The Importance of Experiential Learning

Since the turn of the 20th century, education researchers have been interested in a phenomenon known as summer learning loss, summer setback, or summer slide. [1] Research shows students who do nothing during the summer months experience decreased academic performance at the start of the school year. This phenomenon is why many students opt to extend their learning into the summer months. School vacation is a perfect time for students to explore their passions and interests and build skills to prepare them for the transition from high school to college.

How can you prevent the summer learning slide?

Pre-college academic enrichment programs provide opportunities for students to experience both living and learning on a college campus. With academics being the cornerstone of most pre-college summer programs, students can choose courses in subjects not typically taught at the high school level. Small, seminar-style learning provides opportunities for students to learn through group discussions and projects. These experiential learning environments are designed for high school students to thrive.

The academic pace in a pre-college, non-credit academic enrichment program is often less stressful due to little or no emphasis on grades and more focused on engaging with the teacher or faculty and the subject matter.  Students should not see these types of programs as remedial or as a form of punishment but rather embrace these opportunities as transformative, and as an opportunity to expand their minds.

In addition to the academics, a pre-college program allows students to engage in a vibrant and diverse community, making friends from around the world and participate in recreational, social, and cultural immersion events and excursions. Another key component of an experiential learning experience is the opportunity to develop soft skills necessary for success in college and beyond.

What should you look for in pre-college programs?

Look for pre-college programs that are operated in partnership with a university to ensure that courses are taught by university instructors and the program provides opportunities for students to use the campus facilities. In addition to world-class academics that are a blend of classroom instruction with hands-on or experiential learning, programs should include a balance between learning and fun.  A full complement of recreational and social activities, as well as proper and age-appropriate safety and supervision from professional and experienced staff are essential for the happiness and well-being of the student.

The Importance of Experiential Learning Outside of the Classroom was written by Esteban Olivares, Summer Discovery’s Director of Educational Development & University Partnerships.  For help in finding the best fit program and make of the most of your school vacation, please contact

Summer Discovery is the leading pre-college program provider for middle and high school students –

[1] Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review. Review of Educational Research, 66(3), 227–268.