The Best Summer Programs for High School Students

For some high schoolers, summer is a time to take a break from studies. 

After being stuck in a school building reading books and doing problems, they just want to have a few months of nothing, spending their days lazing in the sun or sitting in front of the television.

But other high schoolers have much more ambitious plans for their summers. They want to not only break from the day-to-day life of high school, but to explore their passions and prepare for their future careers.

Colleges across the country offer intensive summer programs for these high-performing high schoolers. In these programs, students take real college classes with university faculty. 

They work alongside other top-level students and college students, forming connections that will serve them well on the job market. In some cases, they even get to live on campus to get a real taste of dorm life.

Offerings of summer courses run a wide range of interests and possibilities. In fact, few college summer programs are general, often focusing on a specific field or ability.

For the best results, then, students should look for a program that coincides with their planned major. 

With some careful planning, these programs can give students not only insight into college life, but also a head start on their careers, developing the skills and knowledge they’ll take into college.

Not a bad way to spend a summer

Cornell University Summer Residential Program (Ithaca, NY)

Cornell University
Dantes De MonteCristo, Cornell+University, CC BY-SA 4.0

An Ivy League education is the dream of high school students from around the world. 

Thanks to the Cornell University Summer Residential Program, high schoolers can get a taste of the Ivy League life even before graduation.

Cornell offers three or six-week undergraduate classes available to high schoolers. These are real courses for which they’ll receive college credit that can be transferred to other institutions. Subjects range from architecture and business to social sciences and hospitality.

Students attend these courses on campus, getting to sit in Cornell’s historic halls and classrooms. Even better, they get to live on campus, interacting with Ivy League students and forming essential connections.

Even better, Cornell’s summer program prepares students for college admissions. They’ll learn how to craft a robust application, complete with essay prep. 

They’ll also make connections for solid letters of recommendation, sure to make an impression on any admissions committee.

Princeton University Summer Journalism Program (Princeton, NJ)

Princeton University Nassau Hall
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Few careers are as intriguing or vital as journalism. The backbone of American democracy, journalists uncover the truth and reveal it to an informed public.

But as necessary as it is, journalism is also one of the more misunderstood fields. For that reason, Princeton University offers a Summer Journalism Program.

One of the country’s only journalism-focused summer programs, the PSJP provides free training to exceptional high school juniors from low-income backgrounds. 

The ten-day program brings together 40 students from around the country and connects them with Princeton faculty and students.

Participants attend workshops and receive mentoring from professionals with real-world experience. Even better, they help create the Princeton Summer Journal, a student-produced newspaper.

Through the summer program, students become empowered to find their voice and engage in real issues. They not only learn about the demands of journalism school but also the possibilities in this vital field.

Berklee College of Music Aspire: Five-Week Music Performance Intensive (Boston, MA)

Berklee College of Music
John Phelan, Berklee College of Music, Boston MA, CC BY 3.0

Home to one of the world’s most respected music programs, the Berklee College of Music is renowned for training world-class musicians and performers. 

Exceptional high school students have the opportunity to follow in those footsteps with the Aspire Five-Week Music Performance Intensive.

Through Aspire, students work one on one with a member of Berklee’s famous faculty. Through individual lessons and full-band jam sessions, students live the life of a professional musician and music school student, all while receiving college credit.

Furthermore, Aspire gives students access to advanced courses, covering issues such as the music business and music therapy. 

Through this experience, students learn all the possibilities offered by the field, letting them see just what they can do with their talent.

Texas Tech University Anson L. Clark Scholars Program (Lubbock, TX)

Texas Tech University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

For those less interested in a specific field and simply want to know what college is like, there’s the Anson L.. Clark Scholars Program at TexasTech University.

Designed for Honors Students of the highest caliber, the Clark Scholars Program is a seven-week college intensive. 

During those seven weeks, students will spend all of their time on Texas Tech’s Lubbock campus. They will take classes with real professors and sleep in dorms with other participants. 

Field trips will take students to museums and labs on campus and will allow students to participate in spirit activities, including games and concerts.

Students earn not only college credit but also a $750 stipend and a $500 meal card.

An undeniably enticing offer, the Clark Scholars Program is highly selective, offered only to twelve of the best high school seniors and juniors.

University of Notre Dame Leadership Seminars (Notre Dame, IN)

University of Notre Dame
Wisdommak, University of Notre Dame Main Building, CC BY-SA 3.0

A competitive ten-day program, the Leadership Seminars at the University of Notre Dame bring the best of the school’s storied history to high school students.

Accepted students get to join 120 of their peers to gain college credit and live the life of a Notre Dame student. In addition to attending classes and interacting with Notre Dame faculty, students also get to stay on campus in the dorms, living alongside current Fighting Irish students.

Even better, accepted students have their tuition and food paid for by the University, meaning they get a full college experience for absolutely free.

Unsurprisingly, such a first-class package is hard to get. The application process is rigorous and must be completed by October 18th of the preceding year.

But for those who get in, the Notre Dame Leadership Seminars are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from a historic institution before high school graduation.

NYU High School Summer Art Intensive (New York, NY)

New York University is renowned the world over for its training in the Arts. Some of the greatest filmmakers, painters, and fashion designers have walked the school’s hallowed halls, going on to change the way we look at the world.

For the most talented and adventurous high school students, NYU offers a summer arts intensive. 

The program brings accepted students from all over the world to New York City, where they stay on NYU’s campus and work with great teachers and students.

Although it is designed for students with a particular artistic skill or interest, the program provides an introduction to college life. Participants take classes in a variety of subjects and gain the necessary study skills for future success.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t get to involve themselves in the arts. Participants take regular tours of studios and museums, immersing themselves in NYU’s famous artist life.

Iowa Young Writer’s Studio (Iowa City, IA)

Public domain photo by SilverWolf via Wikimedia Commons

The University of Iowa’s writing program is so influential that the “Iowa School” is shorthand to describe some of the most influential authors in American literature. 

Writers such as John Cheever and John Irving honed their unique voices at Iowa, going on to delight readers around the world.

High schoolers get a chance to blaze their own literary paths through the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio

Whether they’re interested in prose or poetry, drama or tv/film, writers from across the country come to Iowa’s campus for an intensive two-week experience. 

Participants not only learn from experienced mentors, but they get the opportunity to workshop their latest projects with other students.

Through the Iowa Young Writers Studio, high schoolers take their first steps toward continuing a literary tradition.

Yale Young Global Scholars (New Haven, CT)

Yale University
Ragesoss, Berkeley College (South) at Yale, CC BY-SA 4.0

By nearly every metric, Yale University is one of the best schools in the world. For the best high schoolers in the world, Yale offers a chance to take full advantage of the Ivy League institution’s resources.

With three online sessions offered each summer, the Yale Young Global Scholars program brings together some of the greatest minds in the world, connecting them with each other and with Yale faculty.

Participants in the YYGS come from over 150 countries, letting them join a two-week interdisciplinary program. 

Together, students not only get a taste of life in an elite Ivy League program, but also the process of collaboration in a global learning environment.

Johns Hopkins University Engineering Innovation (Baltimore, MD)

A leader in STEM fields of every stripe, Johns Hopkins University prides itself in anticipating the future and solving problems that we haven’t even considered yet. 

To that end, the Engineering Innovation program brings in the next generation of engineers and lets them apply their imagination and passions to Johns Hopkins’s state-of-the-art resources.

The in-person Explore Innovations program puts participants in classes of 12 or fewer students, paring them with JHU faculty and letting them address engineering challenges. 

Working alongside their equally talented peers, Explore Innovations students can take advantage of JHUs labs and science centers.

For those who cannot come to Baltimore, JHU offers two online engineering tracks. These courses are taught through the latest distance learning techniques, bringing students from around the world into conversation with JHU faculty.

Whatever choice is best for you, the JHU Engineering Innovation program will surely empower high schoolers to put their minds to real use.

Stanford Summer Session (Stanford, CA)

Stanford University
Another Believer, Stanford University (2018) – 09, CC BY-SA 4.0

Like many of the other programs on this list, the Stanford Summer Sessions serve as introductory programs for high school students, letting them see what it’s like to attend a top-ranking school.

But Stanford goes one step further, offering a wide range of subjects to study, letting participants follow their passions.

For example, in the Drawing Outside class, students spend eight weeks working with a Stanford art professor on critical techniques. 

Looking at subjects on and off-campus, the class teaches students the fundamentals of design and shading, as well as advanced techniques.

In Understanding Energy Essentials, students learn the political and scientific challenges of renewed energy. Course work involves lectures and in-class projects, as well as real-world experimentation.

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