Selective High School Summer Programs

The temperature is cooling down and leaves are changing colors. School is well underway and the calendar is speeding toward Thanksgiving holiday festivities. Why is summer planning suddenly up for discussion now?

There is a practical answer to this question: selective summer programs for high school students may have surprisingly early deadlines in the late fall or early winter, so it is important to do your research now. Become familiar with the opportunities available, create a plan, and be ready to submit your applications by each program’s deadline. Check the websites, because some applications are available now, and, when they’re not up, you will see a future opening date posted. Some schools even have info sessions/webinars in the late fall.

As we look back at summer 2021, we found that many pre-college programs were offered as virtual experiences, but there were some programs that hosted students on campus. Review program details carefully for summer 2022.

When COVID began, many schools reworked the curriculum and were successful in migrating a dynamic course from in-person to online. This pivot, however, called for greater self-direction on each student’s part, which resulted in positive take-aways, such as attention to time management, sharpened digital skills, and lots of practice as an independent learner. When considering summer programs for 2022, remember to check all the detailed information on the website and contact the college pre-college representative with any questions.

Keep in mind that virtual vs. on-campus experiences may not be set in stone yet. We will have to see if colleges offer courses both online and in-person — this may be the new way to go. Last summer, many of my students found themselves in collaborative environments with new people as instructors, which created dynamic situations that involved group learning projects and, in some instances, small breakout sessions that enabled students to discuss ideas. These were virtual experiences and, in the words of one student, “intense but totally worth it.” The courses involved a good deal of work, and some new challenges, but, at the same time, some of the distractions that may happen in person were not present.

Finding the Right Summer Program For You

Where to start? Yes, there are many options. The summer after junior year is a great time to step up and step out because, with two months free, you can get a job, volunteer, work as an intern, study abroad, take a pre-college course on campus, volunteer, or design your own independent study. A productive summer means that you can pursue your interests at a deeper level, learn something new, explore a career, or just get better at an activity that you really love.

Georgetown Summer Academies
Hoya Summer High School Sessions


Carnegie Mellon Courses
Math & Science, Computational Biology, Architecture, Art,
Drama, Design, Music, Gaming, Writing, and more.
Join the mailing list for more information.

Another question: Will participating in a summer campus program get me into my dream university? Well, summer programs do not guarantee college admission, but they do reinforce the story in your application — the one that reveals your interests and accomplishments. The benefits are twofold: you learn by challenging yourself, and colleges see that you seek growth through personal and intellectual challenges. 

Program applications will vary and may require grades, PSAT scores, teacher recommendations, student essays, and an application fee. Be careful to follow all instructions and note the application requirements and deadlines! Get your applications in early. In addition, be sure to investigate the length of the summer experience: some programs may run for eight weeks, while others might only run for one week. Keep an organized calendar so that you do not overlap your responsibilities and cause a timing conflict for yourself over the summer.

On-campus summer programs are offered all over the country and vary widely in competitiveness, duration and dates, specialty, rigor, size, cost, and living accommodations (residential or day student), among other details. The search for the right one may take focus and time, given the variety of campus programs. However, it is well worth the effort, because your research will reveal the right summer destination for you.

Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute
The renowned “Medill Cherubs” summer program
for high school journalists

Wharton Leadership in the Business World
An intensive summer program for future business leaders,
hosted by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

I have included a few programs that may spark your interest. You can personalize your search by investigating specific universities and interests — for example, Google “MIT programs for high school students” or “Brown pre-college summer programs.” If you have a specialty, say animal science, search for “summer programs for high school students in animal science,” and you might just find the opportunity for you at Cornell, UMass Amherst, or UC Davis.

If you want to jump straight into a professional environment, perhaps an internship or a research opportunity would be right for you. This is where you will need to sharpen your networking skills. Often, students find a work/intern position by talking to parents or friends’ parents. Think about what you might do and who you know. Identify adults in your life with whom you can discuss your idea. Connecting to people and speaking aloud about your goals will help you get there.

If you are interested in an organization, search the website for opportunities for high school students. Hospitals have volunteer positions; the NIH, NIST, and DOD all offer summer internships to high school students; and many other organizations host high school students each summer. Your high school counselor may also be an important resource of information. Getting started may be the hardest part, so if you are feeling confused or befuddled about next summer, make an appointment with your counselor and simply start talking about your ideas.

Originally published November 7, 2019; updated October 27, 2020 and November 1, 2021