The Best Summer Programs in Pennsylvania for High School Students

Whether just beginning high school or about to graduate, many students will jump at the opportunity to explore their interests or start earning college credit through summer courses and camps while they are still in high school. 

Many universities across Pennsylvania offer residential or day camps and courses designed for eager young minds who are still in high school.

These programs allow students to learn about exciting topics and experience a taste of college life before committing to a particular university or major. 

Camps and courses offered over the summer explore topics such as business, engineering, medicine, and the arts while allowing students to make friends with like-minded peers.

While the temptation spend summer days idly relaxing and hanging out with friends will be strong for many high school students, those who choose to choose to spend their time in a camp or program like those offered by Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania will stand out from their peers when it comes time to apply to college.

There are many options available to high school students in Pennsylvania, and it can be challenging for students to choose which is the best. 

To aid these students in making the decision, we have put together the following list of several of the best summer programs for high school students in Pennsylvania.

University of Pennsylvania Experimental Physics Research Academy

University of Pennsylvania
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Pennsylvania students interested in science will find attending the Experimental Physics Research Academy an exciting opportunity to learn about quantum dynamics, astrophysics, mechanics, and electromagnetism at one of the country’s oldest institutions of higher learning. 

The residential program lasts three weeks and is open to students currently in the 9th, 10th, or 11th grades.

Students will learn through a mix of classroom lectures and discussions along with laboratory exercises and attending research talks from faculty at the University of Pennsylvania.

The program seeks to move past rote memorization of facts and formulas and aid students in developing an intuitive understanding of physics. 

Along with topics specific to physics, students will explore concepts in the philosophy of science, ethics, experimental design, and educational paths.

Global Culture and Media Academy

For students interested in other cultures and foreign languages, the University of Pennsylvania’s Global Culture and Media Academy provides those currently in the 10th or 11th grades the opportunity to learn over the course of three weeks. 

The residential program allows students to learn about communication and the nature of a globalized world.

Students will benefit from guest lectures from University of Pennsylvania faculty and leaders from the Philadelphia area as they learn about language, culture, and business. 

Experiential learning activities will encourage reflection and the development of sensitive and appropriate communication skills.

Students from Philadelphia area public schools may qualify for a Penn Summer Scholarship.

Neuroscience Research Academy

Offering students interested in the brain and medicine an excellent opportunity to learn about the subjects while still in high school, the University of Pennsylvania’s Neuroscience Research Academy is a residential program available to students currently in the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades.

Students in the academy will learn about the brain from the level of individual neurons all the way up to major cognitive processes like memory and emotion. 

Members of the University of Pennsylvania’s Biological Basis of Behavior program lead instruction in the academy and will introduce students to cutting-edge research in the field.

The program incorporates lab work, discussions, debates, classroom lectures, and field trips in order to build an excellent fundamental understanding of issues in neuroscience over the three-week course.

Pennsylvania Academy for the Fine Arts One-Week Intensives

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Difference engine, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts building, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Pennsylvania Academy for the Fine Arts offers creative minds and aspiring artists a series of one-week intensive courses in which students can pursue their artistic passions under the guidance of PAFA faculty. 

The courses are available to students who have completed the 8th grade and above.

Courses are available beginning in June and run through August. Most topics can be taken for one college credit per course.

Drawing, painting, and watercolor are some of the courses that can be taken for college credit, while courses in illustration and building a portfolio are available to those who seek to learn and develop their skills without pursuing college credit.

All courses offered run from Monday through Friday from 10 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. 

Drexel University Business Summer Institute

Drexel University provides students entering their junior or senior years of high school the opportunity to experience a week of college life while studying the fundamentals of business through its Business Summer Institute

Drexel offers commuter and residential versions of the institute, and both run for one week from Sunday to Friday.

Students will learn about business disciplines like accounting, marketing, finance, economics, and entrepreneurship in boardroom-style classrooms and through networking with professionals in the field. 

Commuter students will develop a Shark Tank-style business pitch, while residential students will give a business presentation to a mock board of directors.

The program seeks to admit academically gifted students involved with extracurricular or community service programs.

Computing and Informatics Summer Institute,

The Computing and Informatics Summer Institute at Drexel University offers students interested in computer science the chance to study the field through one of three tracks throughout two and a half weeks. The institute is available to high school students entering their junior or senior years.

Campers will choose from the FullStack, Cyber Security, or Data Science tracks, and each track uses classroom lessons, guest speakers, group work, and workshops to explore the topic. 

The FullStack track is for students interested in web development and design, and the Cyber Security track seeks to educate students about cybersecurity and digital citizenship. 

The Data Science track has students use data science tools to develop a data-driven report designed to address a specific issue in a community.

Entrepreneurship Summer Institute

Drexel University offers students entering their sophomore and junior years of high school the opportunity to develop an entrepreneurial mindset through its Entrepreneurship Summer Institute. The cost of the five-day long day camp in 2022 was $500.

Students will learn how to develop entrepreneurial solutions to major social issues through lectures from leaders in the field of social entrepreneurship and hands-on exercises. 

The camp will teach students how to identify clients and problems, develop entrepreneurial solutions, and create and present a business pitch.

In the course of developing these skills, students will learn about the causes of major challenges and explore potential solutions to them. 

The program will end with a pitch presentation to family and friends in which students demonstrate what they have learned and how they plan to take their ideas forward.

Materials Science and Engineering Summer Institute 

Students interested in engineering and understanding the materials that make up the modern world will find the Materials Science and Engineering Summer Institute at Drexel University an excellent way to learn more about the field. 

The program is open to high school students entering their sophomore, junior, or senior years and the in-person version will run from 9 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon.

Students will learn how atomic elements can be arranged and manipulated to form the modern materials needed in the biotechnology, energy, aerospace, and electronics industries.

Previous exercises have had students build their own solar cells and learn how to test the mechanical strength of 3D-printed polymer samples.

TryEngineering Summer Institute 

Another option for students who are considering a career as an engineer, the TryEngineering Summer Institute was developed by IEEE and is hosted on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. 

Students entering all grades of high school can participate in either a residential or day version of the two-week program.

The program will explore engineering fields such as mechanical, electrical, aerospace, and civil engineering and allow students to learn from and work alongside professional engineers.

The 2023 camp will take students on field trips to Leonardo Helicopter and Boeing Ridley Park. Students will get behind-the-scenes tours of both plants’ manufacturing lines and learn from the engineers who oversee the plants’ operations.

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