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6 Interesting Summer Programs High School Students Should Know About

Updated: May 29, 2022

Season’s Greetings and a happy 2021 to you, readers! Let’s get right to business: if you happened to read my recent blog post about summer programs for high school students, you know that now is the time to start figuring out your summer plans because many of these programs have limited space and feature deadlines in January and February. And since I’m a believer in using specific examples to illustrate general points, I’m happy to kick off your search with this list of six recommended summer programs (and six bonus links!) that address a wide range of student interests. For each of these programs, I will include the following sections:

  • Tell me more: An overview of the program

  • For students seeking: Keywords to help identify if the program would be a good fit

  • Fine print: Cost, dates, application/registration info, and deadline(s)

  • Anotha one: A bonus link to a similar program worth investigating

Let's get started! First off:

Tell me more: COSMOS is a four-week STEM program, hosted by each of four different UC campuses (Irvine, Davis, Santa Cruz, San Diego). Students take part in a specific “cluster” within the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, learning through a specialized curriculum of lectures, labs, and field days, all designed by UC professors. The program culminates in the presentation of a group research project that allows high school students to work in a collaborative setting while experiencing the academic research process firsthand. Clusters for summer 2021 that especially stand out to me include “Bioengineering Your Brain: Controlling the World with Your Brainwaves” and “Spatial Sound: An Exploration of 3D Sound with Application in Virtual Reality.”

For students seeking: sciences, math, technology, engineering, experiential learning, academic research, teamwork

Fine print:

  • Cost: $2,117 ($200 deposit due April 16th, remaining balance due May 7th)

  • Dates of program: July 6th - July 31st

  • Application details: $30 application fee; online application (opens Jan. 20th); personal statement; letters of recommendation from teachers (1 required, 2 recommended; STEM teachers preferred); unofficial transcripts; parent signature

  • Application deadline: February 19th, 2021

Tell me more: Sorry to disappoint any devotees of Gilded Age literature, but this is not, in fact, a program focused on the works of Edith Wharton. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania was the world’s first collegiate business school, and Wharton’s Global Youth program includes 1, 2, and 3-week summer sessions that offer a pretty outstanding experience for prospective business majors. The eight available courses include, among others, “Essentials of Entrepreneurship,” “Future of the Business World,” and “Moneyball Academy,” the latter of which allows high school students to take a deep dive into sports analytics (the high school version of me says “you had me at hello”). At this time, the Wharton Global Youth program is still planning to hold residential sessions at the UPenn campus in addition to online sessions, but those plans are subject to change and alternative options would be provided to students who registered for in-person sessions. In addition to the top-notch academic curriculum of these business courses, the Wharton program offers the Global Youth Meetup for online students, a 10-week networking opportunity designed to build community before, during, and after the online courses; Global Youth Meetup includes additional lectures and discussions, workshops, and contests available to all students who participate in online summer sessions.

For students seeking: business, entrepreneurship, finance, management/leadership, sports business/analytics, business technology, networking opportunities, residential college experience

Fine print:

  • Cost: ranges from $2,099 to $8,499, depending on course

  • Dates of program: sessions of varying lengths offered between June 6th and August 7th

  • Application details: $100 application fee; online application; 2-3 short essays (prompts vary depending on course); 1-2 letters of recommendation (varies depending on course) unofficial transcripts; minimum 3.3 unweighted GPA

  • Application deadline: Priority deadline is February 26th, 2021; final deadline is April 15th, 2021

Tell me more: The School of the New York Times offers a variety of summer courses to students looking to indulge their intellectual curiosity and investigate areas of interest. Currently, there are 33 distinct courses available in subjects ranging from “The Future of Fashion” and “Visual Storytelling” to “A Million Lives in the Law” and “The Foreign Correspondent: Global Reporting.” Courses are taught by NYT journalists and “thought leaders from different industries,” so students can trust they will be learning from instructors who draw upon deep subject knowledge and years of experience. Personally, I can identify at least five or six courses I would jump at the chance to take, so I highly recommend browsing the course catalog. Note: Typically, the School offers in-person summer programs as well as remote courses, but only the online school will be available for the summer of 2021.

For students seeking: journalism, political science, international relations, fashion, filmmaking, creative writing, urban studies, sports journalism, music/theater/culture criticism, entrepreneurship, NYC flavor

Fine print:

  • Cost: $2,850 per course, plus $75 technology fee

  • Dates of program: two-week sessions offered over the course of five terms between June 7th and August 13th

  • Application details: $50 application fee; online application; short answer questions; unofficial transcripts and school report (see guidance counselor for this document); optional work/writing sample

  • Application deadline: Priority deadline is February 8th, regular deadline is March 15th

Tell me more: The Earthwatch Institute is an international nonprofit organization devoted to environmental research; Earthwatch allows high school students to participate in summer expeditions to a variety of locations. These expeditions pair students with scientists who are conducting field research, so participants get to learn about environmental science while also contributing to vital conservation efforts in the real world. The five expeditions for teens currently available for this summer include studying bees and hummingbirds in Costa Rica, exploring climate change at Acadia National Park in Maine, and getting up close and personal with sharks and rays at the barrier reef of Belize. Note: Many of the expeditions for 2020 were understandably cancelled, but Earthwatch is still planning to conduct trips for summer 2021 as planned. If you’re interested, keep visiting the website every so often to check on the status of future trips. If trips are indeed held, Earthwatch is committed to implementing COVID safety measures like maintaining smaller teams and limiting exposure to local communities.

For students seeking: environmental science/research, conservation/sustainability work, responsible travel, service learning, experiential learning, building connections with like-minded peers, mentorship opportunities

Fine print:

  • Cost: Ranging from $1,895 to $2,975, which includes accommodations, food, and research costs

  • Dates of program: 1-week trips offered during various dates in July

  • Registration details: No application required, simply create an account on the Earthwatch website and book the desired trip

  • Registration deadline: No set deadline, but limited space is available for each trip

Tell me more: Like many prestigious universities, Carnegie Mellon offers pre-college summer programs to high school students, with stimulating academic courses and, in the case of residential programs, a taste of campus life. What makes the Summer Academy of Math and Science stand out from its peers is its commitment to providing students from underrepresented communities with an intensive STEM experience at the reasonable cost of $absolutelynothing. The SAMS curriculum is offered in three parts, beginning with two academic seminars, academic writing workshops, and completion of a hands-on project, in addition to various mentorship/networking opportunities; the second part is a five-day conference in August that culminates in the presentation of student projects at the SAMS Symposium, and the final part is an online engagement experience that extends from August through December, providing webinars, Q&A sessions, and additional support during the college research/application process. Note: Carnegie Mellon also offers paid pre-college programs in unique subjects like architecture and computational biology, and it features two other programs worth mentioning briefly: AI4All @ Carnegie Mellon, which allows students from underrepresented communities to study artificial intelligence at no cost, and the National High School Game Academy, which immerses students in the world of video game development.

For students seeking: science, technology, engineering, mathematics, experiential learning, hands-on projects, networking with like-minded peers, mentorship opportunities, support in college planning, academic conference/symposium experience

Fine print:

  • Cost: $0

  • Dates of program: Part 1: July 3rd-August 6th; Part 2: August 8th-August 14th; Part 3: August-December

  • Application details: $50 application fee (fee waiver is available based on economic need); online application; 2 short essays; 1 counselor recommendation, 1 STEM teacher recommendation; unofficial transcripts; priority consideration given to students from underrepresented communities with financial need, but all applications are considered

  • Application deadline: March 10th, 2021

Tell me more: Students who wish to explore their creativity in an idyllic location (pun intended) are almost certain to find a program to fit their interests from among those offered by Idyllwild Arts. The Southern California campus is located in the San Jacinto Mountains, surrounded by acres of forest, and provides an inspiring environment for creative pursuits and community building. Programs are offered in creative writing, dance, music (chamber, jazz, or folk/songwriting), visual arts, theater, and filmmaking. In addition to fostering these varied forms of artistic expression, Idyllwild Arts strives to teach students how to use art for social change: its slogan is “Cultivating artists as citizens.” At this time, all programs are still scheduled to be held in-person this summer, with safety guidelines in place to account for the pandemic. If you’re interested, monitor the website in the coming weeks for any updates.

For students seeking: creative expression, visual arts, dance, music, creative writing, theater, filmmaking, community of like-minded peers, natural beauty, social responsibility/change through art, a change of scenery from Zoom classes

Fine print:

  • Cost: Resident tuition (which includes room and board) is $3,240 for two-week programs and $3,960 for three-week programs, while day tuition (no accommodations) is $1,940 for two-week programs and $2,520 for three-week programs; the health and safety fee is $150 or $225, corresponding to the length of the program; each program includes a lab fee of $50-200, depending on the materials required for that specific program

  • Dates of program: July 3rd-24th

  • Application details: $50 application fee; online application through CampInTouch; some music programs require an audition after submitting the application

  • Application deadline: No set deadline is given, but space is limited and early registration encouraged

Finally, if these programs pique your curiosity but you’re looking for more options, here are a few additional resources to expand your search:

Good luck!

- William


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