By Amy Kruse

This summer, Syracuse University’s Summer College welcomed its largest cohort of high school students in its over 60-year history. More than 1,000 students from around the world enrolled in an on-campus or online pre-college course through Syracuse University. This was the first time in two years that pre-college students were on campus for the program.

“I am overjoyed that so many high school students chose to attend Summer College at Syracuse University,” said Chris Cofer, executive director at the Office of Pre-College Programs. “We made a concerted effort to maintain a robust and diversified portfolio of over 80 course offerings, and I think students responded to that.”

In the spring of 2020, Summer College had to quickly pivot in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. Up until that point, Summer College had only been an in-person program. All high school students who attended pre-college at Syracuse University would spend 2-6 weeks experiencing college life on campus. They lived in residence halls, attended college-level classes, ate meals in a dining hall and went on field trips to regional landmarks.

As the number of COVID cases started to rise in early 2020, many institutions around the country cancelled their summer pre-college programs. Syracuse University’s Office of Pre-College Programs decided to take a risk and move all of their courses to an online format. “My team was prepared to take on the challenge of creating a program that met students where they were—at home,” Cofer said. “We viewed it as an opportunity to provide a robust, online pre-college program that high school students could attend virtually in the comfort and safety of their homes.”

Students responded, and the program exceeded enrollment expectations. Summer College had 837 high school students enroll in their online summer program, an 18% increase from the prior year.

In 2021, Summer College decided to only offer online courses again due to the high level of COVID cases. While students couldn’t have the experience of living on campus for yet another summer, the program tried to emulate a campus experience. Students had ‘community connectors’ in place and they could take part in virtual events and activities to unwind and meet students in other online courses. Professors had virtual office hours for extra help and students could take advantage of other Syracuse University resources offered online like the writing center.

Although case numbers were down significantly in 2022, the decision to offer an in-person option wasn’t easy. “We had to make the decision in the fall of 2021,” explains Cofer. “I chose to stay true to our general operating philosophy to meet students where they are. We anticipated that cases would be lower and that students would want to be in-person again.”

They were right, and a record was broken. 1,060 high school students from 40 U.S. states and 18 countries attended Summer College this year.

By offering more than 80 courses both in-person and online, a greater population of students could attend pre-college. While most students attended the in-person program, more than 150 took their classes online. For some, it was because of the ongoing risk of COVID. For others, an online program fits better into their lives because of jobs or other responsibilities.

Historically, high school students attended Summer College for many reasons. They can test out a college major to find out if it’s something they want to pursue. It’s also a valuable differentiator on a college application. Many students are interested in attending Syracuse University, but they want to see what it’s like before applying. This year, those reasons are all still true, but living through a pandemic has caused students to have different perspectives, challenges and needs. Two weeks of living on a college campus was transformational for these students.

“A quote from a 2022 Summer College parent sums it up better than I can,” said Cofer. “They said, I have noticed that my son holds himself differently now. He moves through the world with a bit more confidence. A bit more assured of himself. He’s comfortable going off and figuring something out more than he was before.” Applications for Summer College 2023 will open in December. Applications for Accelerated Semester Online courses, which are offered during the school year, are open now.