Best Summer Programs for High School Students (By Future Major)

March 20, 2019

The summer is a great time for students to explore potential academic interests or to delve into extracurricular activities that can help them determine whether an intended major is a subject area they really want to explore in college.


Summer Programs by Major: Politics / Government, Pre-Med / STEM, Computer Science / Engineering

Here is Part 1 of our favorite summer programs broken down by major category. Look out for Part 2 of our 3-part series next week!

Politics / Government

If you’re interested in a politics-oriented or pre-law career, you might be interested in studying Political Science, International Relations, or Public Policy in college. These subjects teach history, political theory and sometimes combine other humanities disciplines, such as Economics, for a more interdisciplinary approach. Many students interested in these majors will pursue Model UN or other similar types of competitions over the summer, but if you’re in more of an exploratory mindset, these programs allow you to explore the subject at a college level. 

1)  National Student Leadership Conference on Political Action at American University (website)

  • Program highlights: An immersive experience in the workings of political action, the program asks participants to stage a mock Presidential campaign and simulate the act of passing laws in Congress. Students will get the chance to visit the State Department and Capitol Hill.
  • Location: American University in Washington DC
  • Requirements: Get nominated by a teacher or counselor. Will need to send in school transcript and a teacher or counselor reference.
  • Apply by: Rolling admissions but programs start filling up so recommended submission is end of March.
  • Cost: $3,295 all-inclusive

2)  Junior Statesmen of America at Georgetown (website)

  • Program highlights: With a focus on speech and debate, JSA prepares its participates for critical thinking and public speaking. It also incorporates a speaker program where students spend several days engaging with speakers from Capitol Hill and major DC think tanks. 
  • Location: Georgetown University in Washington DC
  • Requirements: School transcript, letters of recommendation and student essays.

  • Apply by: Rolling applications until program start
  • Cost: $5,650 including room and board, meals, transportation and course materials. Scholarships available.

3)  The School of The New York Times: Public Policy & Activism (website)

  • Program highlights: Students select from an array of two-week courses that draw from the resources and network of The New York Times. Featured courses include subjects such as: Politics reporting, National security, Public policy & activism, and International relations & diplomacy.
  • Location: Washington DC
  • Requirements: Short answer questions, transcript and school report, a letter of recommendation.

  • Apply by: March 25th, 2019
  • Cost: Residential program: $5,750, Day commuter program: $5,150

Pre-Med / STEM

For our pre-med students, research over the summer or shadowing a professor in a field you’re interested in is a great way to put yourself squarely in the midst of a science-centric environment. However, if you’re looking for something more structured or an offering where you can meet other like-minded high school students passionate about STEM subjects, check out the following programs which also give you practical, hands-on lab experience and 1-on-1 mentoring.

1)  Penn Summer Biomedical Research Academy (website

  • Program highlights: The program offers morning lectures and discussions with scientists and clinicians from the Department of Biology and Penn’s School of Medicine. Students then spend the afternoons in independent or group research across various campus labs. Students also have the ability to participate in a small journal club that allows them to try their hand at peer-reviewed scientific literature.

  • Location: UPenn in Philadelphia, PA
  • Requirements: Minimum 3.3 GPA. High school Biology is a pre-requisite. High school Chemistry is preferred. To apply, you’ll have to submit a high school transcript, an application essay, and a letter of recommendation.
  • Apply by: May 1st for Session A and June 1st for Session B
  • Cost: Residential tuition: $4,429, Day student tuitionL $3,199. Financial aid available for qualifying Philadelphia students attending public or charter high schools.

2)  Georgetown University’s 3-Week Medical Academy (website)

  • Program highlights: Throughout the 3-week program, students will interact with experts from the field to learn how to pursue a career in medicine. Participants register for one of three distinct tracks: Anatomy & Physiology, Psychiatry & Neuroscience, or Emergency Medicine. In each track, they’ll get to work on hands-on projects, simulations, case studies, and lab work.
  • Location: Georgetown University in Washington DC
  • Requirements: Minimum 2.0 GPA. Personal statement and academic reference.

  • Apply by: May 31st, 2019
  • Cost: $6,358 including tuition, housing, and 19 meals per week

3)  Envision - National Youth Leadership Forum: Medicine at Rice University (website)

  • Program highlights: Featuring an interactive curriculum that provides real-life simulations and clinical training, students learn and practice life-saving medical techniques with basic wilderness first aid as part of the outdoor medicine simulation and respond to disasters as part of a triage simulation.
  • Location: Rice University in Houston, TX
  • Requirements: Nomination by a teacher, organization advisor, or Envision alumni. Minimum 3.0 GPA, demonstrated leadership, 2 short essays, a reference from a teacher, counselor or coach.

  • Apply by: Rolling admission until program start
  • Cost: $3,595 including housing, courses, materials, certificate of completion

4)  UC Irvine’s BEAM Summer Program (website)

  • Program highlights: A newly launched program, this curated program allows students to engage in a high-touch research experience, publish their research in the “GATI x UCI Scholar’s Journal” and connect with UCI faculty for 1-on-1 guidance through the summer.
  • Location: UC Irvine in Irvine, CA
  • Requirements: Academic transcript, teacher reference, and applicant interview.

  • Apply by: April 30th, 2019
  • Cost: $4495 for in-state California residents, $5495 for non-CA residents

Computer Science / Engineering

With more of a focus on practical skill sets post-college, students interested in a career in tech have started using the summer to learn computer programming or to build web-based or mobile products to gain hands-on experience. Although a lot of the experience can be gained on your own through trial and error, a summer program may make sense if you’re looking for a structured curriculum to learn some of these skills and to build something with other students outside of your immediate network.

1)  Cornell Engineering Experience (website)

  • Program highlights: Students will apply math and science skills to address real-world challenges and explore the field of engineering. Through labs, team projects, guest speakers, and field trips, participants gain insight into a career in Engineering. Students can choose up to two Cornell courses to customize the program to their academic interests.
  • Location: Cornell University in Ithaca, NY
  • Requirements: 3 application statements, high school transcript, standardized test scores, teacher or counselor recommendation. Previous courses in pre-calculus, calculus mathematics, chemistry, or physics are helpful, but strong interest in Engineering is more important.

  • Apply by: May 3rd, 2019
  • Cost:  $13,200 including academic course work and residential fees

2)  National Student Leadership Conference Engineering Intensive (website)

  • Program highlights: As part of this 18-day intensive program, students will tackle engineering design challenges in the fields of mechnical, civil, biomedical, electrical engineering, and robotics (designing a building an underwater ROV and drone). The program also includes behind-the-scenes visits to top Bay Area companies and research labs.
  • Location: UC Berkeley and San Francisco, CA
  • Requirements: Get nominated by a teacher or counselor. Provide a school transcript and a teacher or counselor reference.

  • Apply by: Rolling admissions but programs start filling up so recommended submission is end of March.
  • Cost: $5,395 all-inclusive

3)  Game Lab Summer Institute at UCLA (website

  • Program highlights: UCLA’s Game Lab introduces high school students to analog and digital game-making, including the aesthetic and technical elements of good game design. Students coming out of the two-week program, featuring 4 game development courses, will have developed games to be exhibited on the last day of the program, which can be included in their college application portfolios.
  • Location: UCLA in Los Angeles, CA
  • Requirements: Must be a high school student. No previous game-making skills are required, but the program is geared toward students with an interest in games and in the visual arts. 

  • Apply by: April 1st, 2019


  • Cost:  $2,231 including tuition, room and board

4)  Engineering Summer Academy at Penn (website)

  • Program highlights: For students interested in Math and Science, the Academy’s 3-week program combines theory with hands-on experience. Participants enroll in one of six offered courses: Biotechnology, Complex Networks, Computer Graphics, Computer Science, Nanotechnology, Robotics.
  • Location: UPenn in Philadelphia, PA
  • Requirements: High school transcript, standardized tests, and 2 letters of recommendation.

  • Apply by: April 5th, 2019
  • Cost: $7,635. Financial aid available for students with demonstrated need.

Although all of these programs are paid, remember that you can and should definitely proactively inquire into scholarship and grant opportunities. Even if financial aid isn’t offered directly through a program, you can also apply for summer program scholarships through other pre-professional groups that support the academic endeavors of high school students. Last but not least, fundraising from your network is a great way to develop the campaigning skills that can serve you as a student leader.

For personalized recommendations of major-specific summer programs, let our Beacon™ recommendation system suggest the right activity for you based on your credentials and intended major! Get started here.

About The Author

AdmitSee Staff
AdmitSee Staff

​We remember our frustration with applying to college and the lack of information surrounding it. So we created AdmitSee to bring much-needed transparency to the application process! Read more about the team here.

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