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Top Summer Programs for High School Students

Summer time presents high school students with a great opportunity to pursue their passions outside of the classroom and gain recognition at a national level for their hard work. Here are some of the best programs for high school students who may be looking to expand their extracurricular experience during the summer.

As we quickly approach 2022, many students and families are starting to consider what their summer plans may look like. And with many summer programs returning to in-person sessions and usual schedules, there are more opportunities for students to gain exposure to their desired career paths, improve their skills, and have new, exciting experiences during the break.

However, not all summer programs are created equal, and not every program is a good fit for every student. From pre-college programs on college campuses to study abroad experiences to academic and creative intensives, there are a lot of options to choose from — so how can you narrow down which summer programs are right for you?

The Pros and Cons of Summer Programs for High Schoolers

The overall reputation and value of summer programs for high schoolers vary widely based on subject, location, activities, and more, but overall, here are the pros and cons of the standard summer programs that are offered to high school students.


  • Summer programs can offer students incredible, life-changing experiences, from travel to friendship to discovering new abilities. These programs can help students discover their passions and expand their horizons in ways they couldn’t otherwise, or at least offer them a genuinely enjoyable experience.

  • Many programs, like the ones listed below, are considered prestigious and/or competitive and can give students a leg up in the college admissions process later down the line.

  • Competitions and awards during the summer can also lead to national and even international recognition.

  • Students can form connections that will lead to a letter of recommendation or mentorship.

  • Some programs offer certifications and college credit (although universities do not always accept credits earned in similar programs).


  • Summer programs often come with a high price tag, especially pre-college programs. While some do offer scholarships and financial aid, the price of most multi-week residential programs will be in the mid-thousands. These programs can sometimes appear as a pay-to-play experience on students’ resumes and college applications later down the line and be considered less prestigious as a result.

  • Intense summer programs that last several weeks, or even the whole summer, can leave students with little time to rest and recuperate for the upcoming school year.

  • And on that note, summer is usually a great time for students to study for standardized tests, create a project of their own in their communities, or get a summer job or internship. Long summer programs usually leave students with little time to invest in a meaningful project in their community.

  • Just because a program is offered by a top university does not mean that the program is as prestigious as the university. Oftentimes, pre-college programs are simply outsourced to third-party companies that use the resources on campus, such as EXPLO.

Here is a list of some of the most reputable, high-value programs for high school students, broken down by subject/main activity:

Academic Programs for High School Students

Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists (PROMYS)

PROMYS is a six-week summer program at Boston University designed to encourage strongly motivated high school students to explore in-depth the creative world of mathematics in a supportive community of peers, counselors, research mathematicians, and visiting scientists.

Telluride Association Summer Seminars (TASS)

The Telluride Association Summer Seminars (TASS) are six-week educational experiences for high school sophomores and juniors. They offer two programs:

  • TASS in Critical Black Studies

  • TASS in Anti-Oppressive Studies

Students may only apply to one program per year. Both programs are open to both sophomores and juniors. TASS will be hosted at Cornell University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Maryland in summer 2022. Participants in TASS will attend a college-level, discussion-based academic seminar, develop critical reading and writing skills, and explore the principles and practice of democratic community living. They cover all program costs for every student, including tuition, books, room and board, field trips, and facilities fees. Students may apply for additional financial aid for travel costs and to replace earnings from summer jobs.

Canada/USA Mathcamp

Canada/USA Mathcamp is an intensive 5-week-long summer program for mathematically talented high school students, designed to expose these students to the beauty of advanced mathematical ideas and to new ways of thinking. Students can explore undergraduate and even graduate-level topics while building problem-solving skills that will help them in any field they choose to study.

Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS)

Yale Young Global Scholars is an academic enrichment program for outstanding high school students from around the world. Each summer, students from over 150 countries (including all 50 U.S. states) participate in one interdisciplinary, two-week session online or at Yale’s historic campus. There are three sessions every summer that allows students to select classes in a wide variety of undergraduate-level disciplines.

If you’re looking for summer abroad opportunities for high schoolers, click here for more information.

Writing Programs for High School Students

Princeton Summer Journalism Program

The Princeton Summer Journalism Program (PSJP) is one of the only programs of its kind offering a free, innovative residential journalism and college prep institute for high achieving high school juniors from low-income backgrounds. Over ten days every summer, up to 40 students from across the country explore current events and world affairs through workshops and lectures led by Princeton professors, professional journalists, and alumni on campus. The summer program culminates in the publication of the Princeton Summer Journal, the student-produced newspaper. During their senior year, students are matched with a personal college adviser, who will work with them on their college admissions process.

Iowa Young Writers’ Studio’s Summer Residential Program

Students at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio’s Summer Residential Program spend two weeks living the writing life in Iowa City, Iowa, a mecca for creative writers. There are 2 two-week) sessions, one in June and one in July. If you’re accepted to the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio’s Summer Residential Program, you will choose a single Core Course of study—Poetry, Fiction, Creative Writing (a survey that includes poetry, fiction, and personal essay), TV Writing, or Playwriting—as your focus for the two weeks of the program.

Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference

Founded in 1994, the conference meets for two weeks each July, offering to high school students from all over the U.S. some of the resources brought to campus by the adult Sewanee Writers’ Conference. In small workshops devoted to poetry, fiction, playwriting, or creative nonfiction, serious young writers are able to polish their craft with the help of instructors who are themselves writers of significant accomplishment and to form friendships with like-minded peers. There are also lectures by members of Sewanee’s English Department and special appearances by such major writers as Horton Foote, Ernest Gaines, Jill McCorkle, Alice McDermott, Andrew Hudgins, and many others.

The workshops in playwriting, fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction are led by writers of significant accomplishment and promise. To ensure that each student has meaningful contact with the writers the students are required to read one book by each of these visiting writers before arriving.

Arts Programs for High School Students

Interlochen Arts Academy

Interlochen invites students grades 3-12 for once-in-a-lifetime arts education programs designed to hone their skills and nurture their humanity. Students choose one of the following disciplines during their summer session: Creative Writing, Dance, Film & New Media, Interdisciplinary Arts, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts.

Otis Summer of Art

This intensive, four-week, pre-college program is for individuals 15 and older who wish to study at one of the top art and design colleges in the country. Serious young artists seeking to strengthen and enhance their art and design skills, as well as students with limited art training, are invited to participate. Rigorous course work includes online demonstrations, lectures, and critique in your chosen Specialization Course (three days per week) and/or Drawing Studio Course (two days per week). Summer of Art courses are taught by award-winning instructors who are practicing professionals, many of whom teach in Otis College’s undergraduate and graduate programs.

Athletic Programs for High School Students

Summer Leader Experience: Cadet Life at West Point

The West Point Summer Leader Experience is a week-long immersion into the academic, military, and social life of a cadet. West Point is trusted to educate, train, and inspire its undergraduate students to become leaders and to make an impact on the world stage. You will explore West Point from all angles, including high-tech educational facilities, team-building athletic activities, and realistic military training.

You will get a taste of Cadet Life through the entire program, which is led by current West Point cadets. SLE will challenge you with military fitness competitions, and highlight the athletics programs offered at West Point. You will also have the choice to survey several academic classes from the West Point curriculum.

Research Opportunities for High School Students

Research Science Institute (RSI)

Each summer, 80 of the world’s most accomplished high school students gather at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for the Research Science Institute (RSI). RSI is the first cost-free to students, summer science & engineering program to combine on-campus course work in scientific theory with off-campus work in science and technology research.

Participants experience the entire research cycle from start to finish. They read the most current literature in their field, draft and execute a detailed research plan, and deliver conference-style oral and written reports on their findings.

RSI scholars first participate in a week of intensive STEM classes with accomplished professors. The heart of RSI is the five-week research internship where students conduct individual projects under the tutelage of mentors who are experienced scientists and researchers. During the final week of RSI, students prepare written and oral presentations on their research projects.

Research in Science & Engineering (RISE)

Students who are passionate about the sciences and currently in their junior year of high school are invited to apply for the Research in Science & Engineering (RISE) program at Boston University. Spend six weeks conducting university laboratory research with some of the nation’s brightest scientific minds while advancing your STEM knowledge and skills. RISE is open to both commuter and residential students and provides two research tracks: Internship and Practicum.

Internship students tackle research projects under the mentorship of distinguished faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students. They offer research opportunities in the following areas: astronomy, biology, biomedical engineering, chemistry, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, medical laboratory research, neuroscience, physics, psychology, and public health.

If you have an interest in learning about systems neuroscience, neurobiology, using the scientific method, and designing computational models of the brain, then the Practicum track is for you. You will attend intensive lectures in computational neurobiology and conduct group research projects under the guidance of a BU instructor. The lab experiments are designed to demonstrate procedures that are representative of neurobiology research focused on computational modeling of neural systems.

Political / Debate Programs for High School Students

Boys State / Boys Nation & Girls State / Girls Nation

Run by the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary, Boys State and Girls State, respectively, are participatory programs in which students become part of the operation of local, county, and state government, Boys State was founded in 1935 to counter the socialism-inspired Young Pioneer Camps. Participants learn the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of franchised citizens. The training is objective and centers on the structure of city, county, and state governments. Operated by students elected to various offices, activities include legislative sessions, court proceedings, law-enforcement presentations, assemblies, bands, choruses, and recreational programs.

Two representatives from each of the Girls States and Boys States, which are run by individual states, are selected to represent their state at Girls Nation and Boys Nation in Washington, D.C., where the young leaders receive an education on the structure and function of the federal government.

National Speech & Debate Association Competition

Since 1931, the National Speech and Debate Tournament has elevated public speaking. Every summer, more than 6,000 middle and high school students travel to the largest academic competition in the world to debate current events, voice their views, and share their stories. After months of preparation, rigorous qualifying tournaments, and five days of prestigious national competition, the best of the best will be crowned champions in front of a live audience of thousands and tens of thousands more streaming the events online.

Need help planning your summer activities? Our team of college admissions consultants is here to help.

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