars and clubs of Oxford. Flea had a blast.
Pros: Although this session was short, Flea felt it was really useful to get a mock interview and personal statement advice directly from an Oxford admissions director. She enjoyed the history sessions, and said the rooms at Oxford were much bigger than the rooms at Exeter!
Cons: Getting onto these courses can be tricky. They’re generally restricted to state school students predicted to make AAA grades or higher, and preference is given to students who meet ‘broadening participation’ criteria. Flea was only given a place after she was waitlisted.
Is it worth it? Definitely, if you have a child looking to find out more about what it’s like to study at Oxford, this is an amazing opportunity and even if they end up applying elsewhere, it’s a good super-curricular to put on uni applications. And it’s completely FREE!
Summer School 3: The Globe Young Academics
What it is: The Young Academics programme is a five day, non-residential course at the Globe Theatre in London. Students attend Mon-Fri from 9am to 5pm, and also attend three performances at the Globe itself.
Cost: £800, although tickets are cheaper if you join The Globe as a supporter (we paid £640). If you don’t live in London you’ll also need to find accommodation.
Academics: Of all the summer schools Flea attended, this was the most intensively academic with lectures from 10am to 5pm. Students attend daily classes with a mixture of professors and acting professionals and examine Shakespeare texts and how they might be interpreted. Students are encouraged to discuss the texts with their group, and at the end of the week, each student gives a 15 minute presentation on an aspect of Shakespeare.
Social: Flea attended one day time and two evening performances at The Globe. She really felt this was a highlight and helped bring the classroom discussions to life. The students tended to go for drinks or lunch together, so Flea made some new friends.
Pros: Flea absolutely loved the academic nature of the event and felt she learned a lot, and that this summer school would really help with her A-Levels, as well as future uni applications. Although she was a little intimidated to begin with, she made friends and wished the course had been even longer.
Cons: Getting accommodation in London could be expensive – we were lucky to find a house in Stoke Newington through our Home Exchange account. It was also a BIG learning curve for Flea to trek across London every morning and afternoon.
Is it worth it? Although the summer school isn’t cheap, Flea has spoken to two students at her school with Oxbridge offers who attended the Young Academics course at the Globe. On that basis, she is sure that this university summer school is worth it. I think this school is well regarded by English departments and will make a good addition to Flea’s UCAS form. I might even suggest looking at this summer school for 16 year olds finishing Year 11, as it’s open for students from 16-19.
Are University Summer Schools worth it?
What I would say first is that a summer school is not essential.
Students can get a lot of insight into uni courses by taking taster lectures online, visiting university websites and so on. You can also do other super-curricular activities like wider reading, essay competitions etc to boost your UCAS form.
If you have a teen who has a specific subject in mind, then I think subject taster days are the most useful type of summer school experience, and these tend to be shorter and more affordable.
The longer summer schools allow students to try several subjects. Flea’s humanities course included English, history and art history, for example. They’re a great way to help kids experience university life, and can be worth it if you have a teen who would benefit from that experience.
There are more than 100 summer schools running in the UK each summer for Year 12 students – check out where to find them here.