Best high school summer programs


Best high school summer programs, summer vacations can be a challenge for many parents of intelligent kids. Yes, you want to allow your child to experience the beach, the pool, and popsicles. But, the urgent necessity to make sure your child is productive must coexist with the romantic notions of summer, leaving you to ponder what summer activities a gifted or talented teenager should pursue.


Looking at summer activities to broaden your child’s horizons and possibly give them an advantage in the college admissions process may be something you and your child are doing if you and your child are making preparations for summer vacation.

The number of summer programs for high school students has considerably increased over the past several decades, especially pre-college summer programs offered on college campuses, to the point that there are now hundreds of options. Some offer an intense, focused program, quite the antithesis of the traditional summer camp experience with bunk beds and bugs. Others guarantee to combine the best aspects of a (supervised and safe!) teenage summer with chances to challenge your child and add depth to their Common App essay and other college essays.

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So how can you tell which options are really worth the frequently lengthy application procedure and steep price tag when there are so many to select from?


In this article, we’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of enrolling in pre-college summer programs in cities like Cambridge and Palo Alto, as well as the frequently asked question: Do these programs genuinely help your child get into college? We’ll also go through a list of programs that are highly recommended in several categories and talk about alternative summer activities that your kid could enjoy.

Pros and cons of attending a pre-college summer program

Your child may choose to spend the summer in a wilderness program, on service trips overseas, at an arts camp, or by taking part in a specific summer institute for a sport or extracurricular activity they excel in, such as robotics, debate, or an academic team.

But during the past several decades, the number of academics-focused “pre-college programs” located on college campuses has grown significantly, which is good news for the brilliant generalist. Here’s a quick review of what pre-college summer programs involve before we get into their benefits and drawbacks.


These programs typically try to simulate the college experience by having professors or visiting scholars teach classes and housing students in campus dorms (note: local students may be able to commute instead). Workshops can last from one to eight weeks and usually include lectures, networking opportunities, and socializing time with other participants.

Pros of attending a pre-college program

  • Your youngster might have the opportunity to learn about a topic or gain practical experience beyond what their high school offers.

  • Your child will be able to experience college life firsthand, which can make the adjustment less difficult when the time comes.

  • Your child will experience a particular campus and setting, enabling them to decide for themselves what kind of school they would do best in (eg, an urban setting vs a rural one, or a large research university vs a small liberal arts college).

  • Your child may be able to obtain college credit or use a course to move up a level in high school or college

  • Your youngster might become friends with a teacher who might be willing to suggest them for a college position.

  • Your child will be able to connect with and make friends with other kids who share similar interests.

Cons of attending a pre-college program

  • Pre-college summer programs are frequently very expensive, for example, Yale’s Young Global Scholars program typically charges $6,500 for two weeks.

  • Programs’ selectivity, prestige, and academic rigor might differ significantly and aren’t always consistent with the host college’s academic standing. Soon, we’ll talk more about this.

  • Contrary to the hopes of many parents, except for the most prestigious schools, sending your child to a pre-college summer program definitely won’t help them get into college. Don’t spend money just so your child can write Yale or Stanford on a college application. Later, we’ll go into more depth about this, including certain exceptions.

The reality of pre-college summer programs

Although most prestigious institutions now offer pre-college summer programs, their own selectivity and rigor vary greatly.

It’s crucial to realize that colleges frequently lend their brands and campuses to initiatives operated by for-profit organizations from the outside in order to generate revenue from otherwise empty spaces over the summer. In other instances, the organization of the programs is the responsibility of a specific university department or division, such as a school of professional studies, which has little to do with the academic requirements for undergraduates and most definitely no direct contact with the admissions office.

Even if the quality of education may still be very high, most students with strong academic records and the financial means to pay full tuition will have a good chance of getting into some of these programs. The fact that there is less competition may be a good thing, but it also means that completing a summer program at, let’s say, Harvard won’t carry the same level of status or achievement as getting accepted.

We’ll discuss those programs a little later. There are, however, some that are regarded as renowned and are quite difficult to get into.

Will attending a summer program at a university help your child get into that college?

Probably not, at least not directly, is the brief response. The vast majority of pre-college summer programs have no impact on the undergraduate admissions policies of their host colleges, and thus shouldn’t be seen as a backdoor into those institutions.

However, even for the most prestigious programs, college admissions officers are fully aware of the high acceptance rates and high costs of many pre-college programs and won’t necessarily see entrance into one as a notable success. People might interpret it as merely evidence of your family’s wealth.

Nonetheless, attending a pre-college program may still be worth your child’s time. Even in less selective programs, keep in mind that many summer programs draw their teachers from the faculty of their host college and may still be academically challenging. Also, if your child has the chance to enroll in a course that aligns with their current interests and areas of expertise, this will demonstrate their dedication to that field and strengthen the profile they are seeking to establish in their college applications.

So long as your family can afford it, enrolling your child in an intense course at Bryn Mawr’s Russian Language Institute might be a worthy endeavor if, for instance, your child is infatuated with Russian and has been teaching themselves the language because their high school doesn’t provide it.

It’s more crucial for your child to use the experience personally and in their college applications than just showing up to the program. The Russia nerd ought to graduate from the program with, uh, improved Russian—and, possibly, newfound enthusiasm for Tolstoy. In their college essays, they should discuss their enthusiasm rather than the success of enrolling in one of these programs during application season.

On that topic, although though the majority of this guide’s attention is directed toward academic pre-college programs, we advise adopting a similar strategy if your child is considering enrolling in a non-academic summer program. The program your child picks should align with their current interests and activities, whether they are considering a service trip to another country or an intense acting course.

We highly advise against spending money on showy, expensive activities unless they are carefully chosen and relate to the student’s interests and areas of specialty.

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