The Best Summer Programs in California for High School Students

Occupying a large portion of the American west coast, California is the most populous state in the United States, with a population of nearly 40 million people, according to the most recent data. 

The Golden State is home to the famous Napa Valley’s wines, many of Hollywood’s biggest stars, breathtaking redwood and sequoia forests, and Silicon Valley, a world center for the ever-expanding technology industry.  

The state is also home to a number of elite colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher education, such as Stanford, UCLA, UC Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology, and many more. 

Whether you are a California state resident or just looking to spend your summer months exploring all that the golden state has to offer, attending a pre-college program in the state of California could be a great way to prepare yourself to embark on your undergraduate education journey. 

Pre-college preparatory programs are one of the most innovative ways to spend your summers during high school. They offer you an advantage not just in navigating life as a college student, but also in strengthening your college applications and finishing high school with high grades.

Many summer programs for high school students also allow students to get a unique insight into a career they are thinking of pursuing, connecting them with real professionals in their desired field.  

Here, we have compiled a list of some of the best summer programs across the state of California for high school students. Read on to learn more about what makes these programs exceptional. 

USC Bovard Scholars Summer Residency (Los Angeles, CA)

University of Southern California
EEJCC, Waite Phillips Hall, University of Southern California, CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of Southern California’s Bovard Scholars summer residency program is a three-week-long, immersive college preparatory program with a rigorous curriculum. Admission to the program is highly competitive, with eligibility requirements including a minimum 4.0 weighted GPA.

The Bovard Scholars residency program is open to enrolled high school juniors who have taken algebra II, trigonometry, or higher-level math courses, as well as AP or IB classes if their school offers them. 

Since the program is offered at no cost, students are also required to have demonstrated financial need to ensure that spots are filled only by those who could not otherwise participate in such a program.  

With an impressive 3:1 student-to-staff ratio, Bovard Scholars are guaranteed to receive ample one-on-one guidance from program mentors and the school’s world-renowned faculty. 

UC Irvine High School Summer Institute of Law (Irvine, CA)

University of California - Irvine
AllyUnion, UC Irvine Reines Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of California at Irvine’s High School Summer Institute in Law is a week-long summer intensive program for high-achieving high school students who are interested in learning more about pursuing a career in law.  

Offered by the School of Law, the program is open to all rising juniors and seniors, meaning high school students who have completed at least their sophomore year. Students in this program have the opportunity to prepare for college and make their college applications stronger. 

Over the week, students learn the fundamentals of the American legal system, taking classes in significant areas of law, including First Amendment rights and crime and punishment. 

The curriculum also covers essential skills students need to succeed in college, such as public speaking, writing, negotiation, and analytical reasoning. 

Stanford Medical Youth Science Program (Stanford, CA)

Intended to serve low-income, underrepresented high school students in Northern and Central California, the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program is a pre-college prep program with a focus on medicine and science. 

There is no fee for taking part in this five-week program. The tuition-free nature of SMYSP is a part of the school’s effort to make such programs more accessible for first-generation and underrepresented students. 

Students who participate in this program are mentored by college students, Stanford faculty, and healthcare professionals, receiving valuable advice for preparing for college and navigating careers in the medical sciences. 

During the program, students attend lectures in public health, health science, and medicine given by Stanford faculty. Participants can also participate in professional development workshops intended to develop the skills they will need to succeed in careers in the medical field. 

Camp CHLA (Los Angeles, CA)

Camp CHLA is a program offered by the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, open to current high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors living in Los Angeles county. 

To participate in this program, students must have a teacher or school counselor submit a letter of recommendation to the camp on their behalf. 

During the five-day camp, participants observe and interact with healthcare professionals at work. Students also engage in hands-on skill labs using materials kits, which the camp sends to students ahead of time. 

Through this immersive experience, campers get to experience a day in the life working in a hospital setting, offering invaluable first-hand knowledge of what the career is like. 

There is no cost for attending Camp CHLA, thanks to funding from grants, generous donations, and the support of the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles staff.

UC Santa Cruz Summer Session (Santa Cruz, CA)

University of Santa Cruz Summer Session is open to high school students between 14 and 18 years old. Aiming to model a realistic college experience, the program provides both support and independence to students. 

During the summer session, high school students have the opportunity to live and attend classes on the beautiful UC Santa Cruz campus. They also gain access to the school’s libraries, fitness center, and other student resources UCSC offers.  

Students in this program not only receive 50% of their summer tuition, but also earn academic credit that can transfer to future schools. 

The Intern Project (Los Angeles, CA)

The Intern Project, or TIP, is a unique, paid summer internship program for high school students who live in Los Angeles county. During this intensive career program, students are paired with professionals, receiving mentorship while getting hands-on experience in the field. 

Internships through TIP are highly competitive, and spots are reserved for the most outstanding, high-need students.

TIP interns are generally high school sophomores, juniors, or seniors, with robust academic records and consistent attendance. 

TIP internships place students in various fields, including the arts, technology, business, engineering, government, sports, healthcare, and more. 

Before beginning the internship, applicants selected to participate in TIP will attend an on-site orientation. At orientation, students receive more information about the program, participate in professional development workshops, engage in networking activities, and more.

Internships are a minimum of four weeks long, but can last longer depending on the particular career placement. 

Cal Poly Engineering Possibilities in College (San Luis Obispo, CA)

Cal Poly SLO Dexter Lawn
Cal Poly SLO Dexter Lawn – Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Offered by the California Polytechnic State University, Engineering Possibilities in College, or EPIC, offers high school students the opportunity to explore the engineering field through a hands-on educational approach. 

The program aims to allow participants to connect, building a network of like-minded students with a passion for engineering. 

Throughout the program, EPIC students attend classes and participate in engineering labs led by university professors and professionals in the engineering industry. They also get the opportunity to invent, create, and test out an engineering project of their choice, using all the resources Cal Poly has to offer.

The registration fee for high school students who choose the residential program is $1,850. This fee covers the cost of attending all classes, social events, speaker series lectures, and guided tours of the Cal Poly College of Engineering.

California State Summer School for the Arts (Valencia, CA)

The California State Summer School for the Arts, or CSSSA, is a unique, four-week summer intensive program intended for California high school students with interest in pursuing a career in the arts and entertainment industry. 

Offered at the prestigious California Institute of the Arts, the program allows students to explore various areas within the entertainment industry. CSSSA provides pre-professional training in several different fields, such as animation, visual arts, writing, film, music, theater, and dance. 

During the program, students live on the CalArts campus, receive rigorous professional training from industry experts, and engage in a number of engaging educational activities. The student-to-teacher ratio for CSSSA is 9:1, allowing students to benefit from one-on-one attention and support in a high-paced, high-energy environment. 

The tuition fee for participating in CSSSA is $4,250, room and board included. Students who want to earn college credit for their participation in the program will have to pay an additional credit registration fee.

California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (San Diego, CA)

The California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science, or COSMOS, is an intensive four-week summer program for high school students who are considering pursuing careers in a STEM field. 

Initially offered at the University of California’s Irvine and Santa Cruz campuses in 2000, the program has since branched out to include UC Davis and San Diego location options.  

During this residential summer program, students are mentored by esteemed university professors, researchers, and scientists, exploring STEM topics at a level beyond what is generally covered at high schools. 

The program curriculum models a college experience, emphasizing a hands-on approach to STEM education. COSMOS students participate in a number of labs, making use of the university’s state-of-the-art facilities. 

The COSMOS program is open to rising eighth-graders through rising high school students. Although students who are not California state residents are welcome to apply, only a maximum of 20 out-of-state students are admitted to the program each year.

Pomona Academy for Youth Success (Claremont, CA)

The Pomona Academy for Youth Success, also known as PAYS, is an intensive, four-week residential summer program for rising sophomores through rising seniors. 

Each year, the PAYS program enrolls about 90 local high school students, providing support and preparation for the college admissions process.

The program is intended to serve students who are a part of groups that are traditionally underrepresented in higher education, such as first-generation students, students from low-income families, and students who belong to racial or ethnic minority groups.  

Over the four weeks of the summer session, PAYS participants attend math and critical inquiry classes taught by university faculty, as well as two elective courses taught by Pomona College students or alumni. 

Students also participate in many workshops, go on field trips, collaborate on research projects, and attend cultural events.  

There is no cost for participating in the PAYS program. Pomona College covers all student expenses, including housing, food, activities, and field trips. 

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