There is certainly no shortage of elite summer programs for students interested in learning more about the sciences.
Many of these programs seek to pair eager students with experienced faculty and researchers in real-world laboratory contexts where they investigate a research question of their selection.
The ultimate benefit? Emerging from such an experience with stronger scientific literacy and a desire to pursue a career in the sciences.
We’ve compiled a list of ten of the best science summer programs and camps for high school students in the United States.
From one-week immersions with a fun, leisurely tone to six-week intensives that resemble a rigorous internship, there is something for budding scientists of all levels of interest and ability.
Interested in genetic engineering? Biochemistry? Astrophysics? We’ve got those programs covered, along with tuition information and eligibility requirements.
Read ahead to learn which program is best suited for your particular passion.
Research Science Institute at MIT (Cambridge, MA)
Duration: 6 weeks
Eligibility: Rising high school seniors
One of the most competitive programs on this list, the RSI accepts 80 of the world’s best high school students to participate in a one-week STEM orientation and five-week research internship experience guided by a group of acclaimed faculty and scientist mentors.
During this time, participants go through the research process from start to finish – they develop research questions, review existing literature, use various methods to conduct a study, analyze their findings, and present both oral and written presentations on those discoveries.
Past reports have investigated topics like the efficacy of taxoid nanoemulsions against mouse pancreatic cancer and a network-based miRNA-disease model for enhancing drug discovery.
MIT recommends that applicants score a minimum of 740 and 700 on the Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections of the PSAT (respectively), or a minimum of 33 and 34 on the math and verbal sections of the ACT (respectively).
The most competitive applicants will demonstrate excellent achievement in science, language, and mathematics, and many will have participated in large-scale competitions or other laboratory-based fieldwork.
Emory University Pre-College Program (Atlanta, GA)
Duration: 2-6 weeks
Eligibility: Rising high school juniors and seniors
At the Emory Pre-College Program (PCP), participants can enroll in six-week credit-based or two-week noncredit courses offered in person or online.
Courses require a weekly time commitment of approximately 15-20 hours, and online courses stipulate both synchronous and asynchronous assignments.
Approximately 400 students are accepted into Emory’s PCP on an annual basis, and 90% of them enroll in two-week courses that take place on campus.
While the PCP offers courses from a range of disciplines, there are 10+ courses devoted to science-specific topics.
Students can select from an array of introductory courses in topics like computer science, environmental science, or scientific methods.
Additional courses focus on a sub-topic within the realm of biology, chemistry, or physics.
For example, a course called Curiosities of Neurology and Neuroscience guides students in exploring clinical cases that reveal some aspect of damage to the human brain.
Students will examine rare disorders and exceptionalities like synesthesia, savant syndrome, and photographic memory.
In a course called Genetics and Biotechnology, students will learn how biotechnology innovations are used to treat specific genetic disorders.
Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program (Stanford, CA)
Duration: 8 weeks
Eligibility: Rising high school juniors and seniors
At SIMR, nearly 50 students engage in research projects under the tutelage of a Stanford mentor. Participants apply to one of eight institutes, including Bioengineering, Immunology, or Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine.
Once a student ranks their preference of institutes on their application, they will repeat the process for the list of faculty hosting space in their laboratories and the options of available research projects.
Alternatively, they can participate in a bioengineering boot camp – the difference is that the latter option does not include a laboratory component.
With this option, students attend lectures for three days each week and collaborate in groups of 4-5 on a biodesign project that seeks to address a medical issue. After the experience, the research teams present their findings in a poster session.
Applicants should be aware that SIMR gives priority status to local/Bay Area students due to various grant stipulations.
Those accepted to this prestigious program should anticipate spending at least 40 hours a week on campus from Monday to Friday, with the majority of time spent conducting research in a laboratory setting.
NIH Summer Internship Program in Biomedical Research (Bethesda, MD, and other locations)
Duration: 6-8 weeks
Eligibility: Rising high school seniors or college freshmen (at least 17 years of age)
The NIH offers three options for candidates to choose from: the High School Summer Internship Program (HS-SIP), the HiSTEP, and HiSTEP 2.0.
The HS-SIP is a very competitive program where students participate in research projects and laboratories at the Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center in Bethesda, MD, which is specifically dedicated to biomedical research.
The NIH Summer Internship Program offers opportunities in North Carolina, Montana, Massachusetts, Arizona, and Michigan, though space is more limited.
HiSTEP does not include a laboratory component and is less hands-on; in this program, students gain an introduction to professional and science-related skills via STEM exploration, leadership training, and wellness programming.
The goal of this program is to equip participants with the resources to help them navigate the college application process and secure scholarship funds.
Applicants should have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and attend a high school in the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area, where at least 30% of the student population is eligible for free/reduced lunch.
HiSTEP 2.0 is reserved for rising college first-year students with little research experience. Students are matched with an NIH investigator and conduct full-time research over several weeks.
Additionally, students attend workshops aimed at helping them develop professional skills like assertive communication and combatting imposter syndrome. The program culminates in a poster day where students present their research to the NIH community.
The Summer Science Program (West Lafayette, IN and other locations)
Duration: 7.5 weeks
Eligibility: Rising high school juniors and seniors who have completed the prerequisites
Tuition: $6,950 (reduced to $3,950 if taken online)
The Summer Science Program (SSP) is one of the nation’s longest-running residential pre-college programs. It accepts 36 participants and organizes them into teams of three students and seven faculty before they take on a live research project.
At the SSP, participants “do science” every day!
They attend class and laboratory sessions six days per week, as well as guest lectures, field trips, and special events.
Each small group is responsible for gathering and examining data related to their research questions and hypotheses, as well as sharing their findings.
What’s particularly unique about this nonprofit program is that it grants voting status to participants for life upon completion.
This means that they join over 2,500 alumni and faculty members in steering and fulfilling the SSP’s mission.
Donations from alumni ultimately enable the SSP to guarantee need-blind admissions and financial aid packages to every admitted applicant.
Needless to say, the application process is competitive – not quite 10% of applicants are admitted, and those who are can demonstrate exceptional performance in science and math.
Specific prerequisites must also be met, depending on the program. Typically, they include successfully completing classes like calculus, physics, biology, and chemistry.
Anson L. Clark Scholars Program at Texas Tech (Lubbock, TX)
Duration: 6.5 weeks
Eligibility: Rising high school juniors or seniors (at least 17 years of age)
Students from all over the United States and the world apply to participate in the Clark Scholars program.
Working in a research setting, students focus on issues in animal and food sciences, physics and biophysics, geosciences, and other science-related topics.
Working one-on-one with an accomplished faculty cohort, students also participate in weekly lectures, field excursions, and fun enrichment activities.
The Clark Scholars Program is highly competitive. Only 12 participants were invited in 2019, and their average SAT score was in the 99th percentile.
Once they arrive at Texas Tech, they commence working with engineers and other professionals to further their research and participate in service-learning opportunities.
Additionally, they receive assistance in locating internships related to their interests.
The mentorships that come from working with highly acclaimed professors and scientists are an invaluable part of the program, and those who complete the Clark Scholars Program often use their research experience to develop career-related goals.
Research Apprenticeship in Biological Studies at Cornell (Ithaca, NY)
Duration: 7 weeks
Eligibility: Students must be at least 16-17 years of age
The Research Apprenticeship in Biological Studies (RABS) grants access to state-of-the-art laboratory settings to a limited number of highly motivated, biomedical research-focused students.
Students attend medical seminars, refine their research skills, and familiarize themselves with lab protocols and equipment alongside Cornell faculty.
The RABS experience seeks to introduce students to research scientists’ real-life daily work experiences.
The schedule at RABS is fast-paced – students are essentially compacting an entire semester of coursework into less than two months.
To participate, applicants will need to have completed AP Biology and scored a four or five on the coinciding exam – this is because the program necessitates a firm understanding of cellular biology.
Applicants should share a letter of recommendation from their AP Biology instructor and another teacher or guidance counselor, along with their transcripts, grade reports, standardized test scores, application fee, online application, and three personal statements.
Research in the Biological Sciences at the University of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
Duration: 4 weeks
Eligibility: Rising high school juniors and seniors
In the Research in the Biological Sciences (RIBS) program, participants get a real taste of life as a researcher.
They use a project-based learning approach to study lab techniques and apply molecular biology practices in a lab setting.
In addition to lab work, students attend lectures and even give presentations to their peers and faculty mentors.
Those who complete the program should emerge with the confidence to pursue a career in a laboratory setting.
RIBS focuses exclusively on molecular and cellular biology – what’s going on inside the body at a microscopic level. Students will examine how different proteins interact to cause specific immune responses or how various immune cells can identify foreign substances.
RIBS is considered the most rigorous of all the pre-college programs offered in biology at the University of Chicago.
Applicants should have earned their high school biology credit and provide evidence of outstanding performance in high school math, chemistry, and biology – ideally at the honors or advanced level.
It should be noted that students who have already participated in a substantial amount of laboratory work outside of their high school classes might find the RIBS experience redundant and would be best suited to apply to other programs.
Clemson Summer Scholars Program (Clemson, SC)
Duration: 1 week
Eligibility: Rising 7th to 12th graders
While Clemson’s SSP offerings are limited to one week, the experience is just as hands-on and engaging as other options on this list.
In the morning, students immerse themselves in a selected field taught by highly knowledgeable and experienced Clemson faculty members.
During the afternoons, they might meet with admissions officers and other campus representatives to learn more about the college experience.
Unlike other programs that extend learning opportunities into the evening, Clemson encourages participants to try some of the activities that their students love, such as swimming, bowling, and participating in cookouts.
The roster of available courses changes from year to year. Most recently, some of Clemson’s most intriguing courses include Engineering Design, Human Oncology and Pathogenesis, CSI, and Genetic Horizons: Mutations Happen.
In CSI (Crime Scene Investigation), students transform into forensic scientists. They learn how to perform DNA fingerprinting, hair and blood analysis, and facial reconstruction to identify deceased victims from a crime scene.
Student Science Training Program at the University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)
Duration: 6 weeks
Eligibility: Rising high school seniors (at least 16 years of age)
The University of Florida’s Student Science Training Program (SSTP) is an excellent option for high school students interested in discovering if a STEM career is right for them.
This rigorous, quick-moving program engages students in at least 30 hours per week of research alongside a faculty mentor.
Students also attend workshops geared to help them develop leadership, organization, and interpersonal skills in a professional setting.
The three key pieces of the SSTP are lab research, a science-focused lecture series, and participation in a UF Honors Program seminar.
Throughout the SSTP, students engage in small group discussions with advisors and peers, submit weekly lab reports, draft a scientific research paper, present a research poster based on their findings, and deliver two oral presentations.
Students receive constant feedback from counselors and instructors.
On the weekends, participants might embark on service learning opportunities, field excursions, and other social events.