In this new series, we explore the most selective and exciting summer programs in the United States. What high school students do during their summers can make or break a college application, from community service to research internships, and we're here to give you the inside scoop on the very best programs out there for learning, personal fulfillment, and college applications. Today we break down the first in our series: The Telluride Association Summer Program.
The Telluride Association Summer Program, or TASP, is that rare breed that dazzles 1% of the nation and makes everyone else who hears of it go "huh?" in confusion. That is to say, it's one of America's and the academic elite's best-kept secrets when it comes to precollege educational experiences. We've broken down its key components below:
• Multiple different humanities-focused seminars each year
• 6 weeks across June, July, and August
• Hosted at various universities each year (Cornell University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Maryland for 2019)
• ~15-30 students per location
• Community- and self-governance-based
• Completely free of charge
The application process unveiled, from the point of view of one of our co-founders.
There are many qualities that set TASP apart from its peers, from its acceptance rate of approximately 3% to its intensive application process involving multiple 1500-word essays, its commitment to democratic self-governance, and the upper college-level status of its seminars - the upcoming year includes workshops entitled Constructing Gender in Japanese Popular Culture, among others. The year I attended, I was placed in a creative writing workshop that, to use a phrase that has become ever-popular amongst TASPers in the program's illustrious 60-year career, changed my life.
And yet, despite everything it has going for it, TASP remains a mystery to the vast majority of the American populace - a decision that is very much intentional. The program sends letters of interest to students who score in the top 1% of the PSAT, and teachers can nominate promising candidates (though students can apply without being nominated), but other than that, word of mouth remains TASP's primary advertising campaign. (Be sure to subscribe for our in-depth look at the PSAT/NMSQT, as well as our best tips for achieving National Merit!)
Even so, the acceptance rate remains in the single digits - a reflection of TASP's unique admissions process, which eschews grades and standardized test scores in favor of seeing how its applicants think, through the aforementioned essays and, in the finalist stage, two-hour-long interviews that ask applicants to defend the reasoning and opinions they showcased in the first half of the application.
When I attended TASP, a typical week included three-hour daily creative writing workshops with twelve other students (another fourteen attended a seminar on Norse Mythology right next door), taught by two young, accomplished, and incredibly inspiring teachers. Classes were discussion-based and active - we passed ideas back and forth without fear of judgement - and afterwards, we were assigned heaps of readings that went by in a flash when we did them in the informal study groups we had created back at the frat house we lived in together.
Four former TASPers, now in college (one headed to Harvard Law), served as counselors of sorts, two designated as factotums, who attended seminars with us and were otherwise available to answer all our questions, and two as program assistants. At the end of the week, the factotums and PAs helped us organize symposiums where we voted on legislature that different individuals and committees brought to discussion, on everything from keeping the frat house clean to what to do with the $2,000 that was allotted to our community for events, memorabilia, and anything else we might need.
In the midst of writing assignments for class, spoken-word poetry slams, and discussions on everything from the nature of womanhood to the intersection of physics and philosophy in the gazebo behind the house, we were responsible for collectively deciding how we would organize our time. We completed two TASP-wide community service projects, went kayaking, and finalized our course portfolios. Before the six weeks were up, each TASPer also gave a multimedia presentation on a topic of our choice. Standouts from my year included an investigation into the College Board and ethnic disparities in children's television.
After we returned home, still reeling from those incredible six weeks, just about every TASPer who applied Early Decision was accepted to our dream colleges, with Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and Columbia (where I myself ended up) being particularly well-represented. While TASP cannot guarantee acceptance into a Top 10 college, its reputation for admitting students with qualities that those same colleges like to see in their own incoming classes has raised it to the status of what some call a golden ticket to the Ivy League and similar schools. However, TASP continues to accept students who want to attend for the pure love of learning, and students who apply with that motivation continue to get the most out of this incredible program.