I believe that this blog topic is particularly important because it really drives at the heart of how Hermiona benefits its students. However, before we delve deeper, let’s first zoom out to understand the American education system as a whole.
More than any other country in the world, the United States prizes extracurricular participation and leadership. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 2010, the extracurricular participation of high school seniors was as follows: 40% athletic teams, 32% clubs, 23% performing arts, 17% part-time job, 10% newspaper/yearbook, and 9% student government. Combined, this means that well over half of students graduating high schoolers (and an even larger percentage of those who continued on to college) participated in extracurricular activities. Furthermore, high school students are often pushed to hold leadership positions in these organizations, whether that means being the captain of the football team or the editor of the school’s newspaper.
American universities rank among the top in the world, with students from all countries scrambling to receive the coveted acceptance letter. With such a large applicant pool from which to choose, American universities have the luxury of being extremely selective (see Stanford’s 4% acceptance rate). And these universities have done their research; one study from Elon University found that “every estimation method and model specification examined implies that high school leadership has a large, positive impact on post-secondary educational attainment.” On the one hand, this finding is unsurprising: motivated individuals that start and lead clubs in high school are more likely to push themselves in college. On the other hand, it significantly disadvantages international students who come from educational systems that do not emphasize extracurricular activities. For example, the college I attended, Georgetown University, boasts over 350 clubs and 29 varsity sports teams. Meanwhile, when I studied abroad at St. Petersburg State University in Russia, one of the best universities in the country, I was shocked to find out that it offered less than 10 clubs.
As a company that works primarily with international students, Hermiona seeks to address this very issue: how can we help students who come from other educational systems compete with American college applicants? Our answer: summer opportunities. By working with students over the course of several years, we coach them how to make the most of their time off from school. This often takes the form of summer programs and internships.
To illustrate the power of these extracurricular experiences, let’s look at one of the real students I’ve worked with over the past couple years. Since this student was from Eastern Europe, his school didn’t offer any clubs and he had few extracurricular opportunities available elsewhere. He knew that he was interested in becoming a computer programmer, so we coached him through the application process, and he was ultimately accepted to a robotics summer program at a top-5 private high school in the United States. The following year, he wrote about his experience there in his application to a programming summer program at a top American university. He is currently applying to colleges in the United States, hoping to come here full-time. Look at how much more compelling his application will be. He now has: 1. demonstrated experience with computer programming 2. a proven track record of success in an American college classroom (and college credit to boot) 3. strong letters of recommendation from American professors testifying to his knowledge and passion for the subject. These will undoubtedly go a long way for him in the coming months.
Summer is, of course, a time to relax and have fun, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun AND work towards your long-term academic goals. From my experience, summer programs at American high schools and colleges are the best way to combine the two.