I'm most familiar with the music program, as my sons play the trumpet and clarinet. Music students audition for admission. When they arrive in late June, they audition again to be placed in an ensemble. Two to three weeks later, they get the chance to try for a higher group. We had heard before our kids enrolled that Interlochen is based on a "competitive model." If you can move up, you can also move down. Far from a drawback, I regard this as a great boon for kids. If you audition and fail to make it into the group you had hoped to play with, you may be spurred to practice harder and longer. At the very least you will learn the incredibly valuable lesson that it isn't the end of the world when you fall short of a goal. The sun rises the next morning. You find pleasure in the group you're in. And you admire all the more those who excel. Next time, you may make it -- and it will be the sweeter for having been hard won.
There is no expectation that every Interlochen alumnus will become a star or even a professional artist. Some go on to careers in business, sports, academia, and other fields (and become patrons of the arts). But a remarkable number do make their mark on the art world as performers. If you look at it through the other end of the telescope -- say by examining the members of major symphony orchestras, especially the principals -- a significant number will have spent time honing their craft in this idyllic setting. And just to drop a few names, alumni include soprano Jessye Norman, conductor Lorin Maazel, clarinetist David Shifrin, Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary), actress Meredith Baxter, actor Tom Hulce, actress Linda Hunt, TV personalities Bruce Morton and Mike Wallace, and pretty much the entire Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, widely considered one of the best orchestras in America.
It's still camp. The bunks are rustic. The food is mediocre. The plumbing is, to avoid unnecessary details, temperamental. The children return wearing an extra layer of silt. But their spirits and their minds have been elevated -- and that's magical.