How To Get Into a Competitive Summer Program

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Farah Weheba
Farah Weheba

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Summer programs for high school students can eventually boost a college application profile. But not all summer programs are created equal. So how do you choose what you want to invest your energy in over the summer, and how do you get in to a worthwhile, competitive summer program? Empowerly is here to help with your summer roadmap!

Child splashing in summer water pool

Most summer programs for high school students are organized and hosted by universities. Programmatically, you can expect some classroom learning and coursework, and some project-based learning, too. Summer research programs provide opportunities for learning how to read peer-reviewed, published scientific research, learning to collect and analyze data. Additionally, these programs will introduce how to use statistical or analytics software specific to the niche industry.

Some programs guide you toward starting and finishing a tangible research product, or help you build those relationship foundations so that you can easily maintain your research work throughout the upcoming school year– and definitely seize that opportunity. Some programs fold in field trips around the community and high profile guest lecturers like notable program alumni. For example, a business program like LaunchX is all about coaching your entrepreneurial idea and helping you create an effective pitch, and practice its delivery. Building upon the project you started within your summer program during your fall and winter semesters is an excellent way to evolve your project and eventually submit your findings to an academic competition, academic conference, or earn a mention as a contributor in the final published work. 

Plan your summer

Summertime is one of the most valuable times that a student can use to improve their extracurricular profile. The most effective way of using the summer is often to join a summer program.

However, summer can also be a great time for students to start a self-driven project or research. So which is a better use of your time? Other than the top 20 most competitive entry summer programs, self-driven summer projects are a more valuable use of time– in terms of college admissions impact– than less selective summer programs.

Students should consider options for engaging independent projects and research when deliberating among summer program options. 

Top ranked summer programs

These are the most prestigious, selective, and admissions-pack-a-punch summer programs: 

How to apply to summer programs

Applying for competitive summer programs is great practice for packaging your narrative and applying for college. Similarly, you’ll need strong grades and test scores, cohesive extracurriculars, and compelling essays. It can be really helpful to have some guidance through this process. We’re here to help you learn!

Because a lot of summer programs for high school students focus on niche and advanced topics, admitted students usually have a mission-driven extracurricular profile. For example, students accepted to PROMYS tend to engage math extracurriculars and boast accolades from math competitions at the state level. Participation in project-based clubs like a robotics club, or conducting research with a professor, are activities that read well for math summer programs. 

Additionally, letters of recommendation from teachers are valued pretty strongly in the summer program application process. Applicants need to ask teachers who will enthusiastically endorse them and can speak to their genuine interest in the relevant academic field. If you’re applying to a STEM summer program, try to ask at least one of your STEM teachers for a letter of recommendation. 

Want to know more about choosing the right extracurricular activities? 

Our research team can help you out. Check out our services page here!

Summer program essays

Summer programs will usually inquire as to why you’ve selected their program, and often another essay field will ask about the history and evolution of your academic interest in the relevant field. 

What’s the point of summer program essays? 

For summer programs, the essay is actually pretty important. It can be a way to distinguish between two otherwise equally qualified applicants.  Often, they’re the final sorting process for program staff. 

Help the program staff get to know you on a personal level.

Most importantly, essays help organize your application into a narrative and allow admissions officers to build a personal connection with you. 

Help the admissions officer distinguish you from another similar applicant. 

Essays help staff determine who has the most authentic ties to the program topics covered.

Vague or irrelevant ties cut students who are applying to a program just for the prestige, to enter a career field motivated by financial gain, or just because a parent told them to apply.

Similarly, typos and unclear sentences that seem written in a rush would most likely disqualify an applicant. Don’t sabotage your chances by neglecting a technical requirement. In the same way, don’t go over the word count.

An exceptional essay also has the power to sway a program staffer to override a small profile weakness because of a great cultural fit with the program or demonstrated maturity. 

We’ve Got Essay Editing! 

Have you heard? Empowerly offers essay editing! Get your essays edited right in your Digital Toolkit. From personal statements to academic essays, we’ll make sure that you’re always putting your best writing out there. You’ll receive your edits and suggestions within 24 hours. You’ll also get access to our Accepted Essay Bank!

Good Essay Topics

  • How you perceive the world around you and your role within it? 
  • Demonstration of your core values, don’t just state them. For example, you can recount a specific memory where you cemented a value or experienced significant growth.
  • Further, how you respond emotionally to different situations or circumstances?

An Empowerly counselor can help you chart out a dynamic and rigorous summer. If you’re interested, click below to schedule a consult by phone to learn more. 

Questions? Let us know!