Summer Programs for High School Students

best summer programs for high school students

Summer Programs for High School Students

Published January 26, 2021 | Last Updated April 29th, 2023 at 09:34 am

best summer programs for high school students

Summer programs for high school students offer opportunities ranging from local college classes to programs around the world.

As college admissions grow increasingly competitive, both in regards to who gets admitted and who gets merit aid, it is important for your child to find ways to set themselves apart.

Pre-college programs allow students time to explore their interests.

What Should Rising Seniors Do in the Summer?

For rising juniors or seniors who wish to explore a career field, an internship can be an attractive option.

Other students will opt to do community service, take classes at a community college, or explore other passions like athletics, art, or music. Pre-college programs can offer an opportunity to explore a field while getting a taste of what college life is like. 

What is a Pre-College Summer Program?

Pre-college programs are almost always held on a college campus.

They feature focused coursework, which does not always transfer for college credit, that explores a given field more deeply than students typically encounter in high school.

For example, programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) explore engineering, while those at Arizona State University’s (ASU) Cronkite School of Journalism explore the role of the media in the world.

Typically, these programs last from a week to a couple of months. For many students, the programs are the high point of their summer, as they get to interact with other highly motivated students from across the country in fields that they are passionate about.

Summer Programs for High School Students: What Are They Like? 

Summer programs are designed to be a preview of what students can expect college to be like.

However, pre-college programs are focused on high schoolers. 

Even though they will likely live in dorms, be assigned a roommate, be expected to navigate campus, and eat their meals in the dining hall, there will be significantly more support and supervision than students find in college. 

 What Kinds of Pre-College Programs Are There?

Pre-college programs exist for a variety of academic pursuits. Many renowned programs focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), because they are a rare opportunity for high school students to get exposure to professional lab equipment and research scientists. 

It is not only the STEM enthusiasts who have something to look forward to. There are also programs for budding writers, artists, archeologists, and historians. 

What Are the Best Summer Programs for High School Students?

Hundreds of colleges offer summer programs for high school students. While a number of programs do offer financial aid, that is not universal.

Some programs are free but it is up to you and your child to research if the financial aid offered by a given program is going to be sufficient.

When it comes to free programs, a few stand out:

  • The Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP) is focused on global citizenship. Travel is subsidized by TASP, making it one of the most competitive programs out there.
  • Boys State/Girls State is one of the oldest free summer programs for high school students. High schools send one male and one female student to their state capital to see how policy is formed. Particularly talented students are given an invitation to Boys Nation/Girls Nation, which is on a federal level.
  • The Research Science Institute offers a free summer program on the MIT campus to study STEM and conduct research projects and MIT’s Office of Engineering Outreach Programs (OEOP) offers free STEM programming and college application mentoring. 
  • The Bank of America Student Leaders Program gives students paid summer internships with nonprofits and invites them to participate in a national leadership summit. 

The majority of summer programs do have a fee associated with them. With these, it is important to be sure that the program fits your child’s interests as well as your family’s budget. 

Do Colleges Look at Summer Programs?

Colleges do look at summer programs when it comes to making admissions decisions. However, simply showing up to a summer program will not tip the scales in a student’s favor for that university.

Instead, think of summer programs as opportunities for students to demonstrate an interest in a given field of study. This is all the better if it is at the university where the student attended the summer program. 

For example, if your child attended the Cronkite School’s program for journalism, their activity description should reinforce their desire to study media.

This way, it is not exclusive to the university in question, but to any program where they are applying that has a journalism focus.

Many students can benefit from the opportunities offered by pre-college programs.

Used as a tool to focus on an academic interest, they will help a student stand out and provide tangible proof of a student’s desire and ability to succeed in a given field.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

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