By sophomore or junior year of high school—maybe even earlier—you’re ready to start seriously thinking about the next chapter in your life: your college years.

Summers are the perfect time to take some proactive steps toward your college journey. You may be planning college visits or preparing for applications, for example. You may also want to use summer as a time to engage in activities that will help you build a great college application.

There are many summer activities that will augment your college application. But you’ll notice one thing that doesn’t make that list: going to summer camp.

Here are eight reasons why you shouldn’t think of Harvard’s summer college programs for high school students as a summer camp, and why participating in a Harvard summer program is a perfect way to get a jump-start on your college planning.

At Harvard Summer School, you will:

Challenge yourself academically

Why not expand your intellectual horizons with a new academic challenge this summer?

Taking a real college course at Harvard Summer School is one of the best ways to do that. The summer college courses cover the same college-level material as you’ll study during a college semester and they are taught by Harvard-affiliated instructors. You’ll discover what you’ll need to do to succeed in a college class — which you may not be able to do in a math or science summer camp.

The rigor of a college course will be challenging but also exhilarating. You’ll find it exciting to be immersed in a topic that interests you. You’ll gain deeper insights and broader perspectives on that topic as well. And because you’ll be studying and debating alongside other students who are as interested and engaged as you are, you’ll find these discussions — whether in or out of the classroom — mature, demanding, and truly enlightening.

Rise to the challenge with hard work

Regardless of if your courses are non-credit or college-credit, you’re going to spend your summer working hard and reaping the rewards of that hard work.

You will be expected to attend every class (even if the course is online). You will be assigned homework to complete. And the quality of your work will be assessed or graded using the same academic standards that apply to Harvard College students.

And as a result of your hard work, you’ll feel even more accomplished and prepared for the next step in your academic journey.

Explore potential majors and career options

The amazing range of available classes for high school students at Harvard Summer School means you can take classes that you probably can’t find in most high schools. You can get a taste of neuroscience or organic chemistry to see if a future in medicine might be right for you. Maybe you’re intrigued by the idea of a career in finance: try out Microeconomics or The Culture of Capitalism.

Whatever your interest, you’re likely to find a course on it. You might even develop a new interest that you’ve never considered before.

In the Secondary School Program, you can see how specific academic topics might translate into real-world career options in one of our Career Pathways Courses.

And in the Pre-College Program, classes aren’t assessed with letter grades, so you can challenge yourself to try something really different without the stress of having to get an A.

Learn independence

When you attend science or math summer camp, your time is mostly spent in structured activities. At Harvard Summer School, you get to decide how you want to spend your time outside of the classroom.

You’ll have to navigate the demands of your course as well as the expectations of your program. The Pre-College Program, for example, uses a passport activity program that lets you choose which activities in each category you attend. You’ll have to balance those requirements with the opportunities for socializing with your peers.

You’ll have to decide how long it will take you to complete your homework. You’ll have to find quiet spaces to study. You’ll have to figure out when you need to go to bed each night to ensure that you won’t be too tired the next day.

As you do so, you’ll be developing important lessons in responsibility and independence. This glimpse of college life will help make the transition into college a bit easier and help prepare you for a successful college experience.

Find resources to help you succeed

Successfully navigating your first taste of college life is exciting but not always easy. The good news is that you’re not expected to do it on your own. Both Harvard’s summer programs for high school students offer numerous resources to help make every aspect of your summer at Harvard a success.

But part of the learning journey at Harvard is recognizing when you need help and then reaching out to get the help you need.

If you find your course a little overwhelming, send your instructor an email and ask for extra help. Visit the Writing Center for targeted assistance on a paper. Schedule a peer tutoring session through the Academic Tutor Program (ATP) for help with difficult concepts. Even if you’ve never needed help to get through a class in high school, asking for help to get through a college course is the norm, not the exception.

And if you’re struggling with navigating the challenges that come with greater independence, or if you’d like assistance choosing activities or fulfilling program commitments, your dean is always available to offer valuable guidance.

All you need to do is ask!

Begin planning your college journey

College readiness activities are a core part of your summer experience at Harvard.

If you’re just starting to think about where you want to go to college, joining our college counseling and admissions Q&As is a great place to start. You’ll have the opportunity to learn about colleges and universities from around the country. You’ll get a chance to meet college admissions officers and ask questions about their school and the application process.

If you’re thinking ahead to your college applications, Harvard Summer School offers targeted workshops designed to help you through the application process, from thinking about financial aid to writing the college essay.

Expand your horizons

Harvard Summer School attracts bright and motivated students from across the United States and around the world. You’ll find yourself engaged in discussions about topics that matter with people with vastly different backgrounds and viewpoints.

Hone your language skills with new friends at one of our many Language Tables. Learn the importance of diversity at a Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging discussion session. Join an academic workshop on current events with Harvard scholars. Our summer programs offer numerous ways to grow outside the classroom.

With the help of new friends and through these amazing summer experiences, you’ll gain new perspectives and deepen your understanding of the world around you — and maybe give you an interesting story to write about in a college application.

Have fun and make memories!

Harvard Summer School’s programs for high school students are designed to challenge you academically, intellectually, and personally.

But don’t worry: it isn’t all hard work!

Getting a glimpse of college life doesn’t have to mean that all you do is study. Explore Boston or take a trip to the beach with your new friends. Show off your skills at a Talent Show or a pick-up soccer game. Take in a movie at Film Night or paint a masterpiece at Paint Night.

Your summer experience at Harvard Summer School will create lasting friendships and memories that you’ll keep for a lifetime. So maybe that’s one way that it is like a summer camp after all.