Templeton’s Summer Scholars Program is a wonderful opportunity for high school students to get a taste of college life, engage with the classical model of education, ask challenging questions, and build friendships based on a common love of learning. For those who have never experienced the program firsthand, I imagine that the prospect of being a Summer Scholar may be thrilling, anxiety-inducing, joyful, intimidating, or some combination of all of these. Having been a staff member for the program, I’ve been able to witness students’ experiences firsthand from the first to last day of each course. Based on my experience and on conversations with previous Summer Scholars, here are a few things I think that you, as prospective Summer Scholars, may find helpful to know.
First, you should know that wrestling with difficult questions and complex ideas is a key part of the Summer Scholars experience. You will be asked to think about issues that, in many cases, humans have been discussing for hundreds if not thousands of years. You may come to tentative answers or small moments of clarity; you may also spend time feeling confused and challenged. While for some students this may sound incredibly exciting, other students might find it mildly terrifying. If you identify with the latter group, let me tell you the good news: you will not be in this alone! You will be surrounded by fellow students who will become valuable conversational partners in a shared attempt to make sense of questions, texts, and ideas. You will also be supported by caring professors and wonderful staff members who care deeply about you and are excited to stand by you as you learn and challenge yourself.
You should also know that the texts to which you will be exposed are absolutely incredible. Students in the course on Socrates will be engaging with Plato—one of the most foundational thinkers in the Western tradition of thought. In doing so, you will be entering into conversation with a voice who spoke thousands of years ago, yet whose ideas continue to permeate the ways that people think today. Students in the course on Lewis will have the chance to engage with one of the most important Christian intellectual voices in the modern era. Having spent a semester neck-deep in a study of Lewis at Oxford University, I can assure you that there is an incredible wealth of theological, philosophical, and imaginative riches to be explored in Lewis’ work. Whether you are interested in the Lewis course or the Plato course or both, trust me: you are about to encounter texts that are not only fundamental to the Christian life and the intellectual life, but that also happen to be thought-provoking, delightful, and accessible.
Also, you should expect to have fun as a Summer Scholar! Yes, you will work incredibly hard. Yes, you will be part of conversations about serious and important things. But I also think it is safe to assume that you will experience moments of lightness and of laughter. So if the thought of somber nonstop academic rigor doesn’t appeal to you, don’t be concerned—that’s not what this is.
Also, I would strongly encourage you to consider entering the Summer Scholars Essay Contest. This contest is open to anyone applying to the program and offers students a chance to win full or partial scholarships. Two first-prize scholars will win a full scholarship to the program, and four second-prize winners will each receive a $500 scholarship. Essays are to be written on the following topic: “Jesus said that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. What does it mean to love God with all our mind?” For those who enter the essay competition, I encourage you to think carefully and thoroughly about this question. A professor once suggested to me that after drafting an essay, I should write “WHY?” after every sentence and then try to answer it. While you may not end up going to quite this length, I offer this strategy as an example of the kind of rigorous contemplation you will engage in at the Summer Scholars Program. I also highly recommend having numerous other people read your essay. You may want to ask them to repeat back to you what they think you are saying; if they can do so, you will know you are on track to clearly communicating your point. You may also want to ask others to read your essay and argue with you, so that you can strengthen your essay by addressing counterarguments or questions that your reader brings up.
I wish you all the best in your applications and (perhaps) in your time as a Summer Scholar!