Summer Programs for “Undecided” College-bound Teens

It’s perfectly OK if a high school student doesn’t know what they want to major in during college! The most popular major for college freshmen is “Undecided”. In fact, when a high school student is so fixated on a particular major, that’s when I start to worry.


Anyone who has researched summer programs knows there are plenty of options for students interested in medicine, pre-engineering students, and those interested in business majors. Well, if you’re not so sure about which major interests you or just plain want to explore different fields, there are many summer programs that cover a range of topic areas through courses, cultural immersion, and community service.


For my high school students who are unsure of a major for college, I recommend that they try something totally new to get an idea of what they like or don’t like. We set basic program criteria, like the length of program, location, or extracurricular activities to focus our search for summer programs. Whether we focus on academic courses or community service depends on whether there are gaps to fill on their activities resume. The key is finding a summer program that’s a good match for exploring and discovering new interests.


Here are several summer programs that have different program options to choose:


Wake Forest Summer Immersion Institute – while Wake Forest offers many programs focused on specific future majors, there are also ones that are more general, such as health & well-being, leadership, technology and writing for life.

Putney Student Travel – whether a student wants to study abroad or do community service, this program has a range of options. Students may choose to do community service, or language learning, in addition to studying on a college campus.

Northwestern College Prep Program – available in two formats (IN FOCUS for in-person and E FOCUS for virtual) participants get access to professors during a variety of 2-week programs. 

LEAD Global Summer Institute – in this 3-week hybrid program (one week online and two weeks in person) participants will end the program equipped to “think differently” about how they learn and how to apply it. 


What general summer programs have you found to spark new interests?


College Scholarships for Middle School Students

scholarship money for middle school students

Did you know that your child can start getting scholarships for college before they even get to high school?

It’s true. There are more scholarships available to middle school students than ever before!

I didn’t know this until recently either—I was working with an 11th grade student to find outside scholarships for college, and we were doing some independent research.

We had a meeting set up to review our findings together, which revealed some very surprising results.

Can middle schoolers get college scholarships?

I was amazed at the opportunities available to younger students, long before they even started applying to college.

I realized that (as someone who is fully immersed in the college application and admission processes) if even I didn’t know there were so many excellent scholarships available for middle school students, how could the students and their families know?

I began sharing several of the scholarship opportunities I found with families who had younger children.

While we’re on the topic, you won’t want to miss this post, with tips for preparing your ninth-grader for college. 

What I’ve found is while most people wanted to know about these scholarships as soon as their child was eligible to apply, only a small percentage actually followed through with the applications.

Can you guess what happened when other middle schoolers did take advantage of these scholarship opportunities?

Their road to college was a much smoother ride!

Of course, obtaining scholarships isn’t the only important part of the journey to getting into college.

Although it’s still a few years away, here are some tips for supporting your middle school-aged child during the college admissions process.

Scholarship opportunities for middle school students.

If you want to start garnering college scholarships early, check out these opportunities for middle schoolers:

  1. Doodle 4 Google—Contestants can apply for this scholarship as early as kindergarten through high school.
  2. Gloria Barron Prize for Young HeroesThis scholarship goes to young people aged 8 – 18 who have made a positive difference on people and the environment.
  3. Kohl’s Cares—Students are recognized for their volunteer service from 6 years and up to high school graduation with this scholarship that awards up to $10,000.
  4. MathMovesUThese scholarships go to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders and can be used for a summer camp or college.
  5. Scholastic Arts and Writing AwardsThis scholarship is the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in grades 7 – 12. Students can submit art or writing across 28 categories.
  6. The Angela Award—The Angela Award is a scholarship awarded by the National Science Teachers Association to a girl in grade 5 – 8, who is involved in or connected to science.

This is just a short list of opportunities to help you get started.

I encourage you to do a very specific search on Google to find additional scholarships for your middle schooler. It takes time and diligence to find scholarships and apply for them, so don’t give up!

These efforts can pay off in more ways than one.

What other scholarships would you add to this list?

Need a little more guidance with finding scholarships, college applications, and admissions?

For one-on-one support and other resources to help you or your child get into (or pay) for college, click here.

If you’d like to learn more about preparing for college and the college application process, you’ll want to have a look at these articles too:

7 Ways to Support Your Child During the College Application Process
Get In and Get Money: 5 Tips for College-Bound Juniors
Where’s the Money for College? Case Studies of How Students Earned Big Scholarships

This article was originally published on June 29, 2015, and has been updated.

5 tips for college-bound 9th graders: What parents must know

college-bound tips for 9th graders

School is back in session!

The transition from middle school to high school is a critical point in your teen’s educational journey. 9th graders are part of a new community, and their teachers, school counselor, and administrators are there to help them explore this new journey!

As a parent, you may notice some of the emotional ups and downs that come with navigating a new school, making new friends, learning from new teachers, balancing new time and academic demands. I have been there with my own teens and go through it each year with my students . . . in other words, “I feel you”.

Freshmen may not understand the importance of 9th grade in the overall college admissions process yet, but it doesn’t hurt for parents to be informed. Parents can be helpful to their college-bound freshman without “taking over” or being accused of helicoptering. Here are my top 5 tips that parents can follow and still look good.

  1. Start a file of important papers such as test scores, report cards, articles, scholarship opportunities, etc. Although you are starting the file, please remember to give it to your teen well before junior year so that they can be accountable for tracking their progress.cornell campus


  1. Set aside time to meet with your 9th grader to develop their 4-year course plan. Mapping their courses for each year of high school will challenge them to set realistic goals and balance academic rigor with interests. Sign up for our monthly freshman roadmap and you will receive our Compass ReadiGuide for Course Planning.


  1. Emphasize the importance of building positive relationships with ALL of their teachers. Your teen will need teacher recommendations for summer programs, scholarships, and college applications. A challenging goal for your 9th grader may be to meet with 1-2 teachers each month. Taking these consistent small steps can lead to a positive relationship where your teen gets to know the teacher and the teacher gets to know your teen.


  1. Encourage your 9th grader to schedule a meeting with their school counselor. School counselors may have interest/career inventories, ACT/SAT practice tests, as well as information about summer programs or scholarships.


  1. Assist your 9th grader in finding fun and interesting ways to volunteer. Volunteering in the community provides an opportunity to develop a sense of care for others, learn your capabilities, broaden experiences, and grow interpersonal skills.


This brief checklist highlights what parents can do this school year. However, if you’re a busy parent like me, you may not remember these tips in winter. Perhaps a regular “check-in” reminder would help you stay on top. . .

What other tips for 9th-grade success would you suggest? Please post in comments below.

Your teen doesn’t need to be “well-rounded” to get into college!

During this time of year as teens are getting more involved in school activities, a question that many students and parents raise is whether it’s best to be more “well-rounded.” The term “well-rounded” refers to a student who has experiences in a range of varied activities. “Should I(my teen) be “well rounded” often translates to ‘”Will this help me(my teen) get into college?” The concept of “well–rounded “ was born in hindsight from a 1980’s myth of how students got accepted to most selective colleges.

My question back to them is “What’s your goal?” It’s not meant to be a smart-alecky response but the emphasis on every aspect of the college admissions process is the student. colgate campus

My recent e-newsletter shared what colleges today want and many parents were abuzz about what this means for their college-bound teen. Colleges want engaged, curious learners. This new revelation can be unsettling because it’s the opposite of “well-rounded”.

Over the years, I’ve read thousands of applications and spoken with numerous admissions officers about what they seek in prospective candidates and “well-rounded” isn’t just dead among the most selective colleges but an even broader landscape. The activities resume filled with 15-20 activities may show busy-ness, but too often lack evidence of these qualities:

    • Interest – are you really that interested in an activity that you’ve only spent a few hours doing in 9th grade? Based on your activities resume, what are you interested in?
    • Commitment – where is the evidence of your commitment? College communities thrive on student commitment.
    • Impact – what difference was made by your participation? do your activities show what impact you made on your school or community through your involvement? When a student is doing an activity for the sake of appearing “well rounded” then they may not be around long enough to take a leadership role, influence the direction, mentor other students, or make any impact at all.

In closing, I go back to my initial response, “What’s your goal?” The entire college admissions process is about the student NOT the college. If the student is doing an activity just for the sake of getting into college, it will come through in their laundry list of activities and especially their application essays. When students focus their time and efforts on those activities they enjoy, have an interest in pursuing, and make an impact on others involved with them . . . that’s when students have the best chances of getting in and getting money for college.