For many recent high school graduates, the lengthy 4-month summer vacation is the first time they truly have a say in how they spend their vacation. While some opt to make up for school stress by lounging with Netflix, for others, this is a great time to expand their life experience and pick up new knowledge and skills.
From getting a summer job, volunteering for causes of interest, to learning a new practical skill or sport, there is a myriad of ways a high-achieving student can improve their mind over their vacation.
However, for the driven student, one of the best ways to stay occupied while expanding your knowledge horizon is with a pre-college summer program for high school students. Summer programs offer an excellent way for teenagers to test out fields they are interested in and improve their social skills with their first taste of college life.
Furthermore, since these programs typically only last between a week to a month, summer programs leave enough time for the student to explore other traditional summer vacation pursuits as well.
What is a Pre-college Summer Program?
In widespread usage, the term “summer program” typically applies to pre-college summer programs that take place on college campuses. These programs offer recent high school graduate an avenue to acquaint themselves with college life while boosting their academic profile with classes from university professors.
However, while many still associate these programs with haggard living conditions and unsupervised ill-matching curriculums, that’s far from the reality on the ground today.
Over the past few decades, the number of rigorous summer programs has increased on college campuses around the country, offering access to challenging classes while housing them correctly in dorms. Consequently, most elite colleges today have at least one summer program available on campus.
In addition to academic lectures, this scheme often also includes access to networking events and other avenues to socialize with fellow attendees and college students. The length of these summer programs for high school students can vary significantly, with some only a week-long, while others can last for up to eight weeks.
However, while summer programs are pretty much a standard feature at most colleges, the rigor of each program can vary significantly from school to school. Also, while most of these programs have high acceptance rates—often, the only requirements are good grades and the ability to pay the fee, a handful of selected programs can be quite exclusive.
Furthermore, in many cases, the summer programs are not run by the university management. It is common practice for colleges to lend out their names to programs run by separate for-profit organizations as a way to bring in some extra revenue.
Do Summer Programs for High School Students Increase Admission Chances?
No, not directly, at least. While many summer programs may provide quality academics and a solid base from where one can launch their college career, if you are thinking of them as a line to the admissions office, you are in error.
For most colleges, their pre-college summer programs have no bearing on their admissions process. Furthermore, these programs are typically not connected to their undergraduate academic standards and little to no help to admissions prospects.
While a few of the more prestigious programs could add some weight to an aspiring college student’s portfolio, these programs typically offer the steepest competition with low acceptance rates. For example, the Clark Scholars Program at John Hopkins University only accepts 12 students for each academic year.
Anything outside the creme de la creme, and you can forget any hopes of college admissions officers looking at your application with added interest.
Nevertheless, pre-college summer programs can provide an excellent way for students to challenge themselves academically and explore courses that align with their current interests and potential areas of specialization. Hence, a robust summer program will provide an excellent base for any college aspirant.
However, we do not recommend you break the bank investing in excessively expensive options just for the sake of it. With summer programs for high school students, the experience is usually more important than any certification.
You may also like: List of Ivy League Schools (Ranking and Acceptable Rate)
Why You Should Consider a Summer Program
The number one reason why aspiring college students should consider joining a pre-college summer program is the experience it affords them. Collective experience points you can win in these programs include:
- Hands-on experience of college life that can help ease your transition
- A feel for higher academics and what it entails
- A chance to explore and battle test your academic interests in true to life scenarios
- Possibility of developing relationships with like-minded colleagues and even course instructors who could end up writing you a letter of recommendation
- Some programs offer the chance to earn college credits which can help you place into a higher level in some fields when you enter college
Expensive: some of these programs are just cash grabs that charge significantly for limited education like the Young Global Scholars program at Yale that costs $6,300 for only two weeks of instruction
Inconsistent Rigor: Universities often outsource the management of these programs to for-profit companies, a situation which often produces subpar programs that do not match the academic prestige of the host college
No Help with College: Most of these programs simply won’t do anything special for your college application
The 20 Best Summer Programs for High School Students
Best STEM Summer Programs For High School Students
The Clark Scholars Program is one of the most sought after summer programs in the country and for a good reason. The program is an intensive 7-week program that invites some of the most talented engineering students from around the country.
In this program, the students learn from professional engineers through leadership seminars and work with faculty members on one-on-one research projects under the guidance of a faculty mentor.
Furthermore, you get to network with leading experts in your field as Clark Scholars meetups are a favorite among top-performing engineering professionals. Hence, the Clark Scholars Program is one of the best summer programs for high school students with engineering inclinations
However, the high demand for admission into the program and the fact that they only accept 12 students each year, making it one of the hardest programs to get into for aspiring applicants.
|John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland||Free, with a stipend of $750 for each student||Six weeks|
The Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science is MIT’s take on an introductory course to STEM for aspiring high school seniors who intend to pursue careers and degrees in science or engineering fields.
However, the program is almost exclusively targeting minorities and backgrounds that are underrepresented and underserved in STEM fields. Nevertheless, even if you do not match these criteria, you can apply to the program, as MITES is free to join and available to students across the country.
During this program, you gain exposure to up to five university-grade courses as well as admission counseling, social events, and lab tours.
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts||Free||Six weeks|
Another popular STEM program from MIT is the Research Science Institute Internship that gives students an in-depth introduction to science and engineering as well as helps them build other vital academic skills. The program admits 80 students each summer, and it is available to all students from around the world.
However, this program is one of the most competitive as it receives thousands of applicants every single year. Hence, to join RSI, you have to be in the top percentile of high school seniors.
Throughout the 6-week internship, students will get a full taste of STEM research methodology. Each RSI participant drafts and execute a comprehensive research plan under the guidance of experienced mentors, gets abreast of the current literature in their field. Finally, they prepare and deliver written and oral presentations on their research at the end of the program.
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts||Free||Six weeks|
The Ross program is a mathematics-only program that offers an intensive summer experience for students who are interested in exploring the field of mathematics. Since its launch by Dr. Arnold Ross in 1957 after the launch of the Sputnik satellite, the program has held every single year, growing to become the country’s premier introductory mathematics program.
For the 5-week program, students focus on number theory and spend their days familiarizing themselves with and solving challenging problem sets. The goal of the program is to give applicants their first taste of mathematical research.
The program is available to applicants in the US and China, but it only admits around a third of its yearly applicants.
|The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio||$5,000, with the possibility of financial aid||Five weeks|
|Ohio Dominican University, Columbus, Ohio||$5,000, with the possibility of financial aid||Five weeks|
|Variable locations in Changzhou, Jiangsu, China||35,000 RMB||Five weeks|
For aspiring physicists, the Perimeter Institute International Summer School for Young Physicists offers one of the best pre-college summer programs in the world. The program, now in its 18th year, provides introductory mini-courses to physics concepts and physics research methodology.
For the 2-week program, students get to participate in hands-on lab events, attend mini-courses in physics, receive one-on-one and group mentoring sessions from experts physicist, and attend presentations by the Perimeter Institute resident researchers.
ISSYP is open to both juniors and seniors from around the world. Each year, the program admits 40 students: 20 from Canada and another 20 from the rest of the world. The program operates at Perimeter Institute’s facility in Waterloo, Ontario.
|Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada||500 CAD ($380)||Two weeks|
The Summer Science Program is one of the top STEM pre-college summer programs in the country and also one of the longest-running since it began operation in 1959. Furthermore, the program is unique in that it is not affiliated with one college, but rather the entire management of the programs lies in the hand of its own alumni members and faculty.
SSP is a science-only program with a very narrow focus that only includes Astrophysics and Biochemistry. Hence, the program targets a significantly limited scope of students. Notwithstanding, SSP is still one of the most competitive pre-college programs as their acceptance rate typically hovers around a meager 10%.
Throughout the one month+ program, students get to experience all the perks of a regular college student, including classroom work, guest lectures, field trips, and lab sessions.
|Multiple campus locations around the country||$7,150, with the possibility of financial aid||39 days|
The Girls Who Code Summer Program is a free 7-week computer science course that is available to girls that are currently sophomores and juniors. The program provides interested participants with an introduction to computer science and coding.
During the summer program, the students learn about all aspects of computer science in lectures and workshops, get introduced to the tech industry and available tech jobs, and gain access to the network of female computer experts that power the community around the program.
Furthermore, by the end of the course, participants get to build their first tech product.
|Various tech companies around the country||Free, with a stipend to cover living expenses and transportation.||Seven weeks|
Best Business and Leadership Summer Programs For High School Students
For the entrepreneurial-minded, a regular academic pre-college program won’t cut it. And that is where business first programs like LaunchX come in handy. LaunchX is one of the most popular summer programs for young entrepreneurs around the world.
With LaunchX, you get the chance to link up with a handpicked selection of promising young entrepreneurs from around the world for four intense weeks of practical knowledge building in business methodology. At LaunchX, you get to learn from industry experts while working with like-minded peers to create your products.
For the program, you team up co-founders and work to create real products and solve business issues in creative ways. You also get practical first-hand knowledge in all aspects of the startup process, including market research, prototyping, user testing, as well as winning real customers and partnerships.
While LaunchX is open to all high school students, the program only admits about 18% of applicants.
|Multiple campus locations around the country||$7,495, with the possibility of financial aid||4 weeks|
On the other hand, if you would instead learn about traditional business management, the Leadership in the Business World program from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania offers one of the most comprehensive pre-college programs in the niche.
The program focuses on big business management, walking students through an introduction to business, entrepreneurship, team-building, and leadership skills by Wharton professors.
Furthermore, members of the program get to tag along on visits to businesses as well as business leaders in various fields like finance, real estate, retail, and entertainment. You also gain access to an assortment of cultural and social activities on the weekend to complete the well-rounded experience.
Additionally, throughout the program, students get to team up and collaborate in groups to create and present an original business plan to a panel of business professionals and venture capitalists.
The program is available to students around the world with a demonstrated interest in business leadership. LBW admits around 160 students each summer and lasts for four weeks
|The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania||$7,500, with the possibility of financial aid||4 weeks|
The Bank of America Student Leaders Program is a paid internship for aspiring leaders at local nonprofits. The BOA-sponsored program is open to all seniors and juniors interested in enhancing their business and community leadership skills.
Since its launch in 2004, the program runs years and admit around 225 students chosen from around the country.
During the program, you serve out your internship at a local NGO, and then, you get to attend a one-week Student Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C, where you meet with Congress members and participate in skill-building workshops and projects.
|Local nonprofit + 1-week summit in Washington D.C||Free to join, with a paid internship||Undefined|
Economics for Leaders is a one-week program that aims to teach future leaders how to integrate Economics principles into the process of decision making adequately. The course focuses on adding the skill of proper economic analysis to the repertoire of the next generation of leaders.
For the program, students attend detailed economics lectures and leadership workshops, and then get to participate in experiential exercises. Economics for leaders is open to sophomores and juniors, and about 40 applicants get into the program at each of the program venues.
|Multiple campus locations around the country||$1,800, with the possibility of financial aid||one week|
The Young Women’s Institute is a program run by the Kelley School of Business in University in Bloomington, Indiana, that introduces young women to the world of business through lectures, workshops, and practical endeavors.
During the program, participants get to join workshops that feature top faculty members from the Kelley School of Business. Furthermore, the Young Women’s Institute gives participants access to current students and alumni. At the end of the four-day course, you also get the opportunity to prepare your own business case project.
The platform is open to applications from around the country from women that are rising seniors. However, to apply, students must have a minimum GPA of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale — furthermore, other factors like your application essays and extracurricular involvement factor into the selection process.
The program is entirely free to join, and participants only need to cover their transportation to the school and any personal expenses.
|Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana||Free||Ten days|
Best Journalism Summer Programs For High School Students
If you plan to get into a journalism major in college, apply for JCamp is a must. The program is unofficially the standard when it comes to pre-college summer programs for aspiring journalists.
At JCamp, participants get to experience lectures and hands-on instruction from active professional journalists from all spheres of journalism, including broadcasting, writing, and photography. Furthermore, with JCamp, you also get more practical experience with workshops and field trips, all under the watchful eyes of experienced experts.
In a bid to improve upon the shortage of racial diversity in the media, The JCamp program launched in 2001 and continues to fill that role. Hence, the platform emphasizes multiculturalism and has a varied member base to show for it.
JCamp is open to all sophomores, juniors, and first-year students around the country, however, the platform only accepts around 40 students each year from its hundreds of yearly applicants.
Once you get accepted into the program, however, you get to enjoy the perks. The program is free to join, and JCamp covers all your costs, including housing, meals, and airfare.
|Georgia Public Broadcasting, Atlanta, Georgia||Free, with a stipend to cover airfare, meals, and campus housing||Six days|
Another excellent program for aspiring journalists in highschool is the Cronkite Summer Journalism Institute. The host of the platform, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, aims to create a stepping board for interested students to get their first taste of how journalism works in the real world.
Throughout the two-week long program, participants get hands-on experience in various areas of the journalism process, from interviewing, reporting, and social media to shooting and production.
Furthermore, the Summer Journalism Institute gives participating students the opportunity to interact with professional journalists as well as Cronkite students, faculty, and staff, exposing them to a choice selection of industry participants.
In addition to the learning experience, Cronkite Summer Journalism Institute participants get to practice as well, producing their own original stories and student reports for the institute’s media platforms.
|Arizona State University, Tempe Phoenix, Arizona||Free, with free housing at the Downtown Phoenix campus||Two weeks|
The Princeton Summer Journalism Program is a free journalism headstart platform that offers current juniors the chance to acquaint themselves with the ins and outs of the journalism process.
Princeton University targets this program at students from low-income households, but with a drive to pursue journalism, that would not get this type of opportunity otherwise.
During the program, students attend lectures and workshops run by active journalists and faculty members, participate in tours to top news outlets, and conduct investigations and cover real events for their own newspaper, which they get to publish at the end of the 10-day program.
Furthermore, even after the program, the platform provides its alumni with extended support, giving them access to college counseling when they become seniors.
|Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey||Free||Ten days|
Best Creative Writing Summer Programs For High School Students
Kenyon College, a liberal arts college famous for its dedication to its tradition of literary study, offers a matching summer program for High School Students to help motivate and develop the intellectually curious.
If you are a high school student with eagerness to develop your creative writing and critical language abilities, you will fit right in at the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. During the program, participants take workshops to focus on specific genres, sit in on readings from visiting writers, and enjoy one-on-one conference sessions with their instructors.
Furthermore, one big positive to the program is that you get to immerse yourself in a dynamic, supportive environment with like-minded peers who challenge each other to stretch their talents and discover their strengths.
Students also gain access to an abundance of top tier literary works, and they get to create their own as well.
|Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio||$2,475, with the possibility of financial aid||Two weeks|
Aspiring writers get the chance to kickstart their foray into the writing life with the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio’s Summer Residential Program. For the program, student niche down into one of several writing fields: fiction writing, creative writing, or poetry, and focus on developing a base for the other creative skills they will need throughout their journey to become creators.
Furthermore, this summer program completely immerses the students into the writing process, giving them the chance to participate in writing exercises, offering them unrestricted access to teachers who provide constructive critiques on their work, and providing a chance to sit in on readings and literary events.
The Iowa Young Writers’ Studio’s Summer Residential Program runs for two weeks, and it is open to all students around the country who have completed their sophomore year of high school.
|The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa||$2,400, with the possibility of financial aid||Two weeks|
Best Foreign Language Summer Programs For High School Students
NSLI-Y is part of a US government initiative that aims to prepare Americans for better integration and to become leaders in today’s global world. The program offers its members the chance to pick up any of eight languages that have massive user bases around the world: Russian, Persian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Arabic, and Turkish.
The almost 2-month-long program flies participants to countries that speak their language of choice and integrates them into host families that introduce them to the style and their cultural activities. Furthermore, students get intensive instruction in their language of study, providing them with a reliable base on which they can build a further language learning beyond the program.
The US government fully funds NSLI-Y, and the program is available to interested students around the country.
|China, Morocco, Turkey, Russia, Taiwan, Latvia, Estonia, Moldova, Indonesia, Korea, Tajikistan, India, Indonesia, Jordan, and other locations around the world||Free||6-7 weeks|
One great way to spend your summer is picking up a new language, and the Middlebury Summer Language Academy offers the perfect avenue to get you started. With this program, members get a crash course in any of four languages—Spanish, Chinese, French, or Arabic.
Upon arrival, all participants of the program sign the language pledge that pledges members to only communicate in their language of choice to facilitate faster learning. Then, the students get to join classes in that language as well as participate in exploring the culture behind it.
The Middlebury Summer Language Academy includes both in-country options at their U.S. Immersion Academies, as well as study abroad options in Granada, Salamanca, Nantes, and Beijing.
The summer program is open to all high schoolers in 8th grade or higher, as well as graduated seniors.
|4 Languages (U.S. Academy): Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont and Saint Michael’s College, Colchester, Vermont||$6,595, with the possibility of financial aid||Four weeks|
|Spanish (Study Abroad with Homestay): Granada, Spain and Salmanca, Spain||$7,995, with the possibility of financial aid||Four weeks|
|French (Study Abroad): Nantes, France||$8,245, with the possibility of financial aid||Four weeks|
|Chinese (Study Abroad): Beijing, China||$7,995, with the possibility of financial aid||Four weeks|
Best Medical Summer Programs For High School Students
For high school students interested in pursuing a career in medical research, the summer research program at Stanford institute of Medicine offers one of the best avenues to prep for college in the country.
SIMR offers students the chance to receive one-on-one guidance and mentorship from practicing scientists and walks them through the medical research process with extensive exposure to the lab.
The program includes up to eight fields of research, and it is open to both juniors and seniors. However, SIMR has a strong preference for applicants that live in the Bay Area, as the program does not provide accommodation.
Admission into SIMR is quite competitive, and the program accepts around 50 students each year.
|Stanford University, Palo Alto, California||Free, with a stipend of $500 or higher||Eight weeks|