The Best Ivy league Summer Programs for High School Students

Depending on how ambitious your personal goals for your higher education are, the college admission process can be extremely competitive. 

If your aim is to get into one of the top colleges in the country — many of which are known to have acceptance rates well under 10% — it is important that you do as much as you can to make your application stand out from others. 

In addition to earning strong grades during high school, it is essential to round out your application with various extracurriculars, from clubs to sports, jobs, and any other experiences that demonstrate the many ways you can contribute to your dream school’s campus community. 

Another excellent way to bolster your resume is to participate in an academic summer program at a highly-respected university. Being willing to dedicate a portion of your summer break to bettering yourself intellectually shows colleges that you are a dedicated, hard-working student.  

When it comes to institutions for higher education in the United States, Ivy League schools are just about as prestigious as it gets. 

There’s no doubt that attending a summer program at an Ivy League university may impress admissions officials at any college — especially if you are hoping to go to one of these eight elite institutions for your undergraduate studies. 

Here, we have compiled some information about 10 of the best summer programs for high school students offered by Ivy League universities. 

While we offer information on many specific programs, keep in mind that this is just a sampling of what the Ivy League offers for summer programs, and by going to each program’s website, you may find something more targeted to your interests if one of the 10 we discuss today does not suit you.

Read on to learn more about these stellar programs, from the cost of attendance to location, curriculum, and so much more.

UPenn Pre-College Residential Program in Biology (Philadelphia, PA)

Bestbudbrian, North facade of College Hall, Penn Campus, CC BY-SA 4.0

Established in 1740, University of Pennsylvania offers a handful of world-class summer programs for high school students. In addition to an online program with a quite similar curriculum, the UPenn College of Arts and Sciences offers an enriching Pre-College Residential Program

Students in the program have the opportunity not only to learn in an Ivy League environment, but also earn college credit while doing so. There are two different options for students taking the biology course. 

First, they can choose to take only Biology 101, for which they will receive 1.5 credits. Alternatively, students can take biology and another class in a different subject area, earning 2.5 credits. 

One of the strengths of taking Bio 101 at UPenn is that the course includes a rigorous lab component, with possible subjects covered being cell biology, molecular biology, and genetics.

Summer@Brown (Providence, RI)

Brown University
Kenneth C. Zirkel, Sidney Frank Hall for Life Sciences, Brown University, CC BY-SA 4.0

Established in 1764, Brown University has a long-standing reputation for offering world-class academic programs. 

Brown’s summer programs for high school students are no exception to the institution’s excellent reputation — especially in English. In fact, according to Niche, Brown University ranks #2 in the nation on their list of the best colleges for studying English.

Summer@Brown is a pre-college summer program that offers a course called Read, Think, Write: Approaching the College Essay

A two-week course that aims to prepare students for writing college application essays, the program covers topics such as close reading, critical thinking, and evaluating arguments. 

Of course, the class also offers in-depth study of the writing process, including pre-writing, grammar, and how to respond to arguments presented in texts critically. 

Over the course of the program, students will write one analytical essay and one personal essay, which can be used for applying to colleges.

Harvard Pre-College Summer School Program in Anthropology (Cambridge, MA)

Harvard University
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

According to Niche, Harvard University ranks first in the nation with regard to many different areas of study, making the school an excellent choice for students interested in any subject. 

The university is home to the Pre-College Summer School Program, which offers more than 30 different courses across a wide range of academic subject areas. 

One of Harvard’s most well-revered academic departments is the Department of Anthropology, which offers a summer school course called The Stuff of Life: Exploring the Human Experience in Museums, Libraries, and Archives.

During this course, students study historical artifacts from Harvard’s many libraries, museums, and archives, like the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Harvard Map Collection, and the Peabody Anthropology Museum.   

Through in-depth analysis of material objects, students in the program gain a deep, multidisciplinary understanding of concepts in many different fields, from history to culture, design, science, and more. 

Cornell Precollege Studies Program in ASL (Ithaca, NY)

Cornell University
Kenneth C. Zirkel, Baker Tower, Cornell University, CC BY-SA 4.0

As a part of their Precollege Studies department, Cornell University’s School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions offers a large number of undergraduate-level summer courses for students entering grades 10 through 12, as well as graduating seniors. 

One of the more unique courses offered is American Sign Language I, an introductory course intended for students who have little or no prior knowledge of ASL. The course is three weeks in duration, offered early in the summer.

Students in the ASL 1101 course at Cornell will develop a strong foundation in ASL vocabulary, grammar, and fingerspelling, as well as expressive, receptive, and other nonverbal aspects of communication. 

Beyond learning the fundamentals of communicating in ASL, students will also complete readings relating to the history of deaf culture and the development of ASL in the United States. 

Yale Summer Drama Program (New Haven, CT)

Yale University Courtyard
Helpfullguy99, Pauli Murray College Yale, CC BY-SA 4.0

The #3 undergraduate institution in the United States according to US News and World Report, Yale is home to the Yale Summer Session, an intensive, pre-collegiate summer program during which high-achieving high school students get the chance to learn from real professors.

Yale Summer Session has a Summer Drama Program for students interested in theater, which offers an acting course, the Yale Summer Conservatory for Actors. 

Throughout this five-week program, students develop a strong foundation in the basics of acting. The program’s curriculum aims to provide students with skills that will serve them in all future studies in theater, with a particular emphasis on the principles of Stanislavski. 

Topics include utilizing body language, analyzing text, articulating, storytelling, and more. 

Columbia Climate School in the Green Mountains (Castleton, VT)

Columbia University offers one of the most unique summer programs for high school students out there, the Columbia Climate School in the Green Mountains.

Open to students entering ninth grades through graduating seniors, the Climate School is a two-week intensive program that allows students who are passionate about environmental justice to engage in critical thinking regarding solutions regarding climate change. 

Taking place on campus at Vermont State University, students at Columbia’s Climate School study the most pressing climate issues of today, developing an understanding of how to advocate for the planet in various ways. 

The Climate School is taught by Columbia faculty, staff, and climate science researchers.

The program goes beyond the scientific understanding of climate change, encouraging students to consider the social, legal, and political factors that will impact the future of Earth.  

The James Madison Seminar on the Principles of American Politics at Princeton (Princeton, NJ)

Princeton University
Grantluther10, Graduate College cropped, CC BY-SA 4.0

According to the 2023 edition of US News and World Report’s annual list of best national universities, Princeton University is the #1 undergraduate institution in the country. 

Considering the school’s prestigious rank, it comes as little surprise that Princeton has a number of excellent pre-collegiate summer programs.

One of these is The James Madison Seminar on the Principles of American Politics. This highly rigorous, one-week-long summer seminar is open to upper-level high school students with a strong background in American history and politics. 

Through primary sources readings — including “The Federalist,” “Democracy in America,” and various other major texts — students in the program engage with essential questions underlying foundational principles of liberty, equality, and American political life as a whole. 

The seminar takes place off campus at the Chauncey Conference Center.

Dartmouth GenCyber Summer Program (Hanover, NH)

Dartmouth College Sanborn Library
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

The highly-esteemed Dartmouth College has been ranked the #1 college in New Hampshire in terms of computer science program offerings, also coming in #17 in the entire nation in this area of study. 

The Institute for Security, Technology and Society at Dartmouth College sponsors the GenCyber Summer Program, an intensive program in which students learn about up-to-date research relating to privacy and cybersecurity. 

The Gencyber Summer Program runs for five days, with students earning a certificate of completion after attending all days of the program. 

Intended for those who have a firm understanding of current events and issues in the world of technology, the program curriculum allows students who are interested in privacy and tech to engage with topics not generally covered by the typical high school curriculum.

Harvard Pre-College Summer School Program in (Cambridge, MA)

Another one of the fantastic courses that the Harvard Pre-College Summer School Program offers is a psychology class called Stereotypes and Attitudes: The Science of First Impressions

Taking place on the historic Harvard University campus, this course explores the positive and negative aspects of the commonly-held beliefs, ideas, and assumptions that are made about groups within society. 

Although it is formally a psychology course, the class takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the function and meaning of stereotypes from the lens of many different academic disciplines, such as philosophy and biology.

Meeting from noon to 3pm, the class covers critical thinking, textual analysis, and writing skills, with students reading philosophy texts and scientific studies, learning to map out arguments, giving presentations, and engaging in discussion regarding reading assignments.

Columbia Summer Immersion Course in Drawing (New York, NY)

One of the many immersive summer courses taking place on campus at Columbia University, Drawing: Eye and Idea is a beginner-friendly class on drawing offered through the college’s School of the Arts.

In addition to developing fundamental drawing skills, students in this course also learn about different ways of perceiving, understanding, and interpreting art. The class covers many different artistic mediums used in drawing, from pencil to paint, charcoal, digital art techniques, and more. 

Rather than simply offering technical training, the course allows students to develop an understanding of artistic observation, imagination, and personal style. 

Assignments teach students how to solve problems visually, emphasizing the importance of experimentation in the process of creating their drawings. 

Studio work includes nude figure drawing, outdoor sessions, and critique sessions. There are also multiple field trips to art galleries and museums.