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20 Free Summer Programs for High Schoolers in 2023

What’s Covered:


Looking for a productive, engaging way to spend your summer? Summer programs are a great option. These enriching experiences cover a variety of themes and topics, allowing you to take college-level courses, pursue a passion, or explore a prospective career. 


Sometimes, summer programs are pricey, but we’ve rounded up 20 summer programs that are entirely free.


20 Free Summer Programs for High Schoolers  


1. Computer Science for Cyber Security (CS4CS) 


Dates: July 10-28 

Location: New York University (NYU)

Application deadline: April 14


Cybersecurity is one of the most important (and lucrative) fields in our modern world. Through this program, high school students learn the fundamentals of cybersecurity and computer science at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. The mission is to “[break] down barriers that have historically led to the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM.”


Students who live in New York City or a neighboring city, are highly motivated in STEM, and in 9th-12th grade as of September 2023 are invited to participate.


2. Sadie Nash Summer Institute 


Dates: July 5th-August 15th

Location: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Newark

Application deadline: N/A


Through this program, self-identified young women and gender-expansive youth currently attending high school, living in New York or Newark, NJ, explore their leadership potential while participating in a community with other “Nashers.” 


Students take courses in society, identity, social justice, and other courses to build critical thinking skills. They also attend workshops and field trips, while meeting accomplished leaders.


3. Annenberg Youth Academy (AYA) for Media and Civic Engagement


Dates: June 19-July 14

Location: University of Southern California (USC)

Application deadline: March 31


This four-week academy gives high school students a taste of college through freshman-level courses in media and journalism. 26 students are selected from areas surrounding the University of Southern California (USC) to participate in the program.  


During AYA, students will hone their skills in public speech, debate, critical thinking, writing, multimedia production, interviewing, and more, as well as explore careers in media and journalism. Students also have the opportunity to learn about USC and meet the school’s scholars who are advancing issues of race, gender, and ethnicity in communication and journalism.


4. Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program


Dates: Late June-early August

Location: Virtual 

Application deadline: February 1


Open to rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors, the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program teaches girls and nonbinary students computer science skills necessary to prepare for a career in tech. Participants will also learn about tech jobs and meet professionals in the field. No prior computer science experience is required.


The program is offered on two tracks: the two-week virtual summer immersion program (SIP) and the self-paced program (SPP). As its name implies, participants have two weeks to complete the SIP program, a commitment of approximately five hours a day, while SPP participants have six weeks to complete course projects. 


5. Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS)


Dates: July 1-August 5

Location: Carnegie Mellon University

Application deadline: March 15


SAMS is an opportunity for students from underrepresented communities in the U.S. to learn about STEM fields, including math, biology, and physics. Students take courses, engage in projects, and receive mentorship from world-renowned faculty at Carnegie Mellon University.  


Part 1 of the program provides participants a virtual jumpstart by helping them build the skills needed for success in the in-person program. Part 2 is the in-person, residential part of the program. During Part 2, students take courses, attend meetings, and complete and present their projects at the SAMS Symposium.  


6. Research Science Institute (RSI)


Dates: Six weeks during the summer

Location: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 

Application deadline: N/A


The prestigious RSI takes place at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) every year—just 100 high school juniors are selected to participate annually. Through the program, students learn theory in the classroom while gaining hands-on experience in science and technology research.  


Participants experience the entire research cycle from start to finish, they review current literature in their field, create a research plan, and present their findings through written and oral reports, all under the guidance of widely respected professors.


7. USC Bovard Scholars


Dates: July 10-29

Location: University of Southern California (USC)

Application deadline: January 13


Bovard Scholars live on the USC campus, getting a taste of college life while learning in a rigorous curriculum. They also receive hands-on support and mentorship from a coach who will guide them through the college admissions process, assisting them with their applications and essays. Following the program, their admissions coach will continue to work with them through the admissions process and offer assistance.


Scholars will take part in career self-assessments and small group activities. Additionally, they’ll attend lectures, hear from special guest speakers, and participate in a variety of social activities. 


8. National Youth Science Camp (NYSCamp)


Dates: June 19-July 12

Location: Camp Pocahontas, West Virginia

Application deadline: February 28


NYSCamp is a residential science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) program in West Virginia’s Monongahela National with the aim of educating and bolstering rising leaders. Two delegates are selected from each state and the District of Columbia, and international delegates are sometimes chosen to participate as well. 


The program features world-class lectures, directed studies, and seminars with STEM professionals who impact their fields and the world. Past presenters have included Neil deGrasse Tyson, John Nash, Neil Armstrong, and Julie Robinson. 


9. Pomona College Academy for Youth Success (PAYS)


Dates: June 25-July 21

Location: Pomona College

Application deadline: February 27


More than 90 students local to Pomona College are selected to take part in PAYS. Rising sophomores through rising seniors from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups prepare for admission to highly selective colleges and universities through this program. Students take Math & Critical Inquiry courses taught by Pomona faculty and electives taught by Pomona College students serving as TAs. Students also participate in cultural events, workshops, and projects.


10. Princeton Summer Journalism Program (PSJP)


Dates: June 27-August 4 

Location: Princeton University 

Application deadline: February 27


Students interested in journalism should consider PSJP. The hybrid program includes combines virtual workshops and lectures with a ten-day residential experience. Lectures and workshops are taught by program alumni and journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The Daily Beast, Politico, Sports Illustrated, and CNN, among other media outlets.


Students also participate in weekly discussion groups covering a variety of topics and attend seminars about the college admissions process. PSJP culminates with the publication of the Princeton Summer Journal, a newspaper created by program participants. 


11. Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP)


Dates: June 25-August 5

Location: Cornell University, University of Maryland, and University of Michigan

Application deadline: N/A


TASP is a prestigious, six-week program that brings together talented high school sophomores and juniors from around the world to participate in seminars, engage in educational and social activities, join group discussions, attend lectures, go on field trips, and more. Students also have the chance to plan activities for their time outside of the classroom.


12. Anson L. Clark Scholars Program


Dates: June 18-August 3

Location: Texas Tech University 

Application deadline: February 13


This intensive seven-week summer research program is extremely competitive—just 12 talented high school juniors and seniors are selected to participate annually. Students lucky enough to participate in this program gain hands-on research experience working with a faculty member in fields including:


  • Biology
  • Cell and Molecular Biology
  • Chemistry & Biochemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Economics/Business/Finance/Marketing
  • Electrical Engineering & Computer Engineering
  • History 
  • Microbiology
  • Physics


Students also participate in social activities and seminars throughout the program. Not only is this summer program free, but participants receive a $750 tax-free stipend at its conclusion. 


13. Applied Research Innovations in Science and Engineering (ARISE)


Dates: Late June-early August

Location: New York University (NYU)

Application deadline: March 1


This seven-week program is aimed at rising sophomores and juniors in New York City who are  interested in STEM. The program provides hands-on opportunities in a variety of STEM fields—including Bio and Molecular Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Robotics, AI, Computer Science, and Machine Learning—while also covering valuable topics like college-level research, expository writing, scientific methods, professional development, and ethics. 


14. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Women’s Technology Program (WTP)


Dates: June 24-July 21

Location: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Application deadline: January 15


This four-week summer program introduces female rising juniors to engineering through hands-on classes, labs, and team-based projects. Participants aren’t required to have a background in engineering, however, they must demonstrate excellence in math and science. This program intends to empower students from traditionally underrepresented and underserved in engineering—such as those who are African American, Hispanic, or Native American. The program is free, but participants must provide their own housing and transportation, making it ideal for local students.


15. Simons Summer Research Program


Dates: June 26-August 11

Location: Stony Brook University 

Application deadline: February 10


The Simons Summer Research Program provides motivated local rising juniors with the chance to gain hands-on experience with research in science, math, and engineering at Stony Brook University. Participants are paired with a faculty mentor, join a research team, and assume responsibility for a project, ultimately producing a written research abstract and poster while experiencing what it’s like living and studying at a major university.


16. Santa Clara University Summer Engineering Seminar (SES)



  • Session One: July 9-13
  • Session Two: July 16-20
  • Session Three: July 23-27 (past participants only)

Location: Santa Clara University 

Application deadline: February 26


This five-day summer experience is offered to high school sophomores with an interest in engineering. Through a mixture of lectures and interactive activities, participants learn about engineering while sampling college life. Participants can apply to attend an advanced session the year after their attendance and turn SES into a two-year program to gain a deeper understanding of the engineering fields they’re most interested in. 


17. Penn State Business Opportunities Summer Session (BOSS)


Dates: June 18-June 30

Location: Penn State University 

Application deadline: March 31


BOSS is a free two-week program for students interested in pursuing business in college. Over the course of the program, participants take part in college prep activities and coursework focused on business fundamentals. All program expenses are free—like food, lodging, and events—however, accepted students must pay a $50 registration fee. 


18. Lumiere Breakthrough Scholar Program


Dates: 12 weeks 

Location: N/A

Application deadline: 

  • Spring: February 12
  • Summer: April 16
  • Fall: May 14


This 12-week program pairs talented high school students with Ph.D. mentors to work 1-on-1 on an independent research project. Participants gain firsthand experience in their field and develop an independent research paper by the end of the program. Students also work with writing coaches and take part in workshops on the research process to further build their skills.


19. Office of Naval Research Science and Engineering Apprentice Program


Dates: Eight weeks 

Location: One of 25 Navy laboratories  

Application deadline: N/A


High schoolers with a talent for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics serve as apprentices in one of 25 Navy laboratories for eight weeks through this program. Participants are mentored by research personnel and gain real-world science and engineering research experience. Not only is this program free, but participants are paid. First-year apprentices earn a $3,500 stipend while returning apprentices earn a $4,000 stipend.


20. JCamp 


Dates: Six days 

Location: Washington, D.C.

Application deadline: March 17


JCamp is a six-day multicultural journalism program for high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors provided by the Asian American Journalist Association. The program offers hands-on training in a variety of journalistic mediums, including broadcasting, newspapers, magazines, photojournalism, and online media. JCamp seeks to build diversity in journalism and students from all backgrounds are welcome to apply. 


How Impressive Are Summer Programs in College Admissions?


Colleges look for students who explore their interests outside the classroom. Extracurricular activities are an important way to demonstrate your passions.


Extracurricular activities are broken down into four tiers, with Tier 1 representing those that are the most impressive and unique and Tier 4 representing those that are the most common. In general, you should aim to have at least a few Tier 1 and 2 activities mixed in with Tier 3 and 4 activities.


Summer programs fall into different tiers depending on factors like selectivity, theme, and more. While they usually fall into Tier 3 or 4, a particularly prestigious and selective program, such as Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP), could be considered Tier 1 or 2. 


Curious how a summer program or extracurricular activity will impact your chances of admission? CollegeVine’s free chancing engine will help you learn your real odds of getting into hundreds of schools across the country, plus give you tips for improving your profile.


Other Ways to Spend Your Summer


Summer break isn’t really a break when you’re preparing for the college admissions process. You should be exploring interests and demonstrating that you’re eager to learn and explore a passion. But summer programs aren’t the only way to do that. 


For example, you could take on an independent project, such as writing for your own blog or conducting research. This will look particularly impressive to colleges because it demonstrates initiative. 


Internships are another good option. Although most internships are reserved for college students and graduates, you can still find some opportunities for younger people. This, too, will impress colleges, as well as give you a taste of a prospective future career. 


Don’t forget about paying jobs. Colleges understand that students may need to earn money. They also know that jobs help students gain important life skills and learn a sense of responsibility.


Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.