Competitive Summer Programs for High School Students

Have you given thought to your summer plans yet? Sure, it seems a little bit odd to be thinking about summer as the leaves change color and the air turns brisk. But trust us, it’s necessary. Competitive summer programs have applications that are due very soon!

One of the many ways to become a more interesting applicant to your top schools, is to beef up your experience while in high school. Internships, major-related projects, and shows of entrepreneurship are all great opportunities and ideas! However, here is an idea you may not have considered before. Pre-college. You may be thinking to yourself, huh? I thought high school was pre-college? Pre-college is an opportunity hosted by schools looking to provide students with a college-like experience. Applying and being admitted to these programs is also a huge resume-booster. If you’ve already made it through a selective admissions process and completed an academically-rigorous summer program, admissions officers will be confident in your ability to keep in their collegiate academics, too.

In this post, we would like to visit and touch on 10 of the the top competitive Summer Programs found in the USA. As some of these programs have quickly approaching deadlines, we encourage students to do their own additional research and reach out for further assistance if needed. Opus is here to help in any of your college and pre college application needs!

List of Top Competitive Summer Programs

1. Harvard Pre-College Program

It’s hardly a surprise that Harvard not only has a competitive summer program, but that it also hits this list at the top! As the one of the oldest institutions in the world, this university has had plenty of time to refine the multitude of offered programs.

This prestigious university offers 3 two-week sessions from June to August, each allowing their students to get a taste of what their future may hold for them. Each two-week session allows students to study one subject intensively under the guidance of Harvard faculty and affiliates. Outside of class, social activities are held and encourage students to engage with each other in events including college readiness workshops and even a talent show! 

As will all things Harvard, the application process is competitive and we suggest exploring the requirements ahead of time for your best chance at success!

Important Facts

Cost: $3,340 to $6,680 depending on course credits

Session Length: Two-weeks

Living accommodations: Not available for 2021

Session Dates: June 27, 2021 – July 9, 2021

July 11, 2021 – July 23, 2021

July 25, 2021 – August 6, 2021

Applications Open: December 1st, 2020

Application Deadline: TBA

Payment Deadline: TBA

2. Brown University Pre-College Programs

There are many ways to describe the pre college programs offered at Brown University, but the word that first comes to mind for us is impressive. We know that you’ll agree after you’ve taken a look at their course selection page.

As stated by Brown University itself:

“Much like Brown’s undergraduate open curriculum, the Pre-College Programs aim to create student-centered learning experiences and shift student focus away from formal grades and credits towards the learning itself.”

Brown University aims to offer a rich and diverse curriculum for motivated students of all interests looking to challenge themselves.

In total, over 300 courses are offered across all summer sessions, with on-campus, off-campus, and even online options available. Unfortunately, given the state of the world at this time, Brown expects that their location-based summer programs will be suspended for 2021. However, this does not affect their online program, Summer@Brown Online

Classes held online are just as rigorous as location-based classes and are led by committed Brown instructors and faculty. Many of these courses are asynchronous, meaning that students are not required to sign in at a set time. Students should plan to commit 10-12 hours per week to their course work and should check in with their professors to see what additional expectations there may be.

Important Dates

Cost (Pricing is subject to change as 2021 details are still being finalized):

         2  Week         $2,723

         3  Week         $3,832

         4  Week         $4,594

         5  Week         $4,996

         6  Week         $5,422

Session length: Two to six weeks

Living accommodations: Not available for 2021

Session Dates: TBA. 

Applications Open: December 7st, 2020

Application Deadline: TBA

Stanford Pre-Collegiate

Like Brown University, Stanford has made the decision to reduce on-campus risk by shifting all of their previously on-campus programs to online-only formatting. 

This program is geared towards students currently in grades 8 through 11 who are motivated and looking for an academic challenge. The program provides focus on a single course, with over 60 courses for students to choose from. Unlike Brown University, Stanford’s classes are synchronous, meaning that students are required to sign in at specified times for real-time instruction from their Stanford professors.

Stanford has made the decision to shift all on-campus residential programs to an online-only format.

Classes are not for credit or grade, however this does not lessen the value of the experience or the education.

Important Facts:

Cost: $2,500 plus any additional materials necessary for chosen course

Session length: Two-weeks

Living accomodations: Not available for 2021

Session Dates: TBA

Applications Open: TBA

Application Deadline: TBA

4. University of Chicago Summer Session

As with all things 2020, the future remains shrouded in mystery. Information for Summer Session 2021 is still being cooked up as their Summer Session 2020 has just reached its own conclusion. For 2020, the University of Chicago updated its programs to allow them to run remotely.

Typically, this university offers 6 unique and engaging competitive summer programs. However, only 4 of these were able to be conducted remotely in 2020:

  • Immersion – The Immersion program is just that, an opportunity to immerse yourself in life as an undergraduate. Whether you are looking for a preview into STEM courses ethics, or creative writing, Immersion has it all. 
  • Pathways – This program boasts a more broad overview into the world of Economics, Human Rights, Data Science, and World Politics. 
  • Summer Language Institute – For the passionate and motivated language enthusiast, this program was made for you! Summer Language Institute has been formatted to fit in an entire year of learning into a summer program.Students can expect ninety contact hours with their professors over the course of their session, regardless of length.  Due to the demands of this session, only high school juniors and older are eligible.
  • RIBS – This four-week intensive program is the dream for any student interested in a future in the biological sciences. As the leader in a multitude of research areas, this program through the University of Chicago is a game changer for someone wanting to beef up their transcript and aggressively pursue an academic career in the sciences. Unfortunately, due to the nature of this program, it was not able to be formatted for remote learning, but we hope to see it back in action soon!
  • Stones and Bones – You guessed it, this program is focused on Paleontology! This four-week intensive curriculum is held in Chicago and Wyoming. Due to the nature of the coursework, this program was not able to be formatted for remote learning, but we hope to see it back in action soon!
  • Summer College – A true taste of life as a student in higher academia, this program, regardless of length, is formatted to be the equivalent of a full ten-week course. Each summer course meets for thirty contact hours during the duration of the program and students should be prepared for a rigorous workload. Due to the rigor of this program, only current high school juniors and seniors are eligible.

Financial aid is available to students through several scholarship options: 

  • Maroon Summer Scholarship – this scholarship offers aid based on need and program cost, ranging from $1,000 to $8,500 depending on the chosen program.
  • UChicago Scholarships Programs – A scholarship that allows students to take a Summer Session course fully free of charge.
  • External Scholarships (Partner Organizations) 
    1. Mawhiba Foundation
    2. Minds Matter
    3. OSSE
    4. Providence St Mel School
    5. Questbridge
    6. Seren Network
    7. Squash + Education Alliance
    8. Success Academy Charter Schools
    9. Summer of a Lifetime
    10. Summer Sisters

Important Facts

Cost: Varies from $4,150 to $7,325
Session Length: Two to eight weeks depending on the program

Living accommodation: not available for 2021

Session Dates: TBA

Applications Open: TBA

Application Deadline: TBA

5. Northwestern University College Preparation Program

Are you reeling from the choices yet? We are too! And we’re only halfway through our list! Number five is the well known Northwestern University.  This university recognizes that prospective students are individuals and offer options within their main programs to suit a range of diverse needs. As with several of the previous competitive summer programs listed, the current state of the world has helped this university in making the decision to hold their classes remotely. Because of this, some details for 2021 have yet to be ironed out. We recommend joining the university’s mailing list so you can stay up to date on all new information as it is released.

Northwestern offers three main pre college programs:

  • College Preparation Program
  • EducationUSA Academy
  • College Bridge Program

The College Preparation Program is just that, an opportunity for students to prepare for the demands of higher academia at Northwestern University. Within this program, there are two options: e-Focus Seminars and Online Courses for Credit. The e-Focus seminars are engaging two-week programs where students will undergo rigorous college level work for four hours a day. 

The e-Focus Seminars have 5 separate areas of focus:

  • Ethical Problems: Public, Controversies, and Democracy
  • So You Want to be a Doctor?
  • Writing for College Success
  • Legal Interpretation and Communication
  • Chemistry Research with Real World Application

Similar to the e-Focus Seminars, Online Courses for Credit is an opportunity to gain a feel for college life and higher academia. The major difference between these programs is the opportunity for you to earn college credits to give you a head start on your dream major. During these courses, you will have college-level expectations from your instructors. You may even find yourself taking courses with current undergraduates from Northwestern or other prestigious universities! 

EducationUSA Academy is an exciting three-week program partnered with the US Department of State’s EducationUSA network. This program is geared towards international students who are motivated to improve their english and become more familiar with US higher academia. The application process for this program is competitive, so we strongly suggest any interested students start the process as soon as possible.

Last but certainly not least, the College Bridge Program. This program is partnered with the Chicago Public Schools. Twenty five public school juniors are admitted to the program annually and enjoy free tuition and textbooks for their class of choice. This program was held remotely in 2020 and may be held remotely in 2021, however, this is yet to be seen.

Important Facts

Cost: Varies, $4,980 for EducationUSA Academy

Session Length: Two to ten weeks

Session Dates: July, 2021

Living Accomodations: TBA

Applications Open: TBA

Application Deadline: TBA

6. University of Michigan Summer Academic Opportunities

Whereas the previous programs we’ve seen have been over the course of weeks, or even months, University of Michigan has taken a different approach. They offer close to a dozen different options that range in length from one day to more than a week, depending on the age of the student. These bitesize opportunities allow for more cost effective options that students can utilize to help narrow down their college career choices.

Their engineering specific program, Engineering Pathways, caters to students from 7th to 11th grade and is an opportunity for current Wolverine Pathways participants to explore the exciting career of engineering. What’s Wolverine Pathways? We’re glad you asked! Wolverine Pathways is a free, year-round program that partners with families, schools, and communities in Detroit, Southfield, and Ypsilanti. Are you in one of these cities? We strongly suggest you check this program out!

Galaxy Girls caters to the interests and needs of students in 8th and 9th grade. Despite the name, this program welcomes all students, regardless gender. During this seven day residential program, students explore the disciplines of Aerospace Engineering and space science. Bonus points? This is the nation’s oldest aerospace program!

SMASH, short for Summer Math and Science Honors Academy, is a STEM focused college prep program designed for 9th graders who hope to have a future STEM career. More than just a summer program, this program provides monthly programming throughout the school year as well! Yet another partner program, we encourage interested parties to check to see if their student currently attends a SMASH Michigan Partner School.

Interested in computer science? AI4ALL is the program for you! Geared towards 9th and 10th graders, this program focuses on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Students are required to be Michigan residents to take advantage of this exciting program.

SCEEP, Summer College Engineering Exposure Program, is this University’s second engineering focused summer program. However, this one is only for 11th graders with focus being more on giving these students a head start on the college application journey. They will be given an experience closer to that of a Michigan Engineering student. 

How SHARP are you? SHARP stands for Summer High School Apprentice Researchers Program and is a much more involved program than those we’ve discussed above.  The length of this program is six-weeks, making it over a month longer than the programs open to younger students. Again, this program is specifically for Michigan students with a passion for Engineering.

Important Facts

Cost: Varies depending on program

Session Length: One day to six weeks

Session Dates: TBA

Living Accomodations: TBA

Applications Open: TBA

Application Deadline: TBA

7. Emory College of Arts and Science Pre-College Program

This competitive summer program boasts small class sizes, challenging curriculum, and an on-campus experience that allows participants to truly develop a grasp for what their future in higher academia will look like. Each class is capped at 14 students, with the summer session itself capping at 400 students. This allows for students to receive personal attention from faculty and staff as they progress through this program. With 32 courses to choose from, there is something for everyone. Each course is college-level and professors will be expecting students to be engaged and work on additional assignments outside of class. When students aren’t working hard on their academics, they can enjoy a scenic campus and extracurricular activities to better get to know their peers!

The application requirements for this program are very stringent. We strongly suggest that applicant hopefuls explore the items they need in advance.

Important Facts

Cost: TBA

Session Length: Two-weeks

Session Dates: TBA

Living Accomodations: TBA, this program is typically residential

Application Deadline: TBA

8. Cornell University Pre College – Winter and Summer

Cornell’s competitive summer program offers students yet another opportunity to earn college credits and give them a boost as they head into university life. They offer online and on-campus courses and offer a multitude of courses for each option. Not quite as small as Emory’s program, this university accepted close to 1,200 students over the duration of its program. They boast a series of summer and winter programs varying in length, with something for everyone to enjoy and pursue.  For the application process, there are differing protocols for students under/over 18 years old, local, non-local, and international students.

Important Facts

Cost: TBA

Session Length: Three-weeks to eight-weeks

Session Dates: January 4, 2021 to January 23, 2021 (Three-weeks)

June 1, 2021 to June 19, 2021 (Three-weeks)

June 22, 2021 to July 10, 2021 (Three-weeks)

July 13, 2021 to July 31, 2021 (Three-weeks)

June 8, 2021 to August 4, 2021 (Eight-weeks)

Living Accomodations: TBA

Applications Open: October 15, 2020 (Winter), TBA for Summer Sessions

Application Deadline: December 7, 2020 (Winter), TBA for Summer Sessions

9. Johns Hopkins University Summer Programs

As if you didn’t have enough to consider, Johns Hopkins comes in swinging with a series of challenging and competitive pre college programs. Held strictly in the summer, these programs are two-weeks in length and are offered over the course of three separate sessions. As you’ll probably be able to guess from the titles of each offered program, these are highly intensive and require students who are motivated to succeed! Upon completion of each course, you’ll be awarded a certificate of completion as well as have earned a credit to be applied to your college transcript.

  • Medical School Intensive – Geared towards high school students who are interested in medicine. This program gives students the opportunity to learn basic knowledge and techniques relating to internal medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine, and biomedical science.
  • Anatomy, Physiology, and Disease – Another program focused on the needs of students interested in medicine, students will be focused on classical anatomy and physiology of the human body.
  • Psychological Profiling – Is true crime your passions? This program may be the one for you! Students will learn the strengths and weaknesses of psychological methods used by forensic professionals in this riveting program.
  • Neurobiology: Cellular & Behavioral – This challenging program covers college-level coursework on cellular, network, and behavioral neurobiology as well as familiarizes students with laboratory and research methods to better prepare them for a career in the sciences.
  • Epidemics, Pandemics, & Outbreaks – This program seems exceptionally helpful right now, doesn’t it? During this course, students will develop a deeper understanding of outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics and how they have evolved through time. 
  • Johns Hopkins College Preparatory – While the other programs were more focused on specific careers for students, this program is geared towards helping a student become the best college student they can be. Students are given the tools they need to put together a balanced college list, realize their best academic fit, and help them better understand the admissions process.

Important Facts

Cost: $1,500

Session Length: Two-Weeks

Session Dates: TBA

Living Accomodations: TBA

Applications Open: TBA

Application Deadline: TBA

10. Carnegie Mellon University Summer Pre College

Similar to the previous nine universities, Carnegie Mellon aims to give high school students a taste of life as a university student. With programs strictly for juniors and seniors, students are able to receive instruction from university professors and faculty in a challenging yet welcoming environment. With twelve programs ranging from Art to Computer Science, there are enough options for students from all academic interests.

  • AI4All @ Carnegie Mellon – This partner program also seen at the University of Michigan, is geared towards providing students from underrepresented communities the opportunity to study computer science.
  • Architecture – This program allows students to see life through the lens of an architecture student at Carnegie Mellon. They will be expected to complete coursework in analog drawing, digital media, seminars, and workshops.
  • Art – Students will be encouraged to explore both traditional tools as well as new technologies over a variety of media during this competitive program.
  • Computational Biology – Students learn both laboratory and computational techniques during this rigorous program. 
  • Design – This program provides students with an excellent foundation of skills for the discipline of design and allows them a more clear look into what they can expect from a university-level design program.
  • Drama – Have you ever wondered what life is like for the student of an elite conservatory program? Well this is your opportunity to find out!
  • Music –  For the student considering life as a professional musician, this is the first step.  Students will be immersed in conservatory-style curriculum during their choice of either a three or six-week program. 
  • National  High School Game Academy – Motivated and hard working students who love video games will find this program to be the one for them! Due to the rigors of the curriculum, this program is only offered in six-week sessions.
  • Summer Academy for Math and Science – Similar to AI4All, this program is geared towards providing opportunities for underrepresented communities. Students interested in STEM related fields will enjoy the challenging curriculum focused on mathematics, biology, psychics, and computer programming.
  • Summer Session – A more board program, students will get a more general overview of what Carnegie Mellon has to offer during this summer session.
  • Writing and Culture – Last but surely not least, this program delves deep into writing and culture in relation to the humanities, arts, and technology.

Important Facts

Cost: Varies

Session Length: Three to six-weeks

Session Dates: July 3, 2021 to July 25, 2021

Living Accomodations: TBA

Applications Open: TBA

Application Deadline: TBA

Phew, we know that was a lot of information to take in but we thank you for sticking with us! Opportunities like these can really help you stand out from the crowd during the applications process, something Opus is very familiar with.

As always, Opus is here to help you in your admissions journey! Please reach out for any questions regarding our services and let us help you as you journey into the world of higher academia. 

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