Top 11 Summer Programs for High School Students

Noel Kim

When planning your summer as a high school student, you might be curious about summer programs. What are top summer programs? Do they help with college admissions? Which ones are the best ones? Frankly speaking, most summer programs do not provide substantial admissions value. There are, however, a handful of highly selective summer programs that do, like Yale Young Global Scholars, Wharton Leadership in Business World, or the Research Science Institute.

Top summer programs have several pros, such as helping students identify and explore an interest. They also allow you to experience what it’s like to learn in a college environment. You can meet new friends with similar interests, find opportunities for collaboration, and even connect with professors (if the programs are taught by actual professors). If you are curious about which program you should check out based on your academic interests, this is the blog for you.

A Competitive Summer Program for Students of Any Academic Interest

1. Yale Young Global Scholars

While not explicitly a STEM or humanities program, Yale Young Global Scholars is a well-known, extremely competitive summer program, and looks outstanding in your college application. Course offerings include “Innovations in Science & Technology,” “Literature, Philosophy, & Culture,” “Politics and Economics,” and “Solving Global Challenges.”

Top Summer Programs for STEM Students

2. MIT Research Science Institute

80 high school students participate in MIT Research Science Institute, which is one of the top STEM summer programs and free of cost. You have the chance of working with accomplished STEM professors who serve as mentors. Your research process starts from scratch—first reading up on existing literature in your field, then designing your research plan, carrying it out, and finally presenting the results through a conference-style oral and written report. RSI can prepare you to work on exploring issues that concern the world and help you grow into a global citizen. Participation in RSI can certainly provide you with a boost in your college applications, especially if you continue conducting research on your topic once the program is over. 

3. Stanford University Math Summer Camp (SUMaC)

If you’re leaning towards math-focused top summer programs, check out the Stanford University Math Summer Camp, or SUMaC. SUMaC enables students with a passion for math to engage in advanced courses, lectures, guided research, and group problem-solving. The courses involve participants conducting a research project and presenting the results to peers. The organizers pride themselves on assigning no grade to the camp students—the sole purpose is mathematical engagement! 

4. Penn Medical School Summer Program  

If you’re planning to be a pre-med student in college or looking at BS/MD options, you could benefit greatly from this rigorous 4-week program at UPenn’s Perelman School of Medicine. Not a lot of high schoolers have the chance to learn from accredited medical school faculty, receive the basics of medical training (including drawing blood, using IVs, and suturing), or observe a live surgery in Penn’s surgical amphitheater. Attending this program would be an effective way to convince admissions officers about your love for medicine, so definitely consider it. 

5. UChicago Research in the Biological Sciences (RIBS)

At the UChicago Research in the Biological Sciences summer program, students engage with UChicago’s esteemed Biological Sciences Division. As part of this four-week camp, you get to apply your classroom knowledge to experiments and study a broad range of molecular, microbiological, and cellular biological techniques currently used in research laboratories. Standout students are invited back the following year to assist a UChicago research scientist, which is an opportunity you don’t want to miss!

Top Summer Programs for Humanities and Arts Students

6. Stanford Humanities Institute

Stanford Summer Humanities Institute is one of the top summer programs. High school juniors and seniors explore various topics in the humanities in seminars led by distinguished Stanford professors. This program can really give you a chance to experience what it’s like to be in a Stanford classroom surrounded by critically engaged peers and take a class in a college setting. Courses offered at this prestigious program include titles like, “The Greeks and Beyond,” “Racial Identity in the American Imagination,” and “Magical Realism: One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

7. Iowa Young Writers’ Studio

As an aspiring writer, you might have heard about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. While you can’t apply to the prestigious workshop until graduate school, the university does host a summer program for young writers, known as the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. This two-week-long creative writing experience for high schoolers provides an environment to hone their craft through seminars and workshops. Upon choosing fiction, poetry, or a mix of both as your concentration, you will attend courses that encourage you to improve your writing skills through peer-edits, writing exercises and activities, different approaches to writing, and constructive criticism from mentors. 

8. Yale Summer Drama Program

For students looking for top summer programs that focus on theatre, there are few better places to work on your acting or directing skills than Yale School of Drama. Applicants in this program have to choose between the 5-week-long Conservatory for Actors and the 10-Day Director’s Workshop. The acting workshop provides you with the opportunity to analyze text, improve your delivery techniques, understand vocal production and articulation, and study scenes to understand how different elements come together and create a production. The Director’s Workshop is catered more towards the technical side of theatre. Alongside working with actors in rehearsal, you’ll study set design, the importance of voice, and stage management in more detail. Both of these workshops are run by professional actors and directors.  

9. Interlochen Center for the Arts Summer Arts Camp

If you’re already highly talented and looking for top summer programs in the arts that can enable you to grow in your area of expertise, The Interlochen Center’s summer camp helps artistic students work on their skills in the following fields: 

  • Music
  • Music Production and Engineering
  • Creative Writing
  • Comparative Arts
  • Dance
  • General Arts
  • Film/Motion Pictures Arts
  • Leadership
  • Lectures
  • Media
  • Professional Development 
  • Theatre Design and Production 
  • Theatre Performance
  • Visual Arts

These are just broad categories covering the specific and unique courses Interlochen offers. For example, if you’re interested in the film camp, you can choose between intensive and interesting programs such as “Acting for the Camera,” “Animation,” “Documentary Filmmaking,” and more. The length of your stay at the camp depends on your concentration. All of the programs within Interlochen encourage the creation of original work as final projects. Within your niche selection, you’ll not only have the opportunity to learn from professional artists and instructors, but also to collaborate with other like-minded students and create art together.

Top Summer Programs for Business Students

10. Launch X

If you’re looking for top summer programs that push you towards creating your own startup, Launch X should be your go-to. Launch X is a program that helps young entrepreneurs conceptualize and get their own startups in motion. If you’ve got an idea that you’d like to develop but don’t have the resources for executing, Launch X can guide you there. The program operates from MIT, Northwestern, and the University of Michigan. Launch X provides students with mentorship that encourages them to make a positive impact on the world, deal with challenges, as well as practice conflict resolution and teamwork skills. In terms of admission, the committee looks for students who are ambitious and driven, excited to discover innovative opportunities, and ready to conduct market research. 

11. Wharton Leadership in the Business World

If you’re a strong student interested in studying business, you probably have your eyes set on the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Here’s your chance to show further commitment not only to the field of business but to Wharton itself by participating in its summer program: the Wharton Leadership in the Business World. You’ll have the chance to engage in classroom discussions and learn from Wharton faculty.

Often at university-organized summer programs, actual professors don’t teach the courses. This is definitely a factor that distinguishes Wharton over the others because while still in high school, you’ll receive a unique opportunity to attend lectures by people who could end up as your future professors! You’ll also have the chance to network with executives as well as hone your leadership skills through team-based projects. Leadership in the Business World also helps you work on collaboration skills with your peers, and organizes cultural and social activities each weekend so you can get to know them outside the classroom.

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