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12 Free Summer Programs for High School Students

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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, these programs can be a bit pricey. But we’ve rounded up 12 summer programs that are entirely free.


Note: Many programs that are usually in-person are virtual during the pandemic.


12 Free Summer Programs for High Schoolers 


1. Computer Science for Cyber Security (CS4CS) 


Dates: July 12–July 30, 2021

Location: New York University (NYU)

Application deadline: April 12th, 2021


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 2021 are invited to participate.


2. Sadie Nash Summer Institute 


Dates: July 5–August 13, 2021

Location: Online (there may also be optional, in-person activities)

Application deadline: April 12th, 2021


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. NYUSPS Aspire 


Dates: August 1–6, 2021

Location: Online

Application deadline: April 6th, 2021


Rising high school juniors from underrepresented communities who will be first-generation college students may participate in this college prep and mentoring program hosted by NYU. Beginning with a one-week college immersion intensive, which includes classes and workshops, in the summer, the program continues to offer support to participants throughout the rest of high school.


You’ll attend workshops about the college application process, standardized testing, essay writing, and financial aid to help you prepare for college.


The 2021 deadlines for the next few scholarships have already passed, but keep the following programs in mind for next year!

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

4. Annenberg Youth Academy for Media and Civic Engagement


Dates: June 16–July 7, 2021

Location: Online


This three-week academy gives high school students a taste of college through freshman-level courses in media and journalism. 28 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.


5. Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program



  • Round 1: June 21–July 2, 2021
  • Round 2: July 12–July 23, 2021
  • Round 3: August 2–August 13, 2021

Location: Online


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. Eligible students in the U.S. may receive a $300 needs-based stipend.


Students will work on two projects in the first week: (1) a personal portfolio website and, (2) a BuzzFeed-style personality quiz using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. In the second week, students work on a final personal project focused on activism and web design. 


6. Summer Academy for Math and Science



  • Part 1: July 6 – August 6, 2021
  • Part 2: August 8 – August 14, 2021
  • Part 3: August – December

Location: Online


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


In Part 1, students participate in two online seminars and complete a project under the guidance of a STEM faculty member or graduate student. They also receive guidance on navigating the college admissions and financial aid processes, as well as meeting in groups aimed at fostering student success. During Part 2, students attend workshops, meet with alumni, students, and leaders, and complete and present their projects at the SAMS Symposium. Students continue the experience in Part 3, in which they explore STEM majors and receive mentorship and academic support.


7. Research Science Institute (RSI)


Dates: six weeks during the summer, for rising high school seniors

Location: Cambridge, MA


The prestigious RSI takes place at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) every year. 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. You’ll review current literature in their field, create a research plan, and present your findings through written and oral reports, all under the guidance of widely respected professors.


8. USC Bovard Scholars


Dates: July 11–31, 2021 

Location: University of Southern California campus


As a Bovard Scholar, you’ll live on the USC campus, getting a taste of college life while learning in a rigorous curriculum. You’ll also receive hands-on support and mentorship from a coach who will guide you through the college admissions process, assisting you with your applications and essays. 


Scholars will take part in career self-assessments and small group activities. Additionally, they’ll attend lectures and hear from special guest speakers. Throughout the admissions process, your Admissions Coach will continue to work with you and offer assistance.


9. National Youth Science Camp (NYSCamp)


Dates: June 28–July 21, 2021

Location: Online


Formerly a residential camp, NYSCamp is currently online and continues its goal 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 are making an impact on their fields and the world. Past presenters have included Neil deGrasse Tyson, John Nash, Neil Armstrong, and Julie Robinson.


10. Pomona College Academy for Youth Success (PAYS)


Dates: June 20–July 23, 2021

Location: Online


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 TAs. Students also participate in cultural events, workshops, and projects.


11. Princeton Summer Journalism Program


Dates: Mid-June–early-August

Location: Online


Students interested in journalism should consider PSJP. Currently virtual, the program includes weekly lectures and workshops 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.


12. Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP)


Date: six week summer program

TASP is cancelled in 2021. 


TASP is a prestigious, six-week program that brings together talented high school 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.


Looking for more summer programs? Here is a list of completely online opportunities for high school students.


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 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 1500+ 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. Here is a list of online internships for high school students this summer. 


And 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
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.