How to Choose the Best High School Summer Programs for You

Learn what matters in a summer program and discover some of the best high school summer programs that you should know about

If you’re an ambitious high school student, you know how important it is to make your summers count. Instead of sleeping in and wasting time every day, you want to improve yourself, gain new skills, and add meaningful experiences to your resume. 

That’s why you’re looking into high school summer programs. The best summer programs will ignite your passions, prepare you for your dream career, and help you look good on your college applications. 

But there are a lot of summer programs for high school students out there. You don’t want to waste your time in a program that doesn’t get you ahead. So how do you know which ones are right for you?  

Keep reading to learn how to pick the best summer programs for you and explore a list of top-notch summer programs for high school students. 

How to choose the best high school summer programs for you

Before you start researching summer programs for high school students, you should take some time to think about what you want and need in a program. 

First, determine what your summer program goal is— 

Do you want to explore a new interest? Maybe you’ve just started thinking about a specific career and want to use a high school summer program to dive deeper and see if it’s a good fit for you.

Do you want to deepen your career or academic passion? If you’ve already solidified what career or subject you love, you can strengthen your commitment to that field in a high school summer program. 

Next, think about the logistics and limitations facing you this summer—

How long do you want your high school summer program to be? They usually range from one week to several months. If you’re trying to fit something else into your summer, such as a part-time job or a family trip, pick a shorter program.

What level of commitment can you devote to a summer program? Some programs require a few hours of focus per day, and others will give you a packed 8-hour schedule—not including extra homework. Decide how much time you can commit to a program.   

What can your family afford to pay for a high school summer program? Some programs are free (I’ll include a few examples later), but others cost thousands of dollars. Talk to your family and determine your summer program budget.

And finally, think about what added bonuses you hope to gain from your summer program—

Is it important for you to gain college credit from a high school summer program? You can find some programs that offer you 3 to 4 college credits, usually for freshmen-level classes. You should be able to transfer these credits to whatever college you attend. 

Is it important to attend a summer program offered by your top-choice colleges? It can be great to engage with one of your dream schools this way, but be aware that attending a college’s summer program doesn’t guarantee you’ll get accepted once you apply, especially if the school is selective. 

(Here’s my advice: prioritize the content and structure of summer programs over which colleges put them on—make sure the programs are interesting and useful to you!)

Once you finish answering these questions, you’ll have a clear picture of what type of high school summer program you’re looking for.

List of summer programs for high school students

Now that you know what to consider when looking for high school summer programs, let’s jump into this list. 

I’ll share a few of the best summer programs for high school students—organized into different categories. This won’t be an exhaustive list, because there are a lot of summer programs out there. And I mean a lot.

But some of these high school summer programs might be the perfect fit for you. And even if they’re not, this list will give you a good start to begin your summer program search. 

Keep in mind that in 2021, most of these options have temporarily moved to online summer programs for high school students due to safety. This can actually be a benefit since you’ll be able to access more programs without worrying about travel arrangements.

Without further ado, let’s begin this list!

Medical summer programs for high school students

Georgetown University Medical Academy: A 3-week virtual summer program where you can get a sampling of medical school. You’ll explore contemporary medical challenges, discuss the latest scientific advances, and interact with medical experts. This program has a rolling application deadline. 

University of California Irvine MedAcademy: A 1-week virtual program to introduce you to medical careers and the healthcare field. You’ll receive leadership training, attend medical procedure workshops, and listen to medical student forums. The deadline to apply is April 1.

Summer research programs for high school students

Indiana University Project STEM program: A full-time, in-person summer research internship in Bloomington, IN. You’ll be paired with a research mentor based on your interests and get hands-on experience in science and engineering research. The deadline to apply is April 1. 

University of California Irvine Summer Online Research Program: A 3-week virtual summer program where you can explore biomedical research through faculty lectures and personalized mentoring. You’ll also write your own research report and abstract. Apply by March 23 to get a $50 discount on tuition. 

Summer business programs for high school students

Economics for Leaders: A 1-week summer program offered either online or in-person at select locations, including UCLA, Rice, and the University of Washington. You’ll learn about leadership, economic principles, and public policy analysis. The deadline to apply is April 14. 

Wharton Summer High School Programs: A selection of 2- or 3-week virtual summer programs offered by the University of Pennsylvania. Available courses include the Business Leadership Academy, Data Science Academy, and Sports Business Academy. The deadline to apply is April 15. 

Georgetown University Entrepreneurship Academy: A 2-week virtual summer program where you can master the most important principles of entrepreneurship. You’ll learn about start-ups, prototype testing, market research, and how to run your own business. This program has a rolling application deadline. 

STEM summer programs for high school students

Canada/USA Mathcamp: A 5-week virtual summer program for you to study with mathematicians, explore college-level math topics, and improve your problem-solving skills. The deadline to apply is March 18. 

Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics: A 6-week summer program for high school students (still TBD whether it will be online or in-person) where you can engage in doing math at the college level. This program has a rolling application deadline.

MathILy (Mathematics Infused with Levity) Program: A 5-week summer program (still TBD whether it will be online or in-person) where you’ll learn discrete mathematics using discovery-based and collaborative learning. The deadline to apply is April 27.  

Michigan Math and Science Scholars Program: A 2-week virtual summer program to introduce you to scientific research and encourage your love of math and science. This program has a rolling application deadline. 

Ross Mathematics Program: A 6-week virtual summer program offered by Ohio State University where you’ll attend lectures and small-group meetings to explore pre-college mathematics, particularly Number Theory. The deadline to apply is April 1. 

Law summer programs for high school students

Georgetown University Summer Law Academy: A 2-week virtual summer program where you can deepen your passion for law by examining controversial legal issues and exploring American legal institutions. This program has a rolling application deadline.

Just the Beginning ConnectEd Program: A 1-week virtual summer program to introduce you to the legal field. You’ll hear from federal judges about their journey to the bench, learn what it takes to become a law student, and build your legal skills. The deadline to apply is April 17. 

Free summer programs for high school students

Girls Who Code: A 2-week virtual summer program for girls only—both transgender and cisgender. You’ll gain computer science skills and learn how to use technology to impact your community. The deadline to apply is March 19. 

Simons Summer Research Program: A 6-week virtual summer program where you’re paired with a faculty mentor and plugged into a research team. You’ll be responsible for your own research project, which includes a research abstract and research poster. The deadline to apply is March 30. 

Fred Hutch Summer High School Internship Program: An 8-week paid research internship, currently planned for a hybrid model in the Seattle area. You’ll be assigned to a mentor and lab according to your interests and incorporated into the day-to-day tasks of research work. The deadline to apply is March 31. 

Final thoughts about high school summer programs

I hope you enjoy exploring this list of high school summer programs and beyond! Attending a summer program for high school students can be a rewarding, life-changing experience. I wish you the best as you search for the right summer programs for you.

I’d love to hear which of these summer programs catch your eye! Drop a comment below to share which program you’re hoping or planning to attend this summer. 

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