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A Summer of Self-Discovery

This summer, Success Academy high school scholars explored the Canadian wilderness, created digital animation from scratch, practiced medicine, and studied psychology, law, and art at prestigious schools and programs across the United States.

In all, approximately 200 scholars — nearly three quarters of our student body — took advantage of summer enrichment programs that helped them discover more about who they are, where their passions lie, and what they want to study in college.

As one of five college access and persistence counselors at the high school, I helped many of these bright young men and women navigate the application process to elite summer programs and submit their first high-stakes applications.

Summer programs are important for two main reasons. For one, colleges look for productive and engaged students, and not just during the academic year. When I worked in admissions at Barnard College, we paid very close attention to extracurricular activities, since they often predicted how engaged and involved that student would be on campus. A student’s choices often give insight into her character and convictions.

More than that, though, our scholars should be able to experience life outside the walls of Success Academy. What is it like to be in an unfamiliar setting, surrounded by peers who are different from you? What does it take to thrive independently? We want scholars to be able to answer these questions for themselves before getting to college.

My team worked tirelessly to help our high schoolers identify these types of opportunities, and we thought carefully about scholars’ individual strengths and passions in determining the programs that would be a good fit — socially, academically, and financially. To ensure that our scholars and families had access to these amazing programs, we formed relationships with the people running them and steered scholars toward those programs that offered generous financial aid.

When rising 10th-graders Aminata Kane and Chassidy Walton were admitted to a five-week summer program at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, I may have been even more excited than they were. Exeter’s program is one of the oldest and most prestigious, enrolling top students from across the country and the world (Aminata’s roommate was from China). Hearing of their acceptances to Exeter’s program was the most gratifying moment of my career at Success so far, second only to the moment I learned that Exeter would provide each of them with a $5,800 scholarship to attend.

While Chassidy and Aminata celebrated getting into Exeter, other acceptance letters poured in throughout the spring. One scholar earned admission to an international law program at George Washington University; another was awarded various scholarships totaling more than $8,000 to attend a prestigious debate camp at UCLA. Our scholars were admitted to summer programs at several colleges and universities, including Stevens Institute of Technology, Yale University, SUNY Purchase, and Brown University.

There were also scholars who were chosen for programs such as BlueStamp, a six-week camp for aspiring engineers and entrepreneurs in New York City. I was especially excited for our four scholars who got the opportunity to participate in Outward Bound, a character-building program in the Canadian Rockies. These scholars were willing to go  without phones and daily showers for three weeks for the sake of personal growth.

I know our scholars will be better prepared for the next few years of high school and for college because of these experiences. I can’t wait to welcome them back and hear about their experiences!

In fact, several scholars have agreed to share their experiences on the blog in the coming weeks, starting with Lexi Torres, a rising-11th grader, who was one of 30 students nationwide selected to participate in a summer law camp at American University in Washington, D.C.

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