Questions to ask about summer schools

Summer School students

Questions To Ask About Summer Schools

When you start the process of looking into summer schools/camps/programs it can be an overwhelming task, especially if you’re considering it for the first time. Doing your research, asking questions and taking the time to choose a program that you are fully confident in will ultimately mean that the experience is a good one for both you/your son or daughter.

So to help with the process, here are some questions you should be asking of any program you are considering as an option.

1. Are the locations safe?

Safety is, understandably, a hugely important aspect of the decision-making process. The majority of students will be travelling to countries far from home, possibly for the first time, and more than likely on their own. So it’s easy to understand why this plays such a big part in the choice of school. 

Any good Summer School company will be more than happy to take the time to provide you with all of the information that you need to make an informed choice. 

St Andrews beach

Locations vary from school to school, but a huge part of the experience for students should be the freedom to explore new parts of the world, in places/countries that are often much safer than their home town or city, so it’s important to ask if students are restricted to a campus. While that might seem like a bonus from a safety point of view it means that their experience of the local culture will be vastly diminished. Choosing a program based in a world-class university doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the freedom to explore.

2. What qualifications do the team of staff have?

The first concern for any school will be the safety of their students, so you can be sure that everyone from management staff, teachers and counselors will have been through thorough criminal background checks.

Teachers of academic subjects should all be fully qualified, and those teaching less traditional subjects like Business & Entrepreneurship will have a wealth of real-life experience behind them and a talent for eliciting a passion in their chosen subject in their students. Look for a program that employs teachers who are passionate and who have genuine experience of the subject they will be teaching, not just a qualification.

Summer School staff

Qualities that can’t truly be measured by a CV or resume are compassion, empathy, and a sense of fun!  These are in many ways the most important qualities that should be found in summer school counselors, the people who will no doubt build the strongest bonds with their allocated group of students and who can become like another big brother or sister. 

3.  Is the program balanced?

Keep in mind when choosing a summer school what your end goal for the summer is. Do you want a school which focuses purely on teaching one academic subject, or do you want something that takes a more well-rounded approach and gives students the opportunity to explore their creativity and other interests? 

Academic class options in this kind of program will vary greatly from English Language or Business & Entrepreneurship, to Debate and Creative Writing. They will be taught alongside elective subjects like golf, theatre, fencing or photography.

Golf at Summer School

What’s great about truly international programs is that the student body will come from a huge range of nationalities, so even if you choose not to study English Language as an academic option, being in an immersion setting where the only language spoken is English, will mean you are still learning. 

4. What impact will attending a summer school have on a university application?

Choose a program that holds accreditation with a relevant educational governing body, like the British Accreditation Council. This means that certain standards must be adhered to and the program will be regularly reassessed to make sure these are being maintained. This also means they will be able to provide you with documents to support any visa application needed.

In most cases, summer school programs in the UK do not count towards official academic credits (in the USA they will) with your son or daughter’s school, but attending a summer program will add considerable weight to university applications. They also provide the chance to experience university life in a country that might eventually become a full-time study option.

Students will receive completion certificates and academic certificates to show that they have attended and studied over the summer.

5. What is the level of supervision and program structure?

Every program is different, but look for a program who have a specific team that is dedicated to the pastoral care of students. Some summer schools will have teachers who also take on the role of pastoral care but this does not always create the best environment.

For younger students who are away from home, it’s important that they have someone on site who they can turn to and who will be a constant presence for them throughout their time there.

6. Can you speak to someone who has already attended the program?

Pay attention to reviews and testimonials, even better if they come from an independent source. Testimonials on the company’s own website or social media feeds are great and will give a range of views from parents, students and staff, but dedicated sites like reviews.co.uk will show an unbiased selection of reviews that have been submitted and it’s a good opportunity to see if anyone has raised any negative points that you can then ask the company further questions about.

This program was life changing. In 3 short weeks, my daughter was submerged into the Scottish culture, made lifelong friends from all over the world (including war torn regions) with different cultures, religions, and traditions, learned from her new friends as well as in and out of the classroom from incredible professors and counselors. She had the time of her life. We looked at many summer programs, spoke to many students and ISSOS came with the best recommendations. We now see why. It was run like a well-oiled machine from start to finish. There was no question that this was professional and that every detail had been thought of ahead of time. Not only was this program top notch-the people running it and working there truly cared about every student participating.

Kimberley Phillips (USA)

Speaking to someone who has already attended the program too is a great way to put your mind at rest. While every company will naturally only want to put you in touch with people who have been happy with their service, it’s still a great chance to ask questions from a parent/student’s point of view in your home country and put your mind at ease about any points you are unsure of.

7.  What makes it different and is it genuinely international

The choice of summer school programs is nearly endless, so what makes the one you are considering truly different? It’s important to consider and should go back to what it is you are looking to get from the summer.

While a lot of schools will have a mix of nationalities, consider asking how many students there will be from any one nationality and if they accept large group bookings from agents, as this can have a big effect on the experience. Feeling comfortable and included is a lot easier if everyone is in the same situation, so if your son or daughter arrives alone only to find themselves in a large group of students who have come from one country and who already know each other mean it can be harder to make new bonds.

Ask about rooming policies, are rooms single or twin, are friends allowed to share together. While some schools will allow friends to share, others will not - with the aim of encouraging new friendships to grow with other international students.

8. Can students return in consecutive years and get something different out of the program? 

This is where the benefits of choosing a well-balanced program really come in to their own. Students return to these programs year after year, and due to the varied nature of classes on offer can choose to focus on a different subject, or learn a new skill each year.

The question of returning students, and staff, is in itself an important one to ask. You wouldn’t return to a store where you had received bad customer service or been sold a poor quality product. So it stands to reason that this should be a significant quantifier when looking at where to send your son or daughter for the summer. 

You can be sure that schools who have a high percentage of returning students and/or siblings attending from the same family have spent time and effort building strong relationships.

The claim of ISSOS – the experience of a lifetime – could not be more true. Our son has had this experience for the third time – just amazing, exciting and inspiring. Originally we thought the summer school was mainly to improve his English skills but it is much, much more. The program is extremely well designed and it fosters many aspects of life like self-reflection, self-confidence, team building, global friendships, sport and cultural development, just to name a few things. Also the location at St Andrews is pretty inspiring and he now wants to study in St Andrews.

Markus Strangmueller (Germany)

9. How many students attend?

Depending on the companies you are looking into, the size of the school as a whole could vary greatly between just 50 all the way to numbers in the thousands.

What’s more important than the total number of students is the number that will be in one class, so don’t be afraid to ask how many there will be in any classes that you are thinking about taking. Attending a Summer School should give you an edge when returning to school in the upcoming term so smaller class sizes mean that you/your son or daughter will get more focused attention.

10.  Will they have fun?

While many people are familiar with the typical American Summer Camp set up, the idea of a Summer School can sound a little off-putting to some parents, and more so to their children, who have already had a busy and stressful year at school. 

ISSOS New York trip

Any summer school company should be well aware that their students (and a lot of their staff too!) are on their summer break, so will have planned a varied activities and outings program (HL) to make sure that the experience is unforgettable.

A lot can be said for following a company on social media prior to applying or signing up. Websites will always lean toward showing the more businesslike side of a company, but its social media feeds should give you a great insight into the company ethos and the human faces behind it. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube should all give you a great idea of what to expect from them as a company and the summer experience they will provide.

I want to thank you for two amazing summers, that were really the experience of a lifetime. I made friendships that will never die, found a passion for debate, youth leadership, golf and film making, visited the beautiful country of Scotland, found a place I could call home and found a second family. I discovered a side of me that actually amazed me. I hope you know that you created something really amazing, combining fun and knowledge and hiring the best people possible to be around us

Cloe Attieh (Lebanon)

11. How will travel arrangements to and from the summer school work?

In most cases, you as a parent will be responsible for arranging any visa that is needed for your son or daughter to attend a summer school in a foreign country, but the school you choose should be there to assist you and supply any supporting documents you need for the visa application. 

In addition to that, sending your son or daughter abroad on their own is worrying and navigating the various airlines’ policies for unaccompanied minors can be a laborious task. This is where choosing a company with plenty of experience is hugely beneficial as they will be well versed in dealing with this and be able to offer advice to make sure that the journey is stress-free for you and your child.

Official pick up airports, dates and times for the school will help you to make travel arrangements so that summer school staff will be at the arrivals gate to greet them. Where it is not possible for your child to arrive within the designated times they will be able to help arrange alternative pick up options that will mean your son or daughter is never left unsupervised or alone in transit between the airport to the campus.

12. What contact will you have with your son/daughter during the summer?

Any summer school should have a dedicated staff member who you can contact with any questions while your child is with them, and following the company on social media is a great way to keep up with what is happening day to day.

Students are allowed to have their phones with them (though not in class) so will be able to call home as and when needed. But for the most part, will be so busy between classes, activities, day trips, and bonding with new friends, that taking the time to call home might be low on their priority list! As a parent, that’s hard to hear but take it as a good sign that they are having an amazing summer!

ISSOS clans

More information on applying to ISSOS Summer School programs can be found HERE