Among the thousands of personal appeals on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe, you’ll find a 2017 campaign for a young woman named Kirstin, a then high school junior with wavy light brown hair, hazel eyes, and a smile that hints at suppressed excitement.
“Kirstin’s Invited to Stanford!” the page, created by Kirstin’s aunt, declares. “My 16-year-old niece has been offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After working hard her entire school career to achieve a goal, she has done it!”
Kirstin, it turns out, was not admitted as an undergraduate, but was raising funds for an “Intensive Law & Trial” summer program offered on the Stanford University campus. Tuition for the ten-day program runs to $4,095, not including airfare and pocket money. “Stanford, one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, is impressed enough with her to have invited her to this program in Palo Alto, California this summer,” the post continues. “Her extended family is trying hard to raise the deposit of $800.00 by week’s end so this opportunity does not slip through her fingers.”
Search “pre-college” on GoFundMe.com and you’ll find dozens of similar campaigns from hopeful students dazzled by the allure of two weeks on an elite campus. “Going to the Summer @ Brown PreCollege Program would give me a preview of what life would be like if I attend the school of my dreams,” reads a 2018 campaign by Benjina, from Newark, New Jersey. “This program will give me the experience of a lifetime,” writes Yakeleen, a high schooler from Tucson, Arizona, hoping to raise $2,200 to attend Harvard’s pre-college program. “Coming from a low income background while being a first generation student, this is a grand oppurtunity [sic] I intend on taking advantage of.”
These posts reflect the growing trend of summer “pre-college” programs at the nation’s most prestigious universities.