The New York Times recently published an article talking about how important summer programs are to have a strong college essay. The problem is that the author drew a conclusion without really understanding the college essay.
Writing a strong college essay has nothing to do with attending an expensive summer program. Rather, it is about letting the admissions office get a glimpse into who you really are.
The article does talk with another independent educational consultant who says correctly that the essay is about the student, not an activity. But the article really focuses on the summer activities.
Might a summer program lead to a story about the you behind the application? Sure. But so might a summer job, volunteering at the local homeless shelter, swimming at the local pool and an untold number of other activities.
Admissions officers are not impressed with expensive summer activities. All that establishes is that you have money. In fact, you run the risk of sounding like every other applicant if you write about all that you learned on your summer in “pick a poor country.”
The college application essay is not an updated version of your third grade “what I did on my summer vacation.” Instead, dig deep, and figure out something small about you that you can tell the admissions office about.