22 Summer Programs That Count


22 Summer Programs That Count

With a few months off from your high school responsibilities, the summer is an ideal time to try something new, dive deeper into an interest, travel, work, you name it. Many students look at summer programs as valuable enrichment opportunities. But beware: there is a huge range in the quality of summer programs available.

Many summer programs will offer a great experience but carry little weight in the admissions process. It’s important to know which programs actually make a difference to your college candidacy if that is part of your consideration. After all, some of these programs can be very expensive!

Without further ado, here are my recommendations for summer programs, from the good to the great. 

Well-Regarded Summer Programs for Your First Years of High School

Below are solid academic summer programs that are best suited for students hoping to identify their passions. They can be done multiple times – you can go to CTY every year and study something different each time if you so please! I typically recommend these summerprograms to rising sophomore students who are still looking to explore their interests. The strategic value of these opportunities can be enhanced if you get a strong letter of recommendation from a summer program instructor.

That being said, there are cons to keep in mind. Most of these summer programs lack selectivity and come with hefty price tags. Your engagement in stimulating experiences will be recognized in admissions offices, but will not be considered “impressive” by competitive colleges.

1. Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP) – A summer program that is geared toward students in 10th grade or lower. There are no formal grades or college credit opportunities with Duke TIP, but the program aims to support gifted students in reaching their full potential.

2. Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG) – SIG is organized at multiple campuses each year for 3 weeks, including many liberal arts colleges.

3. The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) – A selective summer program that is generally well-regarded. CTY is more academically intense than TIP and SIG, but also quite restrictive in terms of the independent opportunities available.

4. Northwestern CTD - comprehensive programs dedicated to helping academically talented students realize their potential

5. Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes (formerly EPGY) – These summer programs help students dive into their areas of interest through ungraded courses.

6. Stanford Summer Session Cornell Precollege Studies Summer@Brown Harvard University Summer School Columbia Summer Program – These are similar summer programs that capitalize on the strong name recognition of their host schools. These classes can be nice learning tools but many times, the courses are not taught by actual faculty members from the university.

Another important thing to note: summer programs hosted at universities will not give you an advantage when applying to that university. The admissions processes are not connected in any way. If you enroll in a summer program at Harvard, don’t expect an admissions boost there. These colleges, and many others, offer some courses for college credit. Credit-bearing courses are typically more expensive, but add more to your ultimate application.

Highly Selective Summer Programs with an Explicit Focus

The majority of these opportunities are for students who have established a clear academic focus, usually backed up with strong performances on the PSAT/SAT and advanced coursework. Admissions officers will take note of these programs when reading applications!

7. University of Chicago – Research in the Biological Sciences (RIBS) – This summer program is selective with a research-methods focus. A strong performance here can carry a lot of weight for aspiring scientists.

8. Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS) – An interdisciplinary program for rising juniors and seniors. Different sessions cover various topics, but all YYGS sessions are 2-weeks long.

9. Wharton’s Leadership in the Business World (LBW) – A business-leadership summer program for rising seniors, taught by actual Wharton faculty with many guest speakers from famous companies.

10. Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP) – TASP is open to rising seniors with a focus on seminar style discussions. The summer program is ungraded and free of charge, but has a very selective admissions process with extensive essay requirements.

11. Stanford University Mathematics Camp (SuMAC) – Strong mathematicians can come to Stanford for a few weeks of math wizardry for up to two summers (Programs I and II). A well-regarded, intensive program with a serious mathematics focus.

12. Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists (PROMYS) – This program is hosted at Boston University, with a curriculum focused on number theory and making math “more creative.”

13. Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics (HCSSIM) – This program is similar to PROMYS, but is held at a liberal arts college with a strong emphasis on mentorship and eminent visiting professors. Every meal also has an all you can eat buffet!

14. Interlochen Center for the Arts – If you are a strong musician, writer, or artist, you’ll want to consider Interlochen programs. Interlochen offers valuable opportunities for all sorts of artistic endeavors.

15. Camp Rising Sun– A leadership camp with scholars selected from 25 countries who come together for 5 weeks in rural New York. A free but competitive opportunity! Participants are typically rising juniors.

16. MIT LaunchX – An entrepreneurship summer program where participants create their own start-up organizations. This is a super competitive opportunity. If you don’t get admitted to MIT Launch, you can start an MIT Launch club chapter at your school or enroll in the Becoming an Entrepreneur online course.

17. Iowa Young Writers’ Studio – A 2-week program where students take courses in poetry and creative writing. Admissions officers do track this workshop due to its competitiveness!

Highly Selective Research Programs

These research programs carry significant weight in the admissions process. Understand that because these programs are so well-regarded, they are incredibly competitive. If you’re thinking about applying to these programs, research should sound exciting to you. Many students who attend these camps often end up submitting work to the Intel Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) or Google Science Fair, which are both very prestigious competitions.

18. Research Science Institute (RSI) – One of the most rigorous high school research summer programs. Historically, students who attend RSI are admitted to some of the most competitive schools in the US.

19. Summer Science Program (SSP) – Another prestigious summer program that focuses on astronomy, physics, and math. SSP is less research oriented than RSI, but still incredibly challenging. If you are into stargazing at all, SSP is a perfect fit!

20. MSU High School Honors Science, Math and Engineering Program (HSHSP) – This is the RSI of Michigan State. A great summer program that carries a lot of weight in admission circles.

21. Texas Tech – Clark Scholars Program – With only 12 fully funded spots a year, a rigorous research opportunity awaits with the Clark Scholars Program. Prior research experience is helpful to ensure that you’ll excel.

22. Rockefeller University Summer Science Research Program (SSRP) – A biomedical research program that pairs students with leading scientists in the field. Roughly 50 students are admitted in each class.

Summer programs undeniably have a place in many students’ journeys through high school, but too often they are embraced as meaningful pursuits when in reality, they are an easy option.

Don’t be afraid to blaze your own trail when thinking about how to spend your summer. With a bit of creativity, commitment, and initiative, you can come up with independent projects that, if done well, can be more compelling than many of these summer programs. We have tips on how to spearhead your own initiative. I would challenge you to find the things that excite you and use the summer to find meaningful solutions without an imposed schedule and syllabus. If you can make a tangible impact and document it somehow, these projects can be far more compelling.

Start exploring possibilities for your summer today!

General FAQ

Will a summer program hosted at a university give me an advantage in that university’s admissions process?

No. Summer programs are not connected to schools’ admissions process in any way. However, some colleges offer some courses for college credit. These programs are typically more expensive, but add more to your ultimate application.

What are the best summer programs for freshmen and sophomores?

Some of the most prestigious summer programs that are open to freshmen and sophomores are: Duke Talent Identification Program (TIP), Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG), The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY), Vanderbilt Summer Academy - Programs for Talented Youth (PTY), and Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes.

What are the best STEM summer programs?

Some of the most prestigious STEM summer programs are: University of Chicago - Research in the Biological Sciences (RIBS), Stanford University Mathematics Camp (SuMAC), Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists (PROMYS), and MIT LaunchX.

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

to Get the Best Admissions Tips