15 Best Value College Summer Programs for High School Students

Workers at desks in high rise building

Key Takeaways:

  • College summer programs offer diverse opportunities, from academic enrichment to experiential learning, catering to varied student interests and academic goals.
  • Financial aid options are available for many programs, although they might be limited and typically prioritize students from low-income backgrounds​.
  • Participation in these programs can provide early college exposure, potentially earning college credits and enhancing college applications​

Are you looking for a summer program where you can learn, experience life on a college campus, maybe even earn college credit, and get a good value for your money? We’ve compiled a list of the best college summer programs for high school students below. In the past few years, colleges and universities across the country are offering more and more summer programs for interested high school students to get their feet wet in the world of college life and academics.

Hundreds of summer programs have become popular ways for high school students to get a jump on college classes, connect with highly engaged peers, or try out a college before committing to a four-year degree. Summer programs typically focus on specific areas of study and involve on-campus options for both residential students and commuter students.

Featured Programs

Students can choose between math and science, theater arts, journalism, business, global studies, and so much more. If you have a specific interest, chances are, there’s a program tailored specifically to that interest. Some programs offer college credit, and others are purely experiential, but all offer the opportunity for high school students to connect, learn, and grow.

We’ve compiled some of the best college summer programs for high school students in this article. We chose only to include colleges with specific programs for high school students, not those who just offer their courses for credit to high school students–although many of the colleges here offer that option as well, which is noted. We ranked colleges according to their ranking on U.S. News and World Report’s College Rankings, the variety of programs offered, and financial aid offerings.

Below are the 15 Best Value College Summer Programs for High School Students.

Ranking Methodology

US News and World Report Recognition
Top 5 — 6 points
Top 10 — 5 points
Top 25 — 4 points
Top 50 — 3 points
Top 75 — 2 points
Top 100 — 1 point

Range of Programs Offered
1 point per program offered (i.e., subject-specific programs, gifted and talented programs, STEM programs, etc. — 10-point cap)
Internships Available: 1 point
Fellowships Available: 1 point

Financial Aid/Scholarships/Discounts
Tuition-Free Scholar Program- 5 points
Tuition Waivers Available- 5 points
Scholarships Available- 1 point
Need-Based Financial Aid Available- 3 points

Wow Factor
• 1 point awarded for each unique feature or program that “wowed” us

In the case tie, the school ranked higher with US News receiving the higher ranking.

#15 University of Southern California

USC Summer Programs for HS Students

University of Southern California logo

Points: 14

The University of Southern California offers some of the top pre-college programs for those with ample resources to fund their own educational pursuits. Students can choose from two-week, non-credit programs or 4-week, for-credit programs. Sample programs include Introduction to Video Game Design, News Reporting in the Digital Age, Exploration of Architecture, and Exploring Entrepreneurship. A new 4-week course in Sports Journalism is also available.
Financial Aid Opportunities: none

#14 Michigan State University

Spartan Youth Programs

Michigan State University logo

Points: 15
Michigan State University offers some of the best pre-college summer programs for high school students on a budget since many of them include financial aid opportunities. Some of the school’s summer offerings include:

  • Making a Game of IT (Engineering Camp)
  • Maximizing Academic Growth in College (MAGIC
  • High School Honors Science-Mathematics-Engineering Program
  • Summer High School Scholars Program
  • Upward Bound (a program for potential first-in-family college students)

Programs specifically geared towards gifted and talented students are also available.
Financial Aid Opportunities: scholarships, need-based financial aid

#13 Boston University

Summer Programs for High School Students

Boston University logo

Points: 17
Boston University offers one of the best pre-college summer programs for high school students looking to get a head start on their collegiate pursuits. Students have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a program since the school offers academic immersion, internships, an honors program, programs in arts and culture, and more. Sample programs include:

  • Greater Boston Research Opportunities for Women (RISE)
  • Research in Science and Engineering (RISE) Internship/Practicum
  • Summer Challenge
  • Summerlab Biotechnology Program

STEM in the City

Financial aid opportunities are limited, though, and are reserved for students with low-income/socioeconomic status.
Financial Aid Opportunities: limited, need-based financial aid

#12 Carnegie Mellon University

CMU Summer Pre-College

carnegie mellon universlty logo

Points: 17
Carnegie Mellon University’s summer pre-college programs for high school students allow participants to explore life on campus and in the city of Pittsburgh. Students can choose from seven different programs, including Advanced Placement/Early Admission, Architecture, Art, National High School Game Academy, and Music. Tuition varies depending on which program students choose to attend, and scholarships are available for students accepted into the art and architecture programs. These financial awards are based on both need and merit.
Financial Aid Opportunities: scholarships for select programs, a limited number of tuition waivers

#11 Northwestern University

Northwestern Pre-College Summer Programs

Northwestern University logo

Points: 17
Northwestern University offers seven robust summer pre-college and academic enrichment programs for high school students, including the College Preparation Program, the College Bridge Program, Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute, and Education USA Academy. Enrolled students will have the opportunity to earn college credit while dipping their toes into the waters of collegiate academia. A tuition-free scholars program is available.
Financial Aid Opportunities: tuition-free scholars program; scholarships

#10 Indiana University-Bloomington

Pre-College Programs

Indiana University—Bloomington

Points: 18
Indiana University-Bloomington offers dozens of different pre-college programs for students to choose from, including academic enrichment programs, sports camps, foreign language programs, music and dance programs, and more. Sample programs include 21st Century Scholars, High School Journalism Institute, Advance College Project, and Kelley School of Business Young Women’s Institute. Enrolled students can experience campus life at a major research university, hone their academic skills, and/or expand their extracurricular pursuits.
Financial Aid Opportunities: tuition-free scholars program (Balfour Scholars Program); other financial aid varies by program

#9 Cornell University

Summer College

Cornell University - logo

Points: 18
Cornell University’s summer pre-college and academic enrichment programs for high school students give talented and ambitious youth a taste of the Ivy League experience. There are more than a dozen summer programs available, including titles like Debate & Rhetoric, Sculpture: Art in Three Dimensions, International Relations, and Shakespeare on Stage. Enrolled students can live on campus, learn from Cornell professors, and earn up to six college credits.
Financial Aid Opportunities: partial scholarships (need and merit-based); fundraising opportunities

#8 Brown University

Brown Pre-College Programs

brown-university logo

Points: 19
Brown University’s summer pre-college programs for high school students include various offerings such as Summer@Brown, Leadership Institute, and a Pre-Baccalaureate Program that allows students to earn college credit before the fall term begins. Several “on-location” programs are also available that allow students to put their skills to the test in a certain part of the country (or world), including environmental leadership programs in Alaska and the Florida Keys and international programs in Rome and Costa Rica. Online courses are also available for students in grades 9-12.
Financial Aid Opportunities: need-based and merit-based scholarships; fundraising opportunities

#7 University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame Summer Programs

University of Notre Dame

Points: 20
The University of Notre Dame offers a variety of summer pre-college programs for high school students, including study abroad opportunities, leadership seminars, and a summer scholars program. Sample programs include Global Issues: Toward a Just Peace, Archaeology: Exploring the Foundations of Notre Dame, Gender and Culture in American Society, and Global Health: Science, Medicine, and the Social Determinants of Health. Current study abroad programs include trips to Rome and Ireland. College credit opportunities are also available.
Financial Aid Opportunities: tuition waivers available for extreme circumstances; very limited partial scholarship opportunities; no financial aid available for study abroad programs

#6 University of Pennsylvania

Penn Summer

University of Pennsylvania logo

Points: 21
The University of Pennsylvania’s summer pre-college and academic enrichment programs for high school students are designed for above-the-fray scholars interested in Ivy League academics. Available programs include Penn Summer Prep, Summer Academies, Pre-College Program, and Young Scholars Program. Many programs are flexible, allowing students to choose their length of stay and offering residential and commuter options. Financial aid opportunities are available, but many of them are limited to Philadelphia residents.
Financial Aid Opportunities: tuition-free scholars program; some residency-based financial aid

#5 Stanford University

Stanford Summer Session: High School

Stanford University logo

Points: 21
Stanford University’s summer pre-college programs for high school students prepare participants for college life by combining challenging academic courses with a range of extracurricular activities. Students can opt to take humanities, earth science, or engineering courses through the university’s high school summer college. Or, they can participate in enrichment programs such as the Silicon Valley Innovation Academy Explore program or the Intensive Studies program, which allows students to delve into a specific subject alongside a cohort. Outside of the tuition-free scholar program, financial aid is limited, but some grants may be available.
Financial Aid Opportunities: tuition-free scholar program; grants

#4 Ohio State University

STEM Summer Camps

The Ohio State University logo

Points: 22
Ohio State University offers a dozen top summer pre-college and academic enrichment programs for high school students through its STEM Outreach program, including programs in Engineering, Technology, and Natural Sciences; Health Sciences; Mathematics; and Social Sciences and Humanities. These offerings include residential, college credit, and minority programs. Specific program titles include The Summer Institute for Discovering Nursing, Buckeye Vet Prep Camp, MD Camp (for aspiring doctors), and Summer Linguistics Institute for Youth Scholars.
Financial Aid Opportunities: scholarships available (some need-based); tuition-free scholar program

#3 Bryn Mawr College

Summer Programs and Camps for High School Students

Points: 22
Bryn Mawr College offers a range of summer pre-college and academic enrichment programs for high school students, including subject-specific programs, travel abroad programs, sports programs, and career-focused programs. Some examples of the precollege programs students can choose from include MathlLy, The Russian Language Institute, and Project SEED Summer Research Fellowship in Chemistry.

It is important to note that in keeping with the school’s mission of furthering the education of young women, only female students are invited to apply to Bryn Mawr’s pre-college programs.
Financial Aid Opportunities: tuition waivers and need-based financial aid available

#2 University of Chicago

Summer Session for High School Students

University of Chicago- logo

Points: 23
The University of Chicago is home to eight of the top summer pre-college and academic enrichment programs for high school students in the nation. In addition to the popular College Pathways Program and UChicago Immersion, students can opt to participate in the Arts and Sciences Summer in Chicago Program and Research in the Biological Sciences (RIBS) program.

Undergraduate courses are also available for students to take over the summer to earn college credit. Several scholarship programs are available, including the Maroon Scholars Program and the Neubauer International Summer Scholars Program.

Financial Aid Opportunities: Several need and merit-based scholarships; partial and full tuition-free scholars programs

#1 Yale University

STEM Summer Camps

Yale University logo

Points: 25

Opportunities for summer pre-college programs for high school students abound at Yale University, including residential programs, internships, for-credit summer courses, sports and arts-based programs, and more. Specific program titles include Aspirations for Higher Learning, CRISP High School Research Fellowship, Discovery to Cure High School Fellowship, and the Summer Science Research Institute, for example. Financial aid opportunities vary depending on the selected program, but full scholarships are available to qualified students through the Shafer Family Scholarships for Yale University Summer Session program.

CVO Staff

This concludes our ranking of the 15 Best Value College Summer Programs for High School Students.

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