What To Look For In a High School Summer Program

Heather Gupton
Heather Gupton

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Summer break is an important opportunity for students to add credentials to their college application. Students can travel, do volunteer work, study for the SAT, or participate in academic summer programs. There are countless different summer programs out there… but they are not all created equal. So, what should you look for in a quality high school summer program?

Weigh the Options

Some offer college credit, while others do not. Additionally, some are free for students or offer financial aid, while others are quite costly. Some are very selective and require an application, while others have rolling admissions. These are some important qualities parents and students should pay attention to when picking a summer program. 

Overall, we highly recommend you take the time to research the programs you are considering and understand the pros and cons of each.

Applications Are a Good Sign

In general, programs that have an application process rather than simple rolling admissions are considered more rigorous. Therefore, they look more impressive to colleges. Being accepted to a competitive program shows accomplishment within your field, rather than just interest.

Nonetheless, it’s important to be active and productive during your summer. If you want to explore a new topic or branch out for the first time, programs that do not require applications might be the better fit.

What Results?

Programs that offer college credit offer unique value. Earning college credit is an accomplishment in itself; often, credits are a result of more tangible results like final projects or presentations. Not only that, college credit that can be used as evidence of the work you’re capable of.

Keep in mind, there are many highly competitive, college-credit summer programs that can be quite expensive. This is not necessarily a detractor from the quality of the program, but it’s important to make sure you’re actually getting value out of the money spent.

Caution: No Shortcuts

It is important to remember that many prestigious universities host summer programs, but these programs are not feeders into admissions to that school. Just because you went to a summer program at Harvard does not mean you’ll be accepted there for undergraduate studies. What is much more important than the name of the program or the host school is the quality of work and tangible takeaways you can get from the program.

There are also many other ways to get tangible results out of your summer such as self-guided projects and volunteer work. When evaluating summer programs, it is best to always ask yourself “what are the tangible results of participating in this program?” 

High School Summer Program Examples:

Research Summer Institute

Location: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Cost: Free

Tangible Results: written and oral presentations of individual research projects

Selectivity: Highly selective

Research in the Biological Sciences (RIBS)

Location: University of Chicago

Cost: $11,800 – need and merit based scholarships available

Tangible Results: Final presentations of individual research

Selectivity: Selective

Summer Science Program (SSP)

Locations: New Mexico Tech, Purdue University, CU Boulder, and UC San Diego

Cost: $7000 – about 50% of students receive financial aid

Tangible Results: Final project based off of individual work and letter of competition

Selectivity: Highly Selective

Summer Humanities Institute

Location: Stanford University

Cost: $6200

Tangible Results: College Credit

Selectivity: Selective

High School Honors Science, Math and Engineering Program

Location: Michigan State University

Cost: $3800

Tangible Results: Final presentation of research accomplished

Selectivity: Selective

Your Next Steps

This list is only a very small portion of the amazing academic and research-based summer programs for high school students. There are also many other incredibly valuable summer programs outside of academia like sports camps that enable recruitment and travel programs that can provide language and cultural immersion.

Interested in speaking with a counselor about what kind of summer program might be right for you? Schedule a consult with our team and learn more about how Empowerly can help you make the most out of your summer.

Questions? Let us know!