What is Summer School in the UK?

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While nearly everyone looks forward to the summer holidays, they last for over six weeks, which can be a long time to keep yourself busy! It may be that you are looking for an activity to occupy your time during the holidays that will be both enjoyable and worthwhile. Each year, many students attend summer schools in the UK, and this could be the perfect option for you. The first thing to know is what exactly a summer school is.

Summer schools are programmes run by places of education and companies across the UK during the summer holidays. Generally speaking, they allow students to experience lessons and activities in a more relaxed setting than term-time, often helping students prepare for, or get an idea of, what’s next to come in their education. There are many options available, but they are most commonly designed to help students making the transition from primary to secondary school, or for those over the age of 16 to get a sense of university life.

Keep reading for more information on summer schools in the UK, including what they involve and information on finding a summer school that’s right for you.

What are summer schools?

The name can lead people to believe that summer schools are simply the normal programme of school lessons and activities, just held during the summer holidays. However, this is not the case – while most summer schools are indeed centred around education, they are a very different experience to school terms. For one thing, the vast majority of summer schools do not require a school uniform, something which is almost unheard of in UK schools!

A typical summer school will last between one and four weeks, and you can expect sessions allowing you to try out a variety of activities, both academic and social. The details vary depending on the type of summer school, the most common of which are explained in more detail below.

What does a summer school between Year 6 and Year 7 involve?

Many secondary schools hold summer schools for students who have just finished Year 6 and will be joining their school in the coming September. These are often designed to be fun programmes to put students at ease, as they may naturally be feeling nervous about starting a new school. Throughout the programme, you get a chance to meet the people who will soon be your classmates and take part in a variety of icebreaker and team-building exercises with them.

There will also usually be taster sessions for a range of subjects you may study during the school year. Students often find this experience really helpful, as the way secondary school subjects are organised and taught is often very different compared to primary school.

If you are still anxious about starting Year 7, you might find this article from Think Student really helpful; it contains plenty of advice for students starting secondary school.

What does a summer school in sixth form or college involve?

More advanced summer schools are available, often for students during the summer between Year 12 and Year 13, which provide an insight into what university life is like and prepare students for applying and studying there. Some of these are run by universities themselves, but they may also be run by external companies. Although it may seem that the summer schools run by universities are a better option, many students find those run by other groups to be an equally valuable experience.

At this level, summer schools are more likely to be subject specific, as many degrees are focused on studying just one subject to a great depth. This means that when you apply, you choose the specific area you want the summer school to be centred around. However, most providers offer a range of subjects, and may offer broader programmes – it may take a little research to find one that is right for you.

As well as taster lectures on a university subject, these summer schools often involve sessions about university life in general, as it is a big change from secondary school or college. Many even include accommodation in university halls for the duration of the summer school, to fully immerse students in the university experience.

As with real degree-level study, there will be plenty of time to get to know the people you are on the course with, who will most likely be from all across the country, or even international students looking to study in the UK. The summer school itself will often incorporate social activities into the programme, and include time to explore the local area, as many students go to university in a town away from home.

What does an online summer school involve?

Although most summer schools are run in person, since the pandemic there has been a rise in the number of online summer schools available. These will clearly run differently to the other types of summer school, but often still include taster sessions for subjects you are interested in, as well as talks to help you prepare for the next stage of your education.

Online summer schools tend to be more flexible, so may be a good option for you if you are unsure whether you are able to commit to every day of a summer school for a week or more. Additionally, they can be completed from the comfort of your own home, which means less travelling, or may be ideal if you are not keen on staying away from home for weeks at a time.

What does summer school for international students involve?

There are a variety of summer schools available for international students, generally for those aged 16 to 18 to get an idea of the university system in the UK. These may be specifically for international students; in which case they can offer unique support for those considering moving to the UK to study towards a degree. Alternatively, you may take part in a summer school for all prospective applicants, no matter what country they currently live or study in.

Both of these types of summer school can be really beneficial. Studying in a new country can be a daunting prospect, and these programmes will provide a good experience to prepare you for the transition. They may help to confirm that you want to study at that particular university – or even make you decide that you do not want to come to the UK to study at all. Both conclusions mean that the summer school has been a really valuable experience! If you do end up coming to the UK to study, check out this Think Student article for ideas about part-time jobs while you study.

Are summer schools free?

The price of summer schools varies hugely. Typically, if they are being run by secondary schools for their own students, they are free of charge, or partially subsidised, so the cost is affordable for parents. However, summer schools held at universities tend to be more expensive, particularly if accommodation and catering costs are included in the price. Summer schools run by businesses can cost several thousand pounds. This is especially the case if the focus is on helping students with university applications, which there is often a high demand for.

Taking part in these summer schools can be a big decision, often due to the price of them. It is important to consider the pros and cons carefully to decide whether it is the right option for you. Often, online summer schools will be far cheaper or even free as they require less physical planning, so may be a good option to consider. Even if you decide you are not going to take part in a summer school, there are plenty of other beneficial ways to spend your summer holidays. Check out this article from Think Student for ideas on what to do with a long summer stretching ahead of you.

Where do you find a summer school in the UK?

There are many different ways to find a summer school that suits you. If you are going into Year 7 next year, your new school should contact you with any details if they run a summer school. However, if you want to take part in a university summer school, you will most likely have to find a suitable summer school yourself.

Often, your sixth form or college will have a designated person who deals with work experience and related issues. It is often worth asking them whether they have any experience with summer schools. They may be in touch with companies who run them or know which providers to recommend based on what feedback from students who have completed them in previous years.

Alternatively, if you have a specific university in mind where you want to complete your summer school, their official university website is the best place to start. They should have all the information you need on the summer schools they offer, any eligibility requirements, the application process and more.

Of course, a Google search will provide lots of options for summer schools, but there are some websites which are particularly good for looking at summer schools that will be best for you. For example, this page from studyin-uk.ca lists some of the most popular summer schools in 2022 for international students, many of which run each year. The website bestsummerschools.co.uk is full of useful information and options to help you choose a summer school that you will really enjoy and benefit from.

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