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26 Most Prestigious Summer Programs for High Schoolers

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For many high schoolers, summer vacation means sleeping in, lazy days on the couch catching up on Netflix, and hanging out with friends. While these activities sound good, they, unfortunately, do little to improve a student’s chance of getting into a top school. 


Luckily, summer programs allow talented young students to explore their fields of interest, get a taste of college life, and make new friends, while enriching their minds and improving their application profile. Lasting anywhere from a week to a month (or longer), the majority of these programs still leave time for those traditional summer vacation activities, too.


Still trying to decide if a summer program is for you? Check out our article 7 Reasons Why You Should Participate in a Summer Program.


What Makes a Summer Program Prestigious?


Just as summer programs encompass a wide variety of subjects, run for varying lengths, and cost different amounts, the prestige of summer programs also differs. The most prestigious summer programs are selective and free, like the Anson L. Clark Scholars Program which accepts just 12 students annually and rewards participants with a stipend.


Less impressive summer programs accept most students and require paying a hefty fee. Some of these summer programs are held at selective colleges and universities, which has led to the misconception that attending one can bolster your odds of admission at the school. Attending a summer program at a selective college will not help your chances of admission to the school, though it will help you to get a feel for what the campus and the surrounding area are like.


The Four Tiers of Extracurricular Activities is useful for understanding the prestige differences between summer programs. The highest tiers—Tiers 1 and 2—are reserved for uncommon and attention-grabbing summer programs (highly selective and free), while the lower tiers—Tiers 3 and 4—are for more common and less impressive summer programs (less selective and pricey).


CollegeVine’s free chancing engine is another great tool for gauging the prestige of summer programs. It can help you assess the strength of your extracurricular profile and organize your activities outside the classroom, like summer programs, into Tiers.


Most Prestigious Summer Programs for Highschoolers


1. Telluride Association Summer Seminar (TASS)


The Telluride Association Summer Seminar is a six-week program that allows high school sophomores and juniors with diverse backgrounds from around the world to study how power and privilege shape social structures through courses in humanities and social sciences. Attendees are intellectually curious and motivated learners who commonly go on to attend some of the country’s finest colleges and universities.


TASS is completely free, including the cost of tuition, books, room and board, and even travel if necessary—eliminating any financial barriers that may prevent the brightest minds from attending.


2. Research Science Institute (RSI)


The Research Science Institute gathers 100 of the world’s most outstanding high school students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for a free, five-week program where they can experience the research cycle in its entirety. Combining on-campus coursework in scientific theory with off-campus work in science and technology research, RSI students produce individual projects guided by experienced scientists and researchers, culminating in written and oral presentations of their projects.


Interested in learning more about research and RSI? Check out our article How to Get a Research Assistant Position in High School.


3. Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists (PROMYS)


Founded in 1989, PROMYS is a six-week residential program enrolling approximately 80 carefully chosen, mathematically-gifted high school students who are at least 14 years old and have completed ninth grade.


Attendees of PROMYS are not treated as students; rather, PROMYS participants are thought of as mathematicians. Throughout the program, these young mathematicians explore the field supported by their peers, counselors, research mathematicians, and research scientists.


PROMYS costs $6,500, however, the program is free for domestic students whose families make under $80,000 per year.


Learn more about PROMYS with our article A Guide to PROMYS.


4. The Summer Science Program (SSP)


The SSP is a 60-year-old program designed to help future scientists, doctors, engineers, and entrepreneurs realize their full potential. By providing the role models, intellectually-equivalent peers, challenge, and inspiration that SSP participants often find lacking in their schools, the program immerses talented rising seniors from across the globe in experimental science.


Throughout the intensive 39-day program, students conduct a research project from beginning to end, take field trips, listen to guest speakers, and, most importantly, partake in a life-changing experience.


The SSP practices need-blind admissions—that is, an applicant’s ability to pay for the program isn’t factored into admission decisions. The cost of the program is scaled based on family income, with students from more affluent families paying more and those from lower-income families paying less, if anything at all.


5. Boys State/Girls State


Boys State was founded in 1935 by two Illinois Legionnaires and the first Girls State was held three years later in 1938—these two summer programs teach high school juniors about the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of U.S. citizens, along with the structure of city, county, and state governments.


This intensive one-week program divides students into parties, elects officials, and works to carry out basic functions such as writing, proposing, and passing bills. Other Boys/Girls State activities include legislative sessions, court proceedings, law enforcement presentations, assemblies, bands, choruses, and recreational programs.


In most instances, Boys State and Girls State are free for participants.


6. Boys Nation/Girls Nation


Since 1946, Boys Nation has convened each summer to form a Senate in Washington, D.C., made up of representatives from the 49 Boys States (every U.S. state is represented except Hawaii). The first Girls Nation gathered the following year in 1947.


Each state sends two students (who have completed their junior year and have at least one semester of high school remaining) to act as Senators representing their state. Throughout the week-long program, students gain first-hand experience of the inner workings of government, listen to lectures, participate in forums, and visit notable D.C. sites. The highlight of the program for many Boys/Girls Nation senators is the opportunity to meet with elected officials from their home states.


Read more about Boys/Girls Nation in our article Girls and Boys Nation-An Extension of Boys and Girls State.


7. Research in Science & Engineering (RISE)


RISE is a six-week summer program at Boston University (BU) for the nation’s best and brightest scientifically minded high school juniors. Participants in the RISE program are afforded two tracks: internship and practicum.


Students opting for the internship track will gain hands-on experience with research projects and work under the mentorship of distinguished faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students with opportunities in fields such as astronomy, biology, biomedical engineering, chemistry, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, medical laboratory research, neuroscience, physics, psychology, and public health. 


The practicum track is focused on computational biology and follows a set syllabus, making it an ideal choice for students who prefer more structured study.


While RISE is prestigious, it’s also expensive. The cost of the tuition alone is $5,100 while room and board options range between $2,988 and $3,288.


8. Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES)


MITES is a residential program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) aimed at students interested in pursuing a degree—and subsequently a career—in the STEM fields. Program participants are academically talented and come from diverse, underrepresented, or underserved backgrounds.


Throughout this six-week residential program, high school juniors develop the skills necessary for success in STEM fields while learning about the value and reward of acquiring advanced technical degrees.


MITES is free—the only expense students need to cover is their transportation to and from MIT.


Discover six other super summer programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in our blog 7 Summer Programs at MIT for High Schoolers.


9. Stanford University Mathematics Camp (SUMaC)


SUMaC is a residential program at Stanford University for high-achieving high school juniors and seniors seeking to be challenged in mathematics and with a desire to learn about the latest in mathematical research and the application of mathematics across scientific fields.


Throughout the camp’s four weeks, participants learn about advanced mathematics through lectures, guided research, and group problem-solving. SUMaC also provides students with a sample of a college-level workload—delivering rigorous coursework along with challenging assignments to complete outside of meeting times.


Find more great summer math programs in our article How to Spend Your Summer As a Prospective Math Major (And Why Math is a Great Career Path).


10. Science Internship Program (SIP)


The SIP at the University of California-Santa Cruz (UCSC) gives approximately 325 high-achieving and driven students the rare chance to work and learn at a premier research institution. Projects are available in fields such as astrophysics, biology, computer science, physics, and psychology.


Now in its 15th year, this ten-week internship allows students to spend their summer working on authentic open-ended science research projects while being mentored by UCSC faculty, graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers. The program is open to high schoolers in grades 9 through 12 and presents a fantastic opportunity for students interested in pursuing a career in a STEM field to see scientific research “in action.”


The academic program fee for SIP is $4,000, but full and partial need-based scholarships are available.


11. Economics for Leaders (EFL)


This week-long program occurring at colleges and universities across the country (as well as virtually) gives future leaders hands-on experience using economics in the decision-making process. EFL seeks to make budding leaders more effective by showing them how to use economic analysis when considering public policy choices while also creating a deeper understanding of leadership and building leadership skills.


EFL is open to high school sophomores and juniors and is extremely competitive, with two applicants for every available space. The in-person program costs $2,100; it costs $800 to participate in the virtual program. Scholarships are available based on financial need, leadership activities, and academic and extracurricular achievement.


12. Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS)


SAMS is a five-week residential program at Carnegie Mellon University for current high school juniors age 16 or older interested in pursuing an undergraduate STEM degree. Participants in SAMS develop a deeper knowledge and a better understanding of a variety of STEM fields through classroom instruction, hands-on learning, and consistent engagement with faculty and staff mentors.


SAMS aims to provide STEM opportunities to students from underrepresented backgrounds. Admission to the program and participation is free.


13. The Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics (HCSSiM)


Entering its 51st year, HCSSiM is a residential six-week advanced mathematics program held at Hampshire College in which talented students from around the world spend a large portion of their days engaged in mathematics—not just the results of math problems.


HCSSiM’s mission is to prepare and motivate high school students to pursue degrees, and ultimately careers, in mathematics. HCSSiM offers participants unparalleled access to faculty in classrooms, at mealtimes, and in the dorms.


Only a small number of burgeoning mathematicians attend the program annually—just 46 students participated in 2022. The cost of the program is $5,780, although the program is free for domestic students from families with household incomes less than $68,000.


14. JCamp


Founded in 2001 to address the lack of diversity in the media, JCamp brings high school first-year students, sophomores, and juniors from a wide variety of cultural, racial, religious, and political backgrounds (to name a few) together for six days of intense journalism training.


Participating in sessions and workshops led by journalists employed by top media companies, students get hands-on training in broadcasting, newspaper, magazine, photojournalism, and online media—and produce media packages for the program’s news site.


JCamp is free if selected; the program covers the cost of everything from airfare to housing to meals.


Planning on pursuing a career in journalism? Learn about some of the extracurricular activities that can put you on the path to a job in the media in our article 7 Extracurricular Ideas for the Aspiring Journalist.


15. MathILy


Serious mathematics infused with levity, MathILy is a marvelous five-week residential program at Bryn Mawr College. Led by mathematicians possessing PhDs and supported by graduate and undergraduate students, MathILy participants learn to improve their problem-solving ability, hone their critical thinking skills, meet other incredibly talented other young mathematicians, and work on lots of advanced math problems.


When not tackling topics such as combinatorial optimization, generating functions, information theory, knot theory, and Markov chain modeling, students will participate in program-wide discussions about college choices and career possibilities inside and outside of mathematics.


Only about 45 students are selected to participate in MathILy annually and preference is given to students between the ages of 14 and 17. The cost of the program is $4,950 and need-based financial aid is available.


16. High School Honors Science, Math and Engineering Program (HSHSP)


Since 1988, HSHSP has given students entering their senior year of high school the opportunity to gain first-hand research experience in a university environment. Drawing talented and driven students from across the United States and its territories to Michigan State University, this seven-week residential program allows students to make connections with like-minded students from diverse backgrounds, build friendships, and increase their knowledge of science and mathematics while fostering a passion for the field.


The cost of HSHSP is $4,000 and scholarships are available based on financial need.


17. Anson L. Clark Scholars Program


The distinguishing characteristic of the Anson L. Clark Scholars Program is that it’s open to students in a wide range of fields—from biology to computer science to history. Coming from across the globe to Texas Tech University, participants are afforded the unique opportunity to gain hands-on research experience in their field while working one-on-one with faculty over the program’s seven intense weeks.


Many Clark Scholars use the experience to shape their future college and career goals. The Clark Scholar Program is free for chosen applicants—the only cost students are responsible for is their transportation to and from the program. This program is open to high school juniors and seniors and is extremely selective; only 12 students are chosen each summer.


Think you have what it takes to be one of the next 12 Clark Scholars? Check out this article from Forbes, Texas Tech Dean Gives Insider Advice How To Get Accepted To The Competitive Clark Scholars Program.


18. Notre Dame Summer Scholars


During an intense two weeks, rising juniors and seniors enrolled in the Summer Scholars program are given a taste of life on a college campus. Participating in one of 31 fields of study ranging from accounting to world politics and power, Summer Scholars get a preview of college academics while earning one college credit for completing the program.


Of course, there is much more to college than just the classroom—summer scholars are encouraged to work together on coursework outside of class and ample time is provided to sample the social side of college life.


The cost of the Notre Dame Summer Scholars Program is $4,475 and a limited number of full and partial need-based scholarships are available.


19. Hk Maker Lab


This free four-week summer program at the Columbia University School of Engineering allows students to tackle a hands-on design project under the guidance of the university’s renowned faculty and present it to the community. The program is for New York City high school juniors and seniors from backgrounds underrepresented in STEM and with financial need.


20. Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program (SIMR)


Students are invited to perform basic research on a medically focused project through the eight-week-long SIMR. The program aims to help students gain a deeper understanding of how scientific research is conducted, introduce them to careers in the biological sciences and medicine, and increase diversity in the field.


There are eight areas of research available for students to participate in: immunology, neurobiology, cancer biology, bioengineering, stem cell and regenerative medicine, cardiovascular biology, bioinformatics, and genetics and genomics.


The program is open to all domestic high school juniors and seniors, however, priority is given to Bay Area students. Students from groups underrepresented in biomedical research are encouraged to apply. Not only is SIMR free, but students receive a stipend for their participation.


22. Tufts University Biomedical Engineering Research Scholars (TUBERS) Program


This six-week program for academically-talented students teaches research techniques, experimental protocols, making predictions, and testing hypotheses. Participants will leave the program with a completed research project that they can enter in local and national science competitions.


The program is open to students age 16 and older and is free, however, participants must arrange their own transportation to and from the Tufts campus in Medford, Massachusetts, and housing is unavailable to out-of-state students.


23. Pomona College Academy for Youth Success (PAYS)


PAYS helps prepare talented local high schoolers—rising sophomores through rising seniors—for admission to some of the country’s best colleges and universities. Up to 90 students (30 sophomores, 30 juniors, and 30 seniors) are selected annually to participate in the four-week residential program, where they engage in a variety of activities, including classwork, cultural events, workshops, projects, and field trips.


PAYS is free and aimed at students traditionally underrepresented in higher education, such as students who are the first in their family to attend college, from low-income families, and from racial/ethnic groups like African American, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander.


24. Annenberg Youth Academy for Media and Civic Engagement


Just 26 students from the communities surrounding the USC University Park and Health Science Campuses are selected to participate in this prestigious summer program. The program exposes participants to college-level work while helping them develop a better understanding of the role that media communications and journalism play in fashioning civic-minded thought leaders and innovators.


Program participants also build valuable skills like writing, critical thought, public speech and debate, multimedia production, interviewing, and ethnography while exploring career paths in media and journalism.


The Annenberg Youth Academy for Media and Civic Engagement is a free program.


25. Lehigh University Summer Engineering Institute (SEI)


SEI is aimed at rising juniors or seniors from underrepresented groups or future first-generation college students. The two-week residential program provides an immersive STEM experience as it draws topics, activities, and projects from a variety of fields, such as 3D printing, robotics, nanoscience, earthquake mitigation, bioengineering, environmental remediation, and computer science.


Approximately 100 high school juniors and seniors participate in the program yearly. The program is free and is offered both in-person and virtually in 2023.


26. Broad Summer Scholars Program


This six-week program is perfect for rising Massachusetts high school seniors with an interest in science. Participants are paired with scientists to conduct original cutting-edge research projects in fields like cancer biology, psychiatric disease, chemical biology, computational biology, and infectious disease.


In addition to performing research, participants will present their findings at a scientific poster session, attend a college fair, meet like-minded students, and have fun. Not only is the Broad Summer Scholars Program free, but participants receive a $3,600 stipend at its conclusion.

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.