Live and learn: Students use summer programs to gauge interest in colleges

Two Teaching Assistants of the Discover the World of Communication program who were participants of DWC as high school students.

Two Teaching Assistants with the Discover the World of Communication program who too part in DWC as high school students.

At a meeting several years back with an American University academic adviser, Willoughby Dobbs, then a high school student, expressed an interest in attending the university.

Dobbs wasn’t basing his decision on a campus tour, friend recommendations or a brochure. He had already spent a summer at American University in the National Student Leadership Conference, and taking scriptwriting and video production classes through the Discover the World of Communication program.

“I wanted to attend AU to give back to the students,” Dobbs said. “The DWC program was very influential in my choice to come here and also to work as a TA. I came and fell in love with the school.”

The academic adviser suggested that Dobbs submit his final project for the summer program as part of his application. He did and it worked — Dobbs is now a rising senior at American and a teaching assistant this summer for the DWC program.

Dobbs is one of more than 100 current AU students who are alumni of the summer programs. During these programs, students get to experience life on a college campus, taking the Metro into Washington and eating in nearby Tenleytown. Each of these activities, while still being supervised by TAs, are meant to give students a real taste of the college.

Many students use the summer to determine whether they want to apply to AU for college. For AU, it’s a chance to see who may be interested in attending.

“The entire university sees the [DWC] program as an important outreach, because students already know what AU is all about,” said Sarah Menke-Fish, director of the DWC program and a professor in AU’s School of Communication.

Coming to a summer program on campus can give students a leg up when it comes to applying in the fall.

“It is favorable to see an applicant with an AU program experience because they have been on campus and worked with professors,” said Jeremy Lowe, AU’s assistant admissions director.

Lowe said AU considers everything from campus visits, individual interviews, summer programs and even online chats.

Another benefit of taking part in DWC and NSLC programs is that students work directly with professors at the university. According to Lowe, after the program ends faculty members will sometimes reach out and mention a student to recommend to admissions.

Menke-Fish makes the same offer to all summer students: She will place a call to their first-choice school. “I will make a call to any school, if it is AU great, if not that is still great,” Menke-Fish said.

Students are not graded for any of the work that they produce in these sessions so students can learn “without the pressure of making a grade or having a competition,” Menke-Fish added.

For students like Dobbs, it’s impossible to know how much attending a summer program helped him get into American. But he can say with certainty that the program helped him be certain of his college choice — and his decision to return this summer as a teaching assistant.