The summer before Sarah Ward entered her senior year of high school, she attended Summer Seniors — a University of South Carolina camp for African American students. It was an experience that changed the direction of her life.
“I was able to get a glimpse at the Gamecock experience and meet some friends that I’m still friends with today,” says Ward, now a biology major at USC. “Attending a predominantly white institution, I had a feeling that I probably wouldn’t fit in as much as I wanted to. But when I went to Summer Seniors, I really felt like I would have a community that I could be a part of and have a real place on this campus.”
Each summer, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions holds two Summer Seniors sessions, reaching more than 170 South Carolina high school students who spend several days living on the USC campus, learning about college life, academic opportunities, the admissions process, financial aid and scholarships. More than 1,200 students have participated since the program started, with more than 60 percent of the participants who attended the program in 2021 enrolling in USC last fall.
“Summer Seniors provides African American students an experience to prepare for college, living on campus and exploring the many opportunities that Carolina has to offer,” said Michael Wade, senior associate director for diversity, access and inclusion in the admissions office. “Summer Seniors helps students to see that they can be successful and supported at Carolina. The community created through the program is longstanding, and we are excited to coordinate the program in its 15th year.”
Ward, who grew up in Walterboro, S.C., is one of those students who enrolled at USC after participating in the program. Now a rising college senior with plans to attend medical school, she continues to participate in the four-day residential recruitment program as a counselor, leading students who were in her shoes a few years ago. In her second year as a counselor, she says she tries to duplicate the experience she received as an unsure high school student who was drawn out and encouraged by the Summer Seniors counselors.
“Those counselors where the main reason why I was like, 'Yeah, I really want to come to this school.’ And that’s something I took into consideration when I was a counselor last year. Summer Seniors was the primary reason for me being here at USC. So I want to make sure that these high school students feel like I felt. The counselors were involved, energetic and made sure everyone enjoyed themselves and had fun while they were learning.”
As a counselor she also wants the high school students to understand the resources and opportunities available to minority students at USC. She said she considered attending a historically Black college before deciding on USC.
“I felt like USC offered the most of what I was looking for, while I also am able to have a community here on campus and have an abundance of resources and financial aid. I knew I wasn't going to be lacking, especially after attending that camp,” she says. “I just knew that everything that I needed, they would be able to provide.”
Ward says several of the students who attended Summer Seniors last year have reached out to her and told her they would be attending USC in the fall.
“We've had a lot of students get accepted into USC and they are excited about coming here. So that was kind of like, ‘OK. Mission accomplished.'"