Affordable Academic Summer Programs for High School Students

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Once upon a time, summer meant vacation. Now that you’re in high school, however, colleges will expect you to do something a little more productive and meaningful with your summer break, even if you are still an underclassman.

One activity that falls into this category is participating in a summer program. Many such programs are academic and involve taking courses, and you will be able to delve into topics that especially interest you and become more involved in particular subjects. Additionally, you may be able to learn valuable subjects and skills that you might not have the opportunity to learn at school. Attending these programs will show colleges that you are eager to learn—so much so that you are willing to spend your summers exploring your academic interests.


While summer programs are a great way to spend your vacation, they’re also often expensive. If you are concerned about the cost of attending a prestigious summer program, don’t worry. There are many programs that are free or offer scholarships or financial aid that cover some or all of your tuition.

At CollegeVine, we provide guidance to high school students to help them learn which summer programs are most effective based on their admissions goals. Learn about how our Mentorship Program can help you make the most of your summers and expand your extracurricular profile.

Carnegie Mellon University Summer Programs for Diversity

Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, offers a selection of prestigious Summer Programs for Diversity for students ages 16-18. The programs include the Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science (limited to rising high school seniors), AP / EA (Advanced Placement / Early Action—students in this program receive college credit), Architecture, Art, Design, Drama, Music, and the National High School Game Academy. Admission is very competitive, and there is no tuition, housing, or dining fees for students who are selected to attend the Summer Programs for Diversity. Click here for more information and to apply. Keep in mind that the application deadline is March 3.



Mathcamp is a 5-week-long summer program for mathematically talented high school students ages 13-18. Attendees explore undergraduate and graduate-level topics to help them build problem-solving skills relevant to mathematics. Depending on your family’s income, you may receive a full or partial need-based scholarship. Click here for more information on scholarships. Students must take a qualifying quiz and submit recommendations and an essay as part of their application. The application deadline is March 10. Visit the Mathcamp website for more information.


Telluride Association Summer Program

The Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP) is a free, six-week program for high school juniors. The program seeks students from all kinds of educational backgrounds who demonstrate intellectual curiosity and motivation. Students attend an academic seminar, as well as a public speaking program.


High school sophomores may attend the Telluride Association Sophomore Seminar (TASS). This seminar focuses on one of four topics related to Black and ethnic students. Like TASP, the program is completely free.


Applications for this program are typically due in January, but it is among the most prestigious summer programs available to high school students, so the early deadline is worth preparing for. Click here to learn more about these programs.


University of Chicago Young Scholars Program

The University of Chicago Young Scholars Summer Program offers mathematically talented students from seventh through twelfth grades an opportunity to learn various math-related concepts. Each summer has a different theme (this year’s is number theory) and students in each grade component (7th-8th, 9th-10th, and 11th-12th) offers different sets of courses. The program is partially grant-funded, and you may apply for additional aid. The application deadline is March 31st. Learn more about the program through the Young Scholars Summer Program website.


Pre-college summer programs

Many colleges, including all of the Ivies, offer pre-college summer programs for high school students. These programs are intended to give younger students a taste of college life not only in terms of academics, but also with regard to living in a dorm, having more autonomy, and experiencing college towns and cities. Participation a summer program at a given college neither ensures admission nor requires attendance at that school. Most pre-college programs don’t offer college credit for the courses you take, although some, such as PennSummer through the University of Pennsylvania and Berkeley Pre-Collegiate Program at the University of California at Berkeley, do offer this option.


Many of these programs tend to be expensive, but some have financial aid or in-state tuition options. Be sure to research these options thoroughly at the programs in which you are interested. Often, this information is available on the college or program website.

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Governor’s Scholars programs

The most famous Governor’s Scholars program is in Kentucky, and some states offer similar opportunities. High school students living in Kentucky may apply to the program, which features a liberal arts curriculum combined with a co-curricular and residential life experience. It is free of cost for students selected. To be eligible, students must be in 11th grade at the time of selection and intend to return to a Kentucky school district for the next school term, be a current resident of Kentucky, and have taken the ACT, PSAT, or SAT in 9th, 10th, or 11th grades. Students must first be selected by their school districts before applying with the larger pool of applicants. The program is held at Kentucky college campuses; this year, Morehead State University and Northern Kentucky University will host the program. Check with your guidance counselor for more information about the selection process and important dates, and visit the website for more information.


Other summer opportunities

If you’re looking for more affordable ways to spend your summer—or if you’d just prefer to do something else—there are plenty of other options. You might want to do a paid job or internship. Jobs can help you earn money, as well as show colleges that you are responsible and a hard worker. Internships, while often unpaid, will also impress colleges by demonstrating that you want to delve into a possible career early on and learn more about a field that interests you. Check out Should I Get a Job or Do an Internship and The Ins and Outs of Pre-College Internships for advice on how to go about securing jobs and internships.


Volunteering in your local community is another great way to spend your summer in high school. Taking on a volunteer project or working with a local organization shows colleges that you care about your community and are eager to help out and work on solving problems. Check out Can I Volunteer if I’m Under Age 18? and Do I Need Community Service for My College Applications? for tips on finding places that accept young volunteers and how to get started.


Another idea is undertaking a personal project. Perhaps you want to start your own blog or undertake research. Maybe you even want to start your own business. Summer is when you have the time to do it. Depending on the project, time commitment and costs can vary significantly, so be sure to research the steps you need to take and materials you should have on hand before you get started. Read What Do I Do if My Summer Plans Fall Through? for ideas on how to follow through on personal projects.


Tips for seeking out funding

If you are interested in a summer program but aren’t sure if you will be able to afford the cost of attendance, it never hurts to ask if scholarships are available. Check the program’s website for details first, and then reach out to the office via phone or email to ask directly.


It’s also a good idea to pay attention to deadlines. Financial aid and scholarship deadlines may be earlier than the application and registration deadlines, and you need to be on top of all important dates to maximize your chances of securing funding.


Finally, ask for help with your application from your guidance counselor, teacher, or another mentor. An adult familiar with the application process can help with paperwork and editing or reviewing essays, as well as offering general advice. Some programs may require recommendation letters, and you should ask your teachers and guidance counselor as early as possible to give them enough to time to write your letter in order to meet your deadlines.


If none of the programs we’ve described appeal to you, try researching programs more in line with your interests. There are plenty of programs and camps that focus on specific topics or subjects, so be sure to ask your guidance counselor or conduct your own research to find one that is right for you.


For more information about programs and other ways to spend your summers in high schools, check out our posts below:


5 Things You Can Do This Summer Instead of an Internship

What You Should Be Thinking About as a Junior—Part II: Extracurriculars and Summer Activities

What Do I Do if My Summer Plans Fall Through?

Effective Summer Activities

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.