Summer schools are a great way to improve your understanding of a subject whilst experiencing a university environment. Here are 6 tips for making the most out of them.
1. Do your research
With a host of different summer schools out there (and with some charging thousands of pounds) it’s important to spend your time and money wisely.
Firstly, make sure the course will be taught at the right level. Revision courses can be useful but often they won’t stretch students beyond their syllabus. Look for courses pitched specifically at sixth form college pupils which aim to broaden teaching beyond the normal curriculum.
Don’t assume that a high price signifies a better quality course. Often the best summer schools are low-cost or free, run by universities or charities, rather than private companies. Check the agenda, number of hours of contact time and who the teachers are to gauge value for money.
Tip: Many summer schools offer means-tested bursaries to partially or fully fund students from lower income backgrounds. For example, the Sutton Trust and UNIQ offer free placements at summer schools for students who attend non-fee paying schools.
2. Engage with the teaching
Students must not treat a residential course as a holiday. Often a day at a summer school can be as intensive, if not more so, than an ordinary school day.
From my own experience at a language school, where we were encouraged to solely speak in the target language, the students who gained the most from the experience were those who came alone as there was no temptation break into English.
Tip: A summer school is NOT an ordinary school. Just like at university, students will be expected to work independently and maturely. Whether a student is paying to be there or not, it is vital that they make the most of every opportunity they are given.
3. Chat with the experts
At summer schools students will be surrounded by people who are passionate and knowledgeable in their chosen field of study. Engaging in academic conversations is an excellent way to prepare for an admissions interview.
If the tutors are in any way linked to the university admissions process, students may also be able to ask for advice on their application. If it seems appropriate, ask for the tutor’s email address at the end of the course so you can send them questions later on.
Summer schools held at universities are the perfect opportunity to get a taste for student life. If there are undergraduates on-hand during the course, ask questions to get an idea of the type of experience this university offers its students.
Often universities offer to show key spaces such as libraries or lecture theatres as part of the summer school, but students can always ask to see these buildings if a tour is not provided. Students should also take the time to look around the town or city to consider whether it’s the type of place they wish to live in.
Example questions for students to ask:
- Is it costly to be a student here?
- What is the student accommodation like?
- How big is the student body?
- What are the sport facilities like?
- What is the nightlife like?
4. Make friends
Whilst a student’s priority at a summer school should be their studies, it is still important that they mix with the students around them as much as possible. Particularly if a course is a residential one, it will be much more enjoyable if you have someone hang out with.
Secondly, a summer school might be the first opportunity that a student has had to meet others who are going through the same experiences as they are. I was the only Latin student at my school so the first time I met other students who were interested in Latin was on a Classics camp. It was comforting to discuss topics I was interested in and problems I’d encountered whilst applying to university with people who were similar to me.
5. Think about the future
A summer school is a unique chance to get a taster for a subject. Working independently and intensively, away from home, on a subject of their choice: this is what students can expect to encounter at university. Throughout the whole experience, students should consider whether this is something they see themselves doing for the next three or so years.
Questions for students to consider:
- What is it that I liked about the summer school? (i.e. content, teaching style, accommodation, location etc.)
- What did I dislike about the summer school?
- How does this affect my thoughts on which courses I will apply for?