In yet another installment of its how-is-the-recession-affecting-rich-people series, the Times reports that affluent teens are cutting back on expensive summer programs, or even — gasp! — paying for them themselves.

Although precollege programs at top universities — and various overseas service programs — are still going strong, many families are seeking cheaper options. Example: the bizarro case of the Connors family and their daughter Maddie. According to the Times,

Maddie [...] planned on a Spanish-immersion summer, but a six-week $8,000 trip exceeded the family's budget. Working with a consultant, the Connors picked a two-week volunteer trip to Fiji that, with air fare, is about $2,500. (Ms. Connors said the $1,100 she paid the consultant, Everything Summer, helped her "know the full range of high-end program options.")

We're not sure what's more disturbing, the idea that a teen's summer now has to be "high end," or the idea that it's worth paying a consultant $1,100 to facilitate this high-endness. Of course, the goal of all of this is to get kids into a good college, which would be admirable if the quest hadn't started to seem like such an arms race. Their arsenals depleted, families hell-bent on Harvard are putting their kids to work. High school sophomore Kristen Barnett, for instance, is babysitting and refereeing youth soccer to pay for her volunteer trip to Costa Rica.

Of course, some of the desire for expensive summer programs is coming from the kids themselves, and working for what they want can certainly be healthy. Admissions consultant Deena Maerowitz says school admissions officers tell her, "it doesn't matter to us if you climbed Mount Everest or if you started your own nonprofit or if you worked in a retail store. What's important to us is what you got out of your experience." Good advice, but maybe the recession will bring back a kind of summer that seems to have disappeared for middle- and upper class college-bound teens — a summer that's about the present, rather than the future.

Especially in the higher tax bracket, kids seem to be under tons of pressure to prepare for college, so they can prepare for professional school, so they can prepare for a career. Why not let them enjoy the last time in their lives when they don't have to worry about achievement? A simple summer job might be lower-pressure — and even more instructive — than an $8,000 immersion program, but if those jobs are growing scarce, as the Times suggests, what about a summer lazing around and riding bikes? It may not be a resume-builder, but it's fun, and it's something to look back on when you're all grown up and spending your summers at a desk.

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Summer Break? I'm Working on It [NYT]