High school students have a wide range of summer opportunities to choose from, including part-time jobs or internships, college preparatory programs, or summer camps.

These options can vary from low commitment with just a few hours per day or per week, or they can require the majority of the summer.  No matter what your student chooses to do, these opportunities are valuable ways for them to develop the skills they need to flourish as adults and gain confidence in their ability to navigate life outside the comforts of home.

Each summer, students from around the world attend Harvard Summer School’s Pre-College Program and Secondary School Program. Not only are these college programs for high school students a chance for advanced and ambitious students to take college-level courses, but they also offer the opportunity to begin building independence and to prepare for college life.

Pre-College Program Director Jackie Newcomb, and Secondary School Program Director Bill Holinger, are at the helm of making sure all participants have the best possible experience. We asked them what advice they have for their students’ parents, guardians, and family members to help support them over the summer.

What can parents/guardians do to prepare students for their summer program?

Dr. Newcomb: I recommend having a conversation with your student about communication and expectations. Students will be very busy and their schedules may not align with their family’s availability. Determine if you want to have a check in every couple of days by phone or text, or if once a week is enough. Be patient if you have not heard from your student or if they take a little longer to respond. 

Talk to your student about their responsibilities before and during the summer program. They may not be used to checking their email, but that is how most universities will communicate with them. They should read their messages, check the websites and pay attention to the program calendars. There are often deadlines to register for courses, submit payments and required forms. Remember that the student should be managing this process, but they may need assistance, especially with medical forms and payments. 

Also, be sure that your student is responsible for their own schedule and health. A new experience away from home, taking college courses, can be overwhelming. If students take medication, they should be sure to bring enough and use it as directed. If running, swimming or working out is part of their routine, then students should use athletic facilities on campus. It is important to maintain healthy routines.

What should families tell students to do if they need help with something?

Mr. Holinger: Let us help the students. If they have problems or complaints, tell them to talk with their residence hall proctor or dean, their instructor, or depending on their program, Dr. Newcomb or me. We are here to help. If they have a healthcare need, it is especially important for them to come to us. It’s difficult for parents to manage their student’s healthcare from the other side of the country—or another continent.

How often should families check in on their students?

Mr. Holinger: Harvard Summer School courses are very demanding, so your student will have a lot of work to do. Beyond that, they have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet students from around the world and participate in activities specially curated for them to explore their interests and prepare for college. The best advice would be to know their class schedule and establish a check-in routine, perhaps before they go to bed. Don’t expect to be able to reach them anytime on their cell phone—they may be asleep, or in the library focused on an assignment.  Otherwise, give them space to embrace this experience and manage their schedule.

Can (or should) families visit or take their students off campus during their program?

Dr. Newcomb: I do not recommend that families visit if the program is short duration, like the two-week Pre-College Program. Students have class for three hours plus several hours of homework, and required co-curricular events. We want students to be able to fully immerse themselves in the experience. If students are a little homesick, sometimes seeing family may make that worse. Please consider allowing them to become acclimated without surprising them with a visit.

What would you say to parents worried about safety?

Dr. Newcomb: No one can guarantee safety anywhere, as much as we may wish we could. We take proactive measures to be as safe as possible. All Houses and dormitories are locked and require a Harvard ID to enter. We have on-call residential staff available 24 hours a day, and students can access both University Health Services and the Harvard University Police Department if needed.

Mr. Holinger: If they have a night class, talk with them about safety after dark, such as traveling in pairs or groups. The Harvard campus is well-lit and relatively safe, but it is located in an urban area, and the usual big-city cautions should be observed. There are blue lights positioned all around campus; these are call boxes and panic buttons that link directly to Harvard University Police Department.

What else should I tell my student?

Dr. Newcomb: You were accepted into this program because you demonstrated you could be successful, and Harvard has staff everywhere to help you with your classes and experience in the program. Plus, other students are likely feeling the same way. Do your best and don’t be afraid to talk to your professors, resident deans, proctors, librarians, classmates or anyone here. Remember to tell your student to have fun, and to take advantage of all the opportunities available to them here. We often hear from past students that during their time at Harvard Summer School, they enjoyed participating in the activities as well as the classes, and they made friendships that lasted a lifetime.