If you have a child in high school and college on the horizon you might be contemplating SAT/ACT prep classes, essay writing help, admissions services, etc. In researching summer opportunities I wanted to find something (like KidWX!) that has everything a parent would need in one place. Blueprint Summer Programs fit the bill! Blueprint has locations at UCLA, Lehigh University, Stonehill College and George Washington University. I posed several relevant questions to the Co-Founder and Chief Enrollment Officer of Blueprint Summer Programs, Justin Laman. Justin gives our parents great answers and was very candid at the bottom about parent expectations with summer programs. JF - Jamie Finch (me) and JL - Justin Laman (director of blueprint summer programs).
JF - How do parents stay on top of what is taught at Blueprint in regards to essay writing and picking college choices?
JL - This is a great question and I think the best way to accomplish this is to simply pick up the phone and ask. Call the pre-college program you're considering and ask to speak with the Director. Many of our parents don't call, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but parents should always be involved in the college selection process, whether it be because of an alumni legacy or very real world discussions about loans and scholarships. One of the ways we allow our parents to have input is to tell us. In the spring, Blueprint sends out questionnaires to both parents and students to begin the process and make sure everyone is on the same page. If a student has their heart set on GW or VCU, we want to know ahead of time so we can begin to prepare.
JF - Who are the staff at Blueprint Summer Programs?
JL - We have a range of camp staff from Directors and RAs, and all play a pivotal role in the summer program. Directors are all returning staff of ours who have taught a class in the past with Blueprint. The Director leads each program on-site and brings invaluable experience to each school. Your typical Instructor has completed their graduate degree and has college and high school teaching experience. We want Blueprint Instructors to be able to relate to and help our students both inside and outside the classroom. Our Instructors don't go home when class is out, they live on the halls with students and provide after hours insight into their field when everyone is hanging out at night or out and about on field trips. That's very important to us, but you have to stay flexible for when you discover that perfect teacher. A great example is Lizzie Speaker. An alumna of GW, Lizzie majored in Psychology, is currently teaching with Teach for America and has what we call the "Angel Factor." Besides preparing to return for her Master's, Lizzie is ebullient, bright, fun and loves helping students find the college that is right for them. And she's a great teacher who high schoolers can relate to.
These are the types of people we have leading each class. And after class, the RA's pick up right where the instructors left off and have trips and activities planned for all the students. Your typical RA has the Angel Factor and has been an RA in college. Many come from the institution where we are having our program but that's not always a hard rule, once again, when we find the right person we bring them into the Blueprint family! Last year our RA's came from GW and Stonehill, but they also came from Georgetown, Goucher and Bowdine.
JF - How many kids usually attend Blueprint Summer Programs?
JL - Each location has a capacity for approximately 40 students, but certain seats fill up more quickly depending on age and gender. We prefer our programs to have a personal feel where everyone knows each other and connections and friends are made across age and home state lines. Smaller programs afford us this luxury. One of our top priorities is to have the most diverse class possible each year, just like college. But something that makes us different is that our programs shrink from week 1 to week 2. After week 1, usually about 30% of our students head home and the remaining students continue on with their studies, college prep and immersion in college life. If possible I always recommend the 2 week program because students get even more 1-1 time with instructors and they generally just get more out of the program. But the 1 week program serves a need too, I just prefer the 2 week if it fits with the family's schedule and budget.
JF - How do kids know what questions to ask the admissions professionals that they interact with?
JL - This is a great question too and one of the things that is important to understand is the low-stress nature of our programs. If anything, we want our students to leave their program knowing that Admissions Counselors are approachable, caring people too... not someone to be on pins and needles around. That being said, we prep our students with questions before meeting that help them gain insight into the college application process or that particular institution. I've heard over and over from Admissions Officers that Blueprint student's questions are the most fun to answer because they stray from the beaten path. Is it fair to ask about the common application or FASFA? Yes. But is it also ok to ask about the real deal with the Greek scene on campus or what most students do on weekends? Absolutely! We're all here to help students get to know the application process and the details of the particular institution the counselor represents. If anything, the colleges are in the hot seat and it's a great way for kids to ask what's really on their mind.
JF - Who are the 2013 speakers?
JL - Speakers change every year but they always include local students, a head of a department here and there, an IECA member and admissions counselors of course. This is another area where we like to stay flexible. Did a lot of students tell us on their Student Blueprint that they think they want to major in Psychology? Fantastic, now we're going to get a professor from the Psychology department to hopefully stop by. A big interest in English? We follow suit and work with the host university to make sure the students have a great experience.
JF - Do the kids at Blueprint use the essay that they practice writing for college?
JL - Yes and no, but they absolutely use the skills they learn during their daily prep sessions. Schools change their essays year-to-year but this doesn't mean you can't prepare your personal statement or practice the common application. We get a lot done, but our focus is on the tools students can take away from the program and apply to the new essay questions GW, George Mason or Washington and Lee uses that year.
JF - How long has Blueprint been around?
JL - Blueprint was founded in 2007 and it's been a great ride, but that's all because of the families and students who attend. We run small programs with a lot of individual attention. That's not a perfect fit for everyone and our size and personality are important factors not only for us stay true to, but also help us attract students who will get the most out of their Blueprint.
JF - Do the four colleges involved with Blueprint all use the same program?
JL - The template works, so we use it at each location but every program is different. GW has a cosmopolitan feel to it with optional trips in the city every day and Lehigh has more of a laid-back atmosphere in rural PA. That being said, the caliber of instructors paired with each institution gives us the ability to run the best programs. We chose our schools for a reason and that pays off for the students. These schools want to meet our students and show them the best they have to offer.
JF - What is the ratio of professionals to campers for the essay writing part of Blueprint?
JL - All too often parents are left to piece together a summer program from a huge (often confusing) brochure and we try to simplify that... with one twist! Each student chooses their location, course and then decides how long they want to stay. So a student could chooses GW, Creative Writing and 2 weeks. But what does everyone do together? The twist? College prep, and no other pre-college program does this. Each location has a dedicated instructor for this segment of the day. Now, 1 instructor of 40 students looks like a lot on paper, but with the other Instructors in attendance and guest speakers and tours the ratio is more like 6:1. But you also need to remember that ratio shrinks incredibly when the 1 week students go home. Regular Blueprint class sizes (Creative Writing, Psychology, Business etc.) keep a ratio of Instructor to student no higher than 12:1. We come together as a big group for guest speakers and college prep, because we find that this abolishes any stress typically associated with college admissions.
I'm known for getting up on my horse sometimes and just wanted to add one more thought that I hope will be helpful to parents and students considering a pre-college program this summer.
If I could dispel one belief about summer programs it's that they help you get into a specific school. They do not, and anyone who says otherwise, in my opinion, is misinformed. What pre-college programs will do is help you get ready for college... and there is a distinct difference.
I would not be running Blueprint if I did not think we have the best pre-college summer programs in the country and something I strive to do everyday is help parents and students navigate the college application process via summer programs. Admissions Counselors will tell you that simply attending College X's pre-college program will not help you get into College X and attending Y's will not help you get into Y's and it's true.
Indeed, most programs are designed as revenue generators for a college by the continuing education department or the office of conferences and events and should not be viewed by parents as college application "must haves". So I always like to put that out there; pre-college programs are not silver bullets to get you into a specific college ~ they help students get ready for college. And in this they are invaluable.
They help you prepare by getting you on campus to learn time management, how to comport yourself at the college level and learn many of the little things most students don't experience until Freshmen year like what it's like to share a bathroom with a roommate or learning how to make sure you get to the dining hall before it closes. They let you test drive a major and a type of school, be it large research institution or small liberal arts college, and yes, our programs also help with the application process itself.
These are vital components of college prep these days that are often overlooked. I think students should view the application process like college shopping and not feed fuel to the fire that is college application stress. There are literally thousands of colleges out there. The best pre-college programs help you find a few that are a great fit for you. That's it! That's our mission, and why I believe students should try a pre-college program.
I hope that helps and I don't mean to come off as "doom and gloomy" but parents and students sometimes need to be reassured that pre-college attendance is not an absolute must-have.
How do you find the right program for your student? I encourage your readers to pick up the phone, request a brochure and get to know a program before enrolling. It's all about the people and if one program's pictures or mission speaks to a family, that's the best way to decide ... not on the name-brand recognition of the school.
Pre-college programs are fun and helpful summer adventures and they serve a wonderful purpose