How to Choose Your Summer School: 8 Things to Consider
You’ve decided you’d like to go to summer school – that’s great! Whether you’d like a break from being at home all summer, you want to combat summer learning loss, or just think it would be fun, summer school can be a memorable and enriching experience.
But choosing a summer school is hard work. If you google “Oxford” you’ll find us, but you’ll also find an estimated 55,800 other results. Sorting through all of those options would take a while for anyone. To make matters worse, many of the websites and course descriptions will look superficially similar, and there are so many different aspects to a summer school, it’s hard to know what to take into account and what to disregard.
As summer school experts, we’ve put together this guide on how to choose your summer school. Of course, we’re hopeful that Oxford Royale Academy will be your choice! But for whatever reason, we may not be, and most of all we’d like you to be able to find the summer school that’s right for you. Here’s what to look out for.
The obvious place to start in choosing a summer school is to decide the location you’d prefer, in terms of which country or even which city. There are a lot of summer schools in the world, but if you can narrow your choice down to a city, a country, or even whether you’d like somewhere English-speaking or not, that will give you a smaller range of places to choose from.
If you’ve no idea where to start in choosing a location, there are some things you might like to consider. Is there somewhere you’re thinking of studying? If your dreams run to Oxford, Cambridge or Yale, you might like to choose a summer school that’s based in one of those places. You don’t need to be certain that you’re going to apply there in future to enjoy trying out for a couple of weeks or more.
Alternatively, going to a summer school should be a form of holiday, and you might want to think of it from that perspective. You could choose a destination that you’ve never been to before, so that you’ll be seeing all the sights and going on excursions there for the first time. You might also want to consider picking somewhere where you and your family could extend your stay into a family holiday, such as going from a summer school in St Andrews to a golfing holiday or tour of the Highlands.
2. Where you’ll stay
Once you’ve decided on a location, you might also want to consider what sort of accommodation you’d prefer. For instance, if you’ve decided you want to study in Cambridge, do you want to live in one of the colleges of the university itself, and get a taste of the life of a student there? You’ll be staying with the other students on your course, which is helpful for making new friends. You might be able to choose whether to share a room, or whether you want a room on your own; different people prefer different things.
Or perhaps you’d prefer a homestay? That’s where you stay with a local family, who’ll typically look after you and provide you with two meals a day. That can be great for getting to know the local culture and even better if you want to practise your skills in the local language, but it’s less good for socialising with your peers at the summer school, and can be a bit much if you’re inclined to be an introvert.
There may be other options depending on the summer school you choose; at Oxford Royale Academy, alongside offering the chance to live and learn in university accommodation, we have our own study centre in Yarnton Manor, designed specifically for the needs of our students.
3. Subjects available
If you already know which subject or subjects you’d like to study, you can narrow down your choice of summer school quite a lot, especially if it’s something relatively niche like architecture or robotics. But if you don’t yet know which subject you’d be interested in, it’s worth taking the time to browse the courses and see what takes your fancy. You could look for something related to your intended future career. Or you could choose something simply because it sounds interesting and you haven’t studied it before. It might spark a new academic passion, or it could simply be a fun way to spend a couple of weeks.
One thing to consider, even if you know which subject you’d like to study, is the approach the summer school takes to teaching it. If you’re studying – for example – law, do you want to focus purely on studying the academic aspects of law, or do you want a course that will also help you on your university application and provide career guidance? This can be relevant even if you’re taking a course that is focused around an academic subject rather than one that leads naturally towards a particular career.
4. Teaching style
At Oxford Royale Academy, we use a particular, distinctive teaching style, inspired by the tutorial approach of Oxford University. The principle is that everyone is encouraged to speak up and share their opinion, informed by their own particular experiences and perspective, and drawing on the diversity of the class as a whole. Lessons are lively and interactive, and all students know that their ideas are valid and being heard. We find this helps to give students confidence and develops their analytical abilities.
But there are other, equally valid approaches that a summer school might also take. For instance, you might prefer something with a focus that is more on written work and less on discussion and debate; some summer schools, particularly those focused on improving your grades at school, will assign written homework every evening. Or you might lean more the other way, and want to choose something that is more of a summer camp than an academic environment, where lessons are less structured and learning objectives less of a priority. It all depends on your particular preferences and what you’re hoping to achieve in your time at summer school. One thing that is important to remember, though, is that when you’re worn out from school you’re less likely to feel enthusiastic about academic study than you might be after a few weeks of summer holiday have already gone by – so take that into account.
There are a few things to consider in terms of extracurriculars when choosing your summer school. One is whether they are included as standard when you book your summer school, or whether you have to choose them as an optional extra. The latter often goes hand-on-hand with a summer school that is more grades-focused and less like a holiday, while the former suggests that extracurricular activities are treated as an intrinsic part of the summer school experience, which they are at Oxford Royale Academy.
But that’s not all. You should also take a look at a timetable and see how much time is given to extracurriculars; is there something going on every day, or are extracurricular activities confined to an hour or two at the weekend? (It goes without saying that if a summer school can’t supply you with a sample timetable, then they’re best avoided).
And finally you should consider what extracurricular and enrichment activities are actually available at your summer school. Do they reflect your interests? For instance, it might be that all the options are sport-based and you’d be more interested in board games or theatre workshops. A summer school should cater to a variety of interests, and it’s worth considering trying out new activities that you wouldn’t normally choose, but you also shouldn’t pick a summer school where you hate all the activities on offer.
Alongside extracurriculars, excursions are another way that summer schools help you enjoy a holiday alongside enhancing your education. And you should ask many of the same questions as you might in relation to extracurricular activities, such as whether excursions are included as standard and how many you’ll get to go on. That’s particularly important if you’re taking two courses back-to-back – will you get to go on a variety of excursions or will you end up at the same places twice? (At Oxford Royale Academy, we ensure that students staying with us for longer don’t end up repeating the same trips).
But of course the most important bit is the destinations! It may be that you’re choosing to study somewhere that’s on the other side of the world, that you’ve never been to before and that you may never go to again. If so, you want to be sure that you’re going to get the chance to see the sights thoroughly. At Oxford Royale Academy, our excursions vary from location to location, but options include the beautiful Blenheim Palace, the fascinating 5,000-year-old mystery that is Stonehenge, plus historic castles, wildlife parks, theatre trips to see famous musicals and more besides. Check that the excursions on offer reflect your interest; if you’re keen on history, you don’t want to end up just going for shopping trips, and vice versa.
7. Where your friends are going
It’s a delicate balance to strike when it comes to choosing a summer school when you know where your friends are going, especially if they’re friends from school who you see all the time. It could be that you all go to the same summer school and have a great time, but equally you could end up missing out on some of the best of the summer school experience – making new friends from all over the world – if you arrive in a fully-formed clique. That changes a little if there are friends going who you don’t see so often, as a summer school can be a good opportunity to renew your friendship without being in each other’s pockets all the time.
And there are compromises that can be found, too, such as choosing the same summer school but not necessarily the same course or campus, so that you’ll see each other at larger gatherings like parties or excursions, but not spend all your time together. Or it may be that you do prefer to strike out on your own and choose a summer school where you won’t know anyone at all. Summer schools will do their best to help you meet people and make new friends, so that can be a recipe for an unforgettable summer as well.
8. Reviews, awards and agency recommendations
So far we’ve looked at choosing a summer school on the basis of your own needs and preferences. But there’s also the more straightforward question of whether it’s any good or not. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to assess that! You could look at reviews such as those on the comparison site Go Overseas, which also allows students to upload their own photos for an insider view. Similarly, if you’re booking your summer school through an agency, you could also ask the agent for their recommendations, as they’re likely to hear feedback from their previous clients.
And there are also lots of possible awards and accreditations that summer schools can get. These can cover all sorts of areas, from the overall quality of the summer school experience, to smaller but nonetheless important aspects of what summer schools offer, such as accreditations for health and safety (it doesn’t matter how great the course is if the building is likely to fall on you at any moment). You might not necessarily need a summer school to have won as many awards as we have at Oxford Royale Academy, but being accredited by major bodies in the relevant areas, such as the British Council for the teaching of English, is an important mark of quality.
We wish you the best of luck in finding the summer school that’s right for you!
All photos featuring students were taken on Oxford Royale Academy summer school courses.