The Best Summer Programs in Chicago for High School Students

Chicago, Illinois, is home to so many exciting summer programs for high school students that the city deserved its own list! 

Unsurprisingly, many of these opportunities are linked to area colleges and universities like U of Chicago, Loyola University, and nearby Northwestern University. 

A city recognized for its artistic contributions, many of Chicago’s summer programs for high school students seek to expose participants to various artistic mediums, museums, and methods. 

STEM is another popular focus area, as more and more students are choosing to pursue a career in related fields. 

Some of the most exciting summer programs for high school students in Chicago center on creation. 

Whether building a giant dinosaur replica, originating an idea for a new business, or designing a three-dimensional video game in a short period of time, the programs featured in this list demand equal parts passion and problem-solving.

We have compiled a list of 10 of Chicago’s best summer programs for high school students. While some offer college credit upon completion, others afford research stipends and even expedited admission to a Chicago university. 

See if any of these riveting programs can help you achieve clarity about your ultimate college and career goals.

University of Chicago Stones & Bones (Chicago, IL)

University of Chicago
Nicomachian, Harper Quadrangle, CC BY-SA 4.0

We promise there will be no broken bones in this enthralling paleontological program! High school students enrolled in Stones & Bones participate in a four-week behind-the-sciences investigation at the Field Museum, where they learn all about how fossils are carefully collected, examined, and preserved. 

In addition to ample hands-on experience, students practice identifying freshwater species based on their skeletal configurations, illustrate fossils, and learn valuable mapping skills. 

The Field Museum is home to massive collections of dinosaur, bird, fish, and early mammal fossils – a treasure trove for aspiring paleontologists!

Rising high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors will have ideally completed coursework in biology or geology with grades of B or above by the start of the program, which runs for 3.5 weeks and requires a two-day orientation.

Saper Law Immersion Program (Chicago, IL)

Recently developed in 2013 by the principal attorney at Saper Law Offices, the Saper Law Immersion Program is a week-long camp designed to expose high school (and college) students to the legal world.

The curriculum is designed and taught by practicing attorneys eager to engage students in mock trials, challenge them to think critically about landmark case studies, and accompany them on field trips to courtrooms and associated buildings in the Chicago area.

Guest speakers are a fixture of the program and have included the former lieutenant governor of Illinois, in-house counsel representing United Airlines, and even lawyers advising the Jerry Springer Show! 

Space is limited to 20 students per cohort, as the intention of the program is to devote individualized attention to the most passionate students. Tuition is $500, and need-based financial aid is available.

DePaul University Game, Cinema, and Animation Summer Academy (Chicago, IL)

DePaul University
Just, On the Lincoln Park Campus of DePaul University in Chicago, CC0 1.0

Returning to face-to-face mode, the Game, Cinema, and Animation Summer Academy is a four-day experience open to high school students who have completed their ninth-grade year. 

Students can pursue one of five available tracks, though cohorts frequently intermingle to work on exciting interdisciplinary projects.  

In the game development series, students design a 3D video game using an online game development platform while collaborating with students in the animation track. 

Film and TV production participants collaborate to produce, shoot, and edit short films. 

A screenwriting track prompts students to attend to character development, complex story structures, and visual storytelling. 

It costs $750 to attend the Summer Academy, which includes expenses like food, equipment, and software. 

Participants are responsible for their own housing, and limited scholarship funds are available for those with demonstrated financial need.

Medill Cherubs Northwestern Journalism Institute (Evanston, IL)

84 rising high school seniors from around the nation and world gather at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism to get a taste of the rigor inherent in a college journalism course of study. You’re correct if you imagine this program to be competitive, as Northwestern boasts one of the best-ranked journalism schools in the country. 

Students can expect to earn a holistic education in digital, print, TV, and radio journalism. Emphasis is heavy on asking the right questions, building community connections, and fact-checking data. Each student is paired with a faculty mentor who is committed to providing constructive criticism for their various writing assignments.

Participants may go on to become some of the most respected journalists of their generation. 

Recognizable alumni include White House correspondent and co-anchor of “Weekend Today” Peter Alexander, co-founder of Melissa Bell, and Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Matt Murray, among many other trusted names.

Wheaton College Summer Institute (Wheaton, IL)

Wheaton College Illinois
Christoffer Lukas Müller, Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, CC BY-SA 3.0

High school students seeking an academic and spiritual Christian experience may want to learn more about the Wheaton College Summer Institute. 

This two-week-long college-bearing residential summer program aims to prepare students for the transition to college and provide them with opportunities to deepen their faith.

Sophomores, juniors, and seniors are eligible to apply. 

Those who complete the program will receive a $500 scholarship to Wheaton College (pending acceptance), renewable for up to four years. They can waive the application fee and enjoy an expedited application process.

There are 38 courses to choose from, including “Just Economics,” an investigation into the goal of a robust society.

Students explore questions like how to allocate a limited number of available vaccines, how to choose the college that fits best for them, and who gets to decide who resides within a country’s borders.

Academy of Art University Pre-College Art Experience Program (Chicago, IL)

There’s no other opportunity like this one on the list of Chicago’s best summer programs for high school students – for every (free) art or design course that admitted students pass, they earn $1,000 toward undergraduate tuition at The Academy of Art University! 

That means that students can earn up to $4,000 to apply to their first semester, possibly easing the financial burden on them and their families.

All coursework is graded on a pass/fail basis, and participants are unlimited in the types of art courses in which they can enroll. 

In “Alternative Comics and Graphic Novels,” students practice utilizing research methods to develop thematic portfolio artifacts using various illustrative techniques. 

A class entitled “Art and Street Culture” engages students in a collaborative mural project within the Chicago community and prompts them to investigate works by modern street artists like Banksy and Shephard Fairey.

PCAE is one of the few Chicago summer programs offered throughout the entire year, and the experience is entirely online. While tuition is free, students will be expected to pay for housing and fees.

SAIC Early College Program Summer Institute (Chicago, IL)

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the country’s top-ranked art schools. Its Early College Program Summer Institute (ECPSI) grants one college credit per week-long session to eligible high school students for up to four weeks. 

By the end of the ECPSI, participants will have created a highly competitive portfolio, which they can use as a supplement for various art college applications. 

Many program graduates receive impressive scholarships to SAIC’s own degree programs.

An interdisciplinary approach promotes student exploration in a variety of mediums. 

One day, students might be working with 3D printers and laser cutters, while 24 hours later, they might be stretching canvases, filming a TV episode scene, or perfecting studio lighting. Small class sizes of 12-18 students ensure individualized attention.

iD Tech Java Coding for Game Development at GEMS World Academy (Chicago, IL)

One of the longest-running summer programs for high school students in the Chicago area, GEMS World Academy operates stimulating summer camps in robotics, coding, and video game development. 

Instructors hail from elite institutions like Stanford and New York University in a massive 322,000+ square foot tech playground equipped with a library, robotics laboratory, gymnasium, and rooftop playground.

The Java Coding for Game Development course is one week long and open to students ages 13-17. Whether beginner or advanced in experience, all can participate. 

From learning coding languages like Java and constructing basic arcade-style games, students frequently lose themselves in the exciting, hands-on content of the GEMS curriculum.

An impressive 97% of iD Tech alums attend a four-year college or university, while nine out of ten major in a STEM subject and nine of ten report iD Tech’s significant impact on their enduring career goals.

The University of Chicago RIBS (Chicago, IL)

While we regret to inform you that while this summer experience does not include a barbecue tasting menu, the RIBS at the University of Chicago – Research in the Biological Sciences program, that is – is sure to satisfy your brain’s appetite for knowledge!

Open to rising juniors and seniors with prerequisite coursework in biology, chemistry, and math and a strong love of science come from all over the nation to participate in this four-week intensive. 

Participants spend most of their time conducting research in a laboratory setting, which requires them to practice techniques like micro-pipetting, cell culturing, and fluorescence microscopy.

Heavy emphasis on writing is a core component of the program, which culminates in a research forum

Here, each student presents the findings of their independent research endeavors, which can focus on topics as specific as the effects of actin-inhibiting drugs on wound healing in Clytia hemisphaerica jellyfish.

Loyola University PreCollege Summer Scholars (Chicago, IL)

Let’s get down to business…or leadership, or health and wellness, or STEM, or all of the above! 

Loyola University’s PreCollege Summer Scholars program encourages students to immerse themselves in one-week deep-dives into potential career tracks. 

In the Pre-Health and Wellness track, for example, students go on field trips to see professionals performing surgeries, consulting with patients, and using the most up-to-date medical equipment and devices. 

Alternatively, the Psychology track introduces participants to various psychological principles and psychotherapeutic approaches, which can effectively treat many mental health conditions.

Courses meet for five hours daily during the work week and typically are at most 15 students

A lunch break between morning and afternoon classes allows students to socialize and plan field trip outings into the Chicago metro area.

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