Pre-College Summer Programs for High School Students

Best Pre-College Summer Programs for High School Students

How you spend your summer is important for college preparation. For this reason, summer activities can signal merit to college admissions officers. The summer can be a time for personal growth, and how you spend your time in lieu of your coursework reflects character and work ethic. Along with working a job, volunteering, or getting an internship, many high school students spend part of their summers in pre-college summer programs. 

These summer programs are often offered by universities and are meant to expose students to college life or college-level work. If you would like a new and challenging experience or just more familiarity with your prospective major, you should consider applying for pre-college summer programs.


Pre-college programs are summer sessions

Most pre-college programs are summer sessions. Many colleges, especially top colleges, will offer summer courses that are open to high school students. So, before you enter college, you can earn college credits and take classes with college undergraduates. However, these programs are usually very expensive and offer little financial aid, and are generally not very selective. On their own, they mean little on a college application. 

You should instead think of these programs as offering a service. Summer courses are there for fulfilling degree requirements that you could otherwise. Having some credits before entering college certainly eases your burden if you are double majoring. But be cautious: colleges often have restrictions about what schools they accept credits from. If you are considering summer courses, for this reason, read carefully about your preferred schools’ policies towards credits from other institutions. Anyways, taking AP Exams may be a better way of earning credits before college, but colleges will have restrictions about these as well. Research carefully.

If you are considering summer courses because you would like greater familiarity with your preferred university’s campus, you should know that colleges frequently offer campus tours, especially during the summer. Visiting could be just as helpful for you and is normally far less expensive.


 List of pre-college summer programs

The pre-college programs that are most selective are normally inexpensive. Here is a list of some of the best summer college programs, all of which are either free, low-cost or offer strong financial aid, beginning with STEM programs.

Note: Most of these programs are normally in-person. Check the official websites for the latest information concerning COVID-19.

MIT Summer Programs

Ambitious students hoping to pursue a STEM discipline should take time looking into MIT’s selection of summer programs. Research experience offered by summer programs can help you stand out for STEM opportunities in the future. Only a few of many offered by MIT will be listed here.

Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES):  Underrepresented students spend six weeks on MIT’s campus taking science and math courses. Open to 80 students and free of cost.

Research Science Institute (RSI): Participants take STEM courses before performing research for five weeks. Also open to 80 students and free of cost.

Lincoln Laboratory Introduction for Student Engineers (LLRISE): A free two-week program where students have the opportunity to work with skilled engineers to build radar systems. 

MIT Online Science Technology and Engineering Community (MOSTEC): This program has both online and in-person components. Students take online STEM classes, before arriving on MIT’s campus to give presentations, attend workshops, and work with faculty.

Here are some other selective STEM pre-college programs

AI4All: Offers summer programs on 11 college campuses, where underrepresented students spend three weeks attending lectures on artificial intelligence. Most programs are free of cost.

Bethel College Summer Science Institute: An online summer STEM research program. Requires a $20 registration fee.

Carnegie-Mellon University’s Summer Academy for Math and Science: Six-week pre-college summer program that offers STEM seminars and college preparation to underrepresented, first generation, and low-income students. No cost.

Carnegie-Mellon University’s Computer Science Scholars: Six-week summer program for students underrepresented in Computer Science. No cost.

Cornell CATALYST Academy: Week-long engineering research program. Free of cost for many underrepresented groups.

GirlsWhoCode Summer Immersion Program: Free intensive summer program to introduce women to coding.

Mathcamp: Five-week summer program for exploring advanced topics in mathematics. Offered on a different college campus each year, and free for low-income students.

MDI Biological Laboratory High School Summer Research Fellowship: A six-week STEM research fellowship in Maine. Offered to 100 students each summer.

Physics of Atomic Nuclei (PAN) Summer Program: Free week-long introduction to astrophysics and nuclear science experiments and research. Offered on the campuses of Notre Dame and Michigan State University.

Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists (PROMYS): Six-week math program at Boston University. Free for low-income students.

Summer Science Program (SSP): A summer Biochemistry or Astrophysics program each open to 36 students. Around half of the participants attended free of cost.

Upward Bound Math-Science Programs: These are federally-funded college programs offered to local high school students to prepare for STEM careers.


Here are some great pre-college summer programs that are not only related to STEM

Anson Clark Scholars Program: Highly selective seven-week research and enrichment program at Texas Tech University. Free of cost and accommodates a variety of disciplines. 

Telluride Association Summer Program for Juniors (TASP): A free and very selective six-week seminar on a topic in the arts and humanities. There are four different topics each summer.

Princeton Summer Journalism Program: Fully paid six-week program for students interested in journalism. Students attend workshops and lectures, tour news organizations, and start projects of their own.

AAJA’s JCamp: Fully paid six-day journalism training camp.

USC Bovard Scholars: Three-week college preparation program on Bovard’s campus. Free of cost.

This list is of course not exhaustive. Keep a lookout for similar or related summer programs that may interest you.


Remember that all of these programs are highly selective. For that reason, admissions officers do not expect you to attend a summer program. What is important for admissions is that you used your summer vacation productively. If you are considering applying for pre-college summer programs, make sure that you will have something to do in case you do not get accepted. Always plan ahead and remember that these programs are only one of many ways you can spend your summer.





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