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Get set for summer

by | Mar 20, 2024

Make global connections, boost academics and learn new skills: summer schools can widen horizons on every level. From activity-rich fun environments to more academic pre-university experiences, there’s a course for every student, says Sally Robinson.

Summer schools are increasing in popularity for good reason. Academically, students get to learn in a more relaxed environment and experience different teaching methods, such as critical thinking or collaborative project-based work, which are great preparation for university.

“Socially, they offer a fantastic experience to meet other children from all over the world,” says the Tutor Group’s James Gordon, who advises parents on summer options. “Camp friendships can be life-long and open a world of international opportunities. They also provide an opportunity to try new things and gain independence.

”With so many available, choosing the right summer school can be tricky. Narrowing down the objective makes it easier: is it to explore a new academic subject area like STEAM; to socialise and make new friends; or to learn or improve a language?Geographical location is also a factor. The idea of spending summer in a different country sounds exciting, but it can also be challenging for students who have spent limited time away from home.

Parents and students should do their due diligence on suitable courses, including finding out who the teachers are and what expertise they have. It’s also important to check the pastoral care and who is providing it. Well-established summer camps often have a good level of returning students – and teachers – and this is an indicator of quality.“Red flags to look out for include too many inexperienced staff, no consideration of the nationality ratios and a lack of high-quality facilities,” says the Tutor Group’s James Gordon.

Good staff cost money, says David Hawkins, director of university application specialist the University Guys. “Some expensive camps have high levels of pastoral support and good staff ratios, which actually make them good value.”

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University tasters

Pre-university summer schools are increasingly popular for students aged 16–19 who want to learn more about a particular subject before committing to study it at university. They can also be a good chance to explore a subject that is not taught in school, such as medicine or engineering.

Some of the more academically focused courses can be a serious financial investment, costing upwards of £6,000 for a two-week residential. Is it worth it? “It depends on the goal,” says the University Guys’ David Hawkins. “If it’s to have content for a UCAS application or to learn what life is like at a university, then yes, that can be worth it.”

Many UK universities, including Kings College and Warwick, offer residential courses so students can experience living in halls of residence and be exposed to a different way of teaching.

Pre-university summer schools are particularly popular for students interested in STEM. Imperial College in London runs a residential pre-university STEM programme at its Global Summer School, offering life sciences, engineering, medicine and physics to 16 and 17 year olds.

The London International Youth Science Forum (LIYSF) operates a 15-day summer camp in the UK for 500 students from 70 countries aged 16–21. Held at Imperial College, it includes lectures from leading scientists, plus seminars, debates and discussions.

For students interested in law, the London School of Economics is well known for its summer legal courses. Classes are delivered by LSE lecturers and based on LSE undergraduate courses.

More vocational courses, such as fashion and photography, are held at Nottingham Trent University, which hosts summer courses for 15–17 year olds.

For students looking for an international US experience, Harvard Summer School has courses for high-school students, plus a two-week residential pre-college school designed to familiarise students with campus life.

Amsterdam University is becoming an increasingly popular choice for international students. Its two-week summer school offers a choice of five pre-university programmes, including business innovation, entrepreneurship and sustainable thinking.

The world of work

For 16–18 year olds with a clear career direction, summer courses that offer an insight into a particular profession, such as law or medicine, are increasingly popular.

InvestIN Education has delivered immersive residential summer programmes to a mix of UK and international students since 2012. Held at UCL, they provide a deep dive into 15 of the world’s most desirable careers with the most popular being medicine, law, engineering, investment banking and psychology. The practical, professional-led career experiences are delivered by industry experts and incorporate hands-on work experience.

“We have created the ultimate work experience so students can step into the shoes of a professional and visualise what their dream career is actually like,” says Caitlin Brennan, InvestIN’s business operations director.

Bucksmore Education holds summer courses at d’Overbroecks boarding school in Oxfordshire and King’s College, London. It provides tasters for students aged 13–17 aspiring to occupations including architect, AI and computer scientist and business entrepreneur. “Our young professionals programme is unique in providing an externally certified capstone project students can add to their super-curricula portfolio ahead of their university application,” says Bucksmore’s Rhian Jenkins.

There are some excellent programmes out there, but they need to be examined carefully, cautions David Hawkins. “Don’t assume that brand name means best quality, or that because a course is in a particular city it has any affiliation to that university.”

Academic enrichment

The UK’s private schools, including Eton, Canford in Dorset and Marlborough, have their own eco-system of summer programmes, often hosted by commercial operations.

Sevenoaks School, one of the top performing schools in the country, offers its own summer ‘academic enrichment’ course for 11–17 year olds, incorporating four modules: critical thinking, social leadership, creativity and digital skills.

For a fully-rounded experience combining learning, creative enrichment and adventure, ISSOS is one of the longest-running summer school providers. Its three-week residentials take place at St Andrews University in Scotland, Cambridge University and Yale in the US, for students aged 13–18. Places of any one nationality are limited to 10% to guarantee an international experience. “Academic classes are taught by highly qualified teaching staff who are all experienced working professionals in their subject areas and many come back every year,” says marketing manager Caitlin Hanlin.

For an American-style summer camp with a focus on making friends and having fun, Camp Cooper runs one- and two-week camps in Scotland for 7–17 year olds. Campers choose from a range of options including tennis, art, outdoor adventure, tennis and filmmaking.

From film to football – something for everyone

Tech is an increasingly popular focus at summer camps that gives students the chance to learn new skills, such as software design and basic coding, that might not be taught in school.

At Techcamp, courses are designed and run by engineers and students get to take home their custom-built projects. These long-established residential and non-residential courses in Oxford, London and Winchester include coding, engineering, 3D game design, drone racing, Python AI and VR design.

FunTech offers residential and day camps where students can study game coding, cyber security and game design.For students who prefer musical theatre, drama, singing and dance there are some exciting options including West End Stage held at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which is led by West End professionals and culminates in a performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

The Guildford School of Acting at the University of Surrey summer camps include acting, singing, voice and dance taught by GSA conservatoire tutors. Aspiring filmmakers get to make their own film at the Young Film Academy’s hands-on residential summer camp at Culford School in Suffolk.

Learning or improving a language is one of the traditional reasons for attending a summer school. For an immersive experience the Sorbonne University in Paris offers two-week French courses taught by academics from the university and Malaga University runs four-week intensives in Spanish over the summer. In the UK, UCL offers two-week summer intensive language classes in Arabic, French, Italian, German, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish.

The Swiss tradition

Switzerland has a tradition of running dynamic, well-organised summer schools, often with an emphasis on team building and outdoor activity. Many are held at the country’s network of elite boarding schools, providing great facilities amid spectacular Alpine scenery. Le Rosey has been running camps for 40 years and provides a mix of sporting, academic and artistic activities at its campuses on Lake Geneva and in the mountains at Gstaad. Brillantmont welcomes students from 30 countries with nationality quotas to ensure diversity. Its programmes include French or English classes in the morning and sports in the afternoon.

At the College du Leman between Lake Geneva and mountains, students devise their own summer programme choosing from languages to business and technology.

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