May is such a crazy month!

This week and next students are taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams. Best of luck!

I know my own children have awards ceremonies, end of the year banquets, final performances, prom (!), and exams. It seems as if summer is far away. But it isn’t. In fact, many summer programs, camps, even summer jobs have already filled. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make plans or even think ahead to next summer.

Across the country summer camps offer high school students entering 9ththrough 12thgrades in the fall the opportunity to delve into subjects they may never have a chance to study in high school, live on college campuses, engage in in-depth studies, and meet other high school students with similar interests.

Advantage in College Admission

It’s not the program; it’s the experience!

Participating in a summer program, no matter how exclusive, will not make or break your college admission chances.

However, colleges want to see

  • How students choose to utilize free time (like summers)
  • An interest in learning
  • Development of talents, interests, and abilities
  • Exploration of possible majors or topics of interest

Summer programs offer students the opportunity to experience new subjects, people, and places. They can help a student decide if engineering, psychology, sports marketing, or international relations is something they might want to study in college.

The value in these programs is in the experience. I like to ask clients

  • what did you learn about the subject?
  • what did you learn about yourself?
  • And if they were on a college campus, what did you learn about what you want and don’t want in the college you decide to attend?

Especially if you are looking to stand out in competitive admissions environments or try to confirm interests before investing a year or two of college pursuing a particular course of study, look into summer programs for high school.

Not A Silver Bullet

While the experience is a plus, participation in a summer program will not, by itself, help your chances for college admission.

Attending a camp at your top choice school does not give you a foot in the door for admission, especially when we are looking at the highly competitive schools that admit fewer than 20% of their applicants.

Yes, if you can manage to earn one of the 32 spots on the Yale Summer Program in Astrophysics (YSPA), you are probably competitive for admission to Yale, but there are no guarantees. However, participation in less competitive summer programs at Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, etc. is open to many students who might not have the academic credentials needed for admission to these universities.

There are also summer programs looking to take advantage of the name recognition of major universities. Simply holding a camp on a particular campus does not mean the program is affiliated with that school. Do your research and find out if professors and students will be leading activities.

As with all extracurricular activities, the impact in college admission is what you gain from the experience. Simply listing (or not listing) a summer program will not get you accepted or rejected from any school.

Application Deadlines

While summer may be weeks away, deadlines for some of the most competitive programs have already passed. Those programs often have application deadlines in January or early February.

Don’t worry. There are still options for this summer, but you need to act fast. You might also start planning and budgeting for camps next summer.


Make sure you scroll to the end of the program examples for suggestions on how to make your summer experiences help with college admission and other admission tips.


This is not an exhaustive list of programs. I’m not trying to list all the available options. This list is just a small sample of what is available in each category.

Also, programs change every year. Some programs have long (40+ year) histories while others are relatively new. Before you start making plans based on this (or any) list, make sure the program is still in operation. Funding and staffing for these types of programs can change so you can’t count one this year’s programs happening next year.

You can also see our list of 100+ Top Summer Programs for High School Students here. 

Prestigious Highly Competitive Programs

Here is just a sampling of some of the most prestigious and competitive summer programs.

As you can imagine, if a program is free, the demand will be high because everyone realizes comparative programs cost anywhere from $2000 – $10,000+ for a similar experience.

Admitted students will have top grades, strong test scores, a track record of involvement (particularly in the field in question), strong letters of recommendation, and an obvious passion. (Passion is seen in what one DOES not what one WANTS to do.)

Bovard Scholars

Focus on career planning and future college admission

FREE!!! (transportation to USC included fro students outside Southern California)

3 weeks at University of Southern California

Students must be current juniors with high grades and demonstrated financial need

Clark Scholars at Texas Tech

Seven week residential research program

Current 11thgraders (participants must be 17 years old when the program starts)

Participants will work with faculty from a variety of research areas

FREE!!! (students receive a $750 research stipend)

About 1700 applications were received for 12 research positions

J Camp (Journalism)

Six-day residential journalism program

Sponsored by the Asian American Journalists Association (2019 partnering with Georgia Public Broadcasting)

FREE!!! (including travel expenses)

2019: Students stay on campus at Georgia State University in Atlanta

Workshops and guest speakers (including big names in journalism)

Current 9th, 10th, and 11thgraders

J Camp will admit 42 students

Jerome Fischer Program in Management & Technology

Joint program at University of Pennsylvania (Wharton School of Business & Penn Engineering)

3 weeks at U. Penn

Cost: $7000

Current 10thor 11thgraders

Students receive college credit

Each year 50-75 students are accepted (thousands apply)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Minority Introduction to Engineering & Sciences (MITES)

Six weeks on campus at MIT


Current 11thgraders

Students take one course each in: math, life sciences, physics, humanities, and electives

The program is designed to provide academic enrichment and support for students who come from underrepresented or underserved communities.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Research Science Institute (RSI)

Science and engineering

5 weeks at MIT


Highly competitive admission

Recommended PSAT 700 Verbal / 740 Math (or ACT 34)

Application deadlines in early January for the summer program

Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP)

Various locations: 2019 campuses include Cornell, Univ. of Maryland, Univ. of Michigan

Sections are taught by professors from various universities, not just the host schools

2019 seminar topics include: Freedom Summer, Constructing Gender in Japanese Popular Culture, and Poetry & Identity

Six week residential program on one of the host campuses


United States Naval Academy Summer Seminar

6 days in Annapolis on the Naval Academy campus

This program is considered a first step in applying to the Naval Academy (an exception where the process of attending this program actually gets your foot in the door for admission)

Current 11thgraders

Cost: $525

Similar admission criteria to military academies: top grades, leadership, physical fitness

* The Air Force, Army, and Coast Guard hold similar summer programs on their campuses.

Yale Summer Program in Astrophysics (YSPA)

2 weeks online & 4 weeks on the Yale campus

Focus on astronomy, physics, math, computer programing and other STEM topics

Students will work on research with faculty and will write and present their findings at the end fo the program

Limited to 32 current juniors

Cost: $5500

Other Options

The demand for the most competitive programs is high—prestigious host schools, limited numbers accepted, free or moderate costs compared to similar programs, and a desire for research opportunities for high school students. Don’t worry if you don’t have the grades, test scores, or resume for one of these exclusive programs, there are plenty of other options.

California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS)

STEM focus

4 week residential program at various UC campuses

Open to current 8-12thgrade students

Out of state students are welcome to apply, but only 20 will be accepted

Approximate cost: $4000 in-state / $6500 out of state residents

* COSMOS offers in depth STEM topics. Each year the campuses offerdifferent courses or clusters, so check the website for specifics.

Application’s still open

How to Be a Literary Editor from Polyphony Lit

2 day workshop

Evanston, IL

Current 8-11thgraders


Application’s still open

Program participants join the Polyphony Lit editorial staff as Second Readers (a great on-going extracurricular opportunity.)

Students who cannot attend the workshop in person should check out online courses and opportunities to edit or submit writing to the Polyphony Lit online literary magazine.

AMP Global Scholars

1-2 week workshops at American University in Washington DC

Focus on international relations

Current 8 – 11thgraders

Includes guest lectures, sightseeing, skill building and policy seminars, embassy visits

Costs: $1650 (1 week, early bird) – $3000 (2 weeks, not early)

Application’s still open

Texas Programs

I live in Texas and many of my students do as well. If you live elsewhere, use this list as an example of the programs you might find in larger cities or on college campuses in your area.

Texas Governor’s School

2019 program is located at Lamar University in Beaumont

Content areas emphasize leadership, STEM, and humanities

$350 program fee (plus your own transportation)

Open to current 9th, 10th, and 11thgrade students

2019 applications are due May 11

Wonder Works – University of Houston Architecture

Architecture – hands on studio activities, lectures, and field trips

NOT residential (classes meet M-F, 9 AM – 4 PM, students do not live on campus)

Competitive admission (grades, PSAT scores, and recommendations)

Current 9-11thgraders

Cost: $1000

UT Austin McCombs Summer High School Programs

Six days on campus at University of Texas at Austin


Current 10thand 11thgraders

First generation, African American and Latino, and other students who have overcome hardship are encouraged to apply, but all students are welcome.

Students should have a 3.5 / 4.0 GPA

Applications open in early November and close April 1


1. Use specialized programs as a way to “test drive” a particular college.

Last summer my daughter attended a week-long program in psychology at Wake Forest University. She got to decide if Wake was going to stay on her college list (it did) and if she really liked psychology as a potential major (she did.) Yes, the program cost us a few thousand dollars, but think of the cost of students transferring colleges or changing majors. We didn’t mind investing in a summer program that would help confirm or change her future plans.

2. Summer programs are one way to demonstrate a passion.

Some students have plenty of opportunities at school or in their communities when it comes to exploring their passions. But some students’ choices are more limited. Summer programs might be one of the only ways students can delve deeper into topics like archaeology, marine biology, astrophysics, sports marketing, etc.

3. Summer experiences can be a great source of material for college essays (and all those supplemental questions for highly selective schools.)

I think I’ve been pretty clear that the program itself isn’t going to help a student get into college, but often these types of summer experiences make their way into college admissions essays. So many schools ask about students’ interests, future career goals, and experiences and students find their summer camps are part of the answer or explanation to these questions.