The Parents' Guide to College Summer Programs for High School Students

Picture of three high school students at the beach jumping in the air
October 26, 2022
Do College Summer Programs Help High School Students? (7 Benefits) Should High School Students Take College Summer Classes?When to Sign UpPre College Summer Programs 2022Other Summer Activities That Can Help Your Child Get Into CollegeFAQs: College Summer Programs for High School Students


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/25/22

Many high school students look forward to downtime and hanging out with friends in the summer. But how can your child make the most out of their time off? Read on to learn more about college summer programs for high school students. 

Many students anxiously count the school days until summer vacation. Although summer is an excellent time to enjoy some well-earned fun and relaxation, it’s an excellent opportunity for your child to participate in summer programs and build their college profile. 

But how do college summer programs help students? Should they take college classes in their time off? How will your child know when the best time is to sign up to make the most out of these opportunities? We have all the answers and more in this guide. 

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Do College Summer Programs Help High School Students? (7 Benefits) 

Yes, college summer programs help high school students in numerous ways. High school summer college programs help students learn, grow, and gain the necessary skills to be successful college students. These are just some of the potential benefits of your child enrolling in one of these programs. 

It Can Make the College Transition Easier 

No matter where your child is in their high school career, you know the transition from high school to college is fast-approaching. Whether your child is moving to the other side of the country or they’re heading to college down the street, it’s still a significant transition. 

Going to college can be difficult for a just-turned young adult to handle. Their friends may be going to different schools, they will have to navigate a new setting, or maybe they’re just a little scared of moving away (even if they don’t tell you that).

Summer college for high school students can help them adjust to college life before it’s time to go. No matter what grade your child is in, gaining experience in a college setting can help it feel not so alien when the time comes. 

If your child is a senior, attending pre-college summer programs can help them get used to space and feel before starting their first year. According to the University of Vermont, “A residential program will give students firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to live on campus and become part of a college community.”

Helps Gauge College Readiness and Assess Their Strengths

High school summer college programs are an excellent way for your child to gauge how ready they feel for the college. For example, if they enrolled in an academic program at a college they hoped to attend and struggled with some of the content, they have the luxury of more time to address these gaps before the end of senior year. 

On the other hand, pre-college summer programs can help your child assess and build on the strengths they already possess. If they love STEM, a program like the STEM program at Tufts University can help them narrow down their interests. Overall, summer programs for high school students can help your child get the direction they need to assess their readiness. 

They Can Gain College Credits and Potentially Cut Costs Later

Attending summer college programs for high school students can help your child gain college credits (depending on the school). Even if your child chooses a program that doesn’t require living in the dorms, they can find a college class at a local school or community college closer to home.

If your child does gain college credits for their summer program work, it can even help cut tuition costs later. If the school honors their credit in an introductory course, they won’t have to retake the course in their first year. This means your child can spend the extra time pursuing their interests or studying for their other classes. 

Pre-College Summer Programs Are a Welcome Addition to College Applications 

If your child is interested in attending one of the nation’s top colleges, a high school summer college program could help strengthen their application. These colleges are highly selective, and competition is high. Beyond good grades and high test scores, they’ll need to have a well-rounded application to stand out. 

Larry Guillemette, chief academic officer for JSA Summer Programs, said that through summer college programs, “Most universities understand that they are creating a potential pipeline for admissions to their institutions. I couldn’t say for certain, but I could say anecdotally that that happens pretty regularly with kids who go to that program.”

However, simply attending a summer program at a college doesn’t guarantee your child’s admission. Elizabeth Morgan, director of external relations at the National College Access Network, said, “I think the reality is that they don’t really give a leg up in the college process.” 

That being said, your child should participate in summer college programs for high schoolers because they want to and see other benefits, not solely as a way to get a leg up in the admissions process.

Your Child Can Explore New Subjects 

Course offerings can be relatively limited depending on your child's high school. For example, math-lovers can enroll in the Stanford Math Camp (SUMaC), where they can “explore mathematics beyond the scope of what is typically taught in the classroom.”

Or, there’s this Leadership Program at the Wharton School. During the program, students learn about: 

These are just examples: high schools typically offer all core courses in math, science, and humanities, but specialized courses like those above may not be available. 

It Can Help Them Gain Insight Into Potential Majors/Careers

Although college may be easier for high school students who already have a plan, not everyone knows what they want to do for a career (or even for their major) between 15 and 18. Some students have more direction than others earlier, but that doesn’t mean that others won’t find their way. 

Summer college programs for high school students can help your child determine what majors might suit them best. If they take summer courses related to biology and perform well and love it, perhaps a related major is in their future. 

If your child is still unsure of their major, there’s no need to fret or have them decide before they attend. Some universities don’t have students formally declare their majors until their second year of study, making time for exploration and self-discovery. 

They Can Forge Deep Connections 

Forging new and deeper connections with other students is possible through high school summer college programs, especially if they’re not conducted online. Your child can meet other students who might even end up at the same college as them!

Otherwise, it’s still possible for your child to make new (and perhaps even lifelong) friends with other students in these programs. Making new connections before college is a great way to give them the practice they need when they get there. After all, they’ll be meeting many new people.

Should High School Students Take Summer Classes? (4 Reasons to do so) 

Taking summer classes may not be the right move for every student, but taking them can benefit your child. 

Reduce the Risk of the “Summer Slide” 

Some students may view summer as a time to throw their books in the closet and call it a year. Spending significant time off taking classes, such as summer break, can set some students up for the dreaded “summer slide.”

According to the University of the Cumberlands, “This happens when they lose valuable learning or study skills over the summer break. When you take summer school, your brain stays engaged with your learning and this risk lessens.” 

If your teen is looking to stay on track and keep their brain in learning mode, taking summer programs at colleges can help. 

It Can Save Time and Money Later 

If your junior or senior takes summer college courses at a local community college, it can save time and money later. For instance, your child may earn college credits for courses they perform well in, meaning they may be able to transfer those credits when they enroll in college. 

If your child’s earned credits are transferable, they won’t have to retake any introductory courses they already did, which can free up their first-year schedule and cost less because they won’t need to pay to retake the course. 

However, not all colleges will honor these credits. If your child wants a head-start to save time and money and even graduate earlier, they should check with the school they want to attend first and see the policy on transferring credits. 

It Can Strengthen Their College Application 

Although colleges may not state an explicit GPA or test score cutoff, most are looking for students who take the most challenging courses available to them. If your child has the time and academic aptitude to handle college-level courses in high school, it can definitely fortify their application. 

Taking college-level courses shows colleges your child likes to challenge themselves, is curious, and is willing to put in the work needed at a college level. 

It Can Help Prepare Them For the Rigor Of a College Curriculum 

College courses can be more challenging than high school courses. Your child will need to think critically, build upon concepts they know already, and learn new material at an accelerated pace. 

Taking college courses in the summer can help them prepare for the rigor of a college education. If your child is a straight-A student and receives a B in a college-level course, it can indicate a higher level of mastery. Taking college courses in the summer means they’ll be better prepared later! 

When to Sign Up 

When your child should sign up for summer college programs depends on each program’s deadlines. However, some summer college program applications open in December, such as Brown University and Harvard University. 

If you want to ensure your child has a spot in one of the best pre-college summer programs, they must submit applications before the deadline. Ensure they research programs that interest them earlier in the year, so they don’t miss out. 

Pre College Summer Programs 2022

Now that you know the benefits of enrolling your child in a summer college program, it is time to check out this list of schools that offer pre-college summer programs for 2022.

Harvard University Pre-College Program

The Harvard Pre-College Program provides students with on-campus experience and offers over 100 courses. Here are a few more details about their pre-college program for summer 2022:

Length: Two Weeks

Cost: $5,125 (Total cost includes program fee, application fee, and health insurance).

The school also offers limited scholarships for students who demonstrate financial needs. 

Brown University Pre-College Programs

Brown University offers multiple pre-college programs for high school students. The programs vary in length (1 to 7 weeks), and they have options for on-campus, online, and hybrid.

Brown’s pre-college summer programs for 2022 have start dates between June and July, and the program you enroll in will determine the cost.

Cornell University Pre-College Studies

Cornell University has pre-college programs on-campus, residential programs, and online learning.

The deadline for the residential pre-college summer program in 2022 has passed, but you can still apply for their summer online courses.

University of Chicago Pre-College Programs

The University of Chicago offers different pre-college programs, such as the Research in The Biological Sciences (RIBS) program. It is also possible to participate in a residential program and summer online courses.

Northwestern University Summer Programs

Northwestern University also has summer programs for pre-college students and other summer programs for high school students in areas such as sports or journalism.

Other Summer Activities That Can Help Your Child Get Into College

Taking college-level courses or participating in summer college programs for high school students aren’t the only ways to strengthen your child’s applications. There are many other rewarding summer activities to show admissions committees their community spirit and diligence.

Summer Jobs or Internships 

A summer job is an excellent way for your child to learn valuable skills and gain work experience before college. It can also help them earn money to put toward their education. Finding a summer job is easier done before the summer starts, so ensure they begin their search before school’s out if that’s what they want to do. 

Some examples of summer jobs include: 

Whether paid or unpaid, internships are another excellent way for your child to gain work experience. Pursuing an internship allows them to get a feel for what it would be like to work in different fields and even help them decide or reaffirm their major. 

Travel Abroad 

Traveling abroad during the summer may not be for everyone, but it can help your child get a better global and cultural understanding. Going to different countries can help them learn and consider new perspectives, connect with new people differently, and gain once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 

If your child is interested in traveling, they can look for programs they feel suit their needs. Some of these programs have your child work or do activities in the communities where they visit. 

They’ll have new skills and experiences to share when they return home and perhaps even a compelling narrative to add to their college applications. 

Other Volunteer or Extracurricular Activities 

Many other volunteer and extracurricular activities can give your child a leg up in the admissions process. Volunteer work demonstrates your child’s character, community spirit, leadership skills, passion, and more. 

Some examples of volunteer work include: 

Extracurricular activities can include any organization or high school club your child is a part of in their spare time. Do they regularly participate in a book club? Are they part of a program for aspiring actors? Do they play in a band or play an instrument? 

These are other activities your child can do during the summer to bolster their application and have fun while they do them! 

FAQs: College Summer Programs for High School Students

If you still have questions about college summer programs or classes for high school students, please read these FAQs. 

1. How Selective Are College Summer Programs? 

Some summer college programs for high school students may be more competitive than others, especially if they want to attend one of the best pre-college summer programs run by a top-ranked school. It would be best if your child begins working on their applications as early as possible before deadlines, in some cases closer to New Year. 

2. Does My Child Have to Be a Senior to Enroll in Summer Programs? 

Not for all programs, no. Summer college programs for high schoolers can cater to students from every grade, or exclusively juniors or exclusively seniors. Ensure your child checks eligibility requirements before they craft their applications. 

3. How Long Are College Summer Programs? 

Summer programs at colleges vary in length. Most programs tend to range from one to seven weeks long. Make sure your child double-checks the dates of the programs they want to attend to avoid scheduling conflicts in the summer. 

4. Are College Summer Programs For High School Students Online or In-Person? 

This depends on the program. Many summer programs have high school students come to live in the dorms and interact on campus together for the duration of the program. Other programs may be offered exclusively or temporarily online. 

The best part about these offerings is you and your child have choices.

5. Does My Child Have to Take College-Level Courses in the Summer? 

Your child doesn’t have to take college-level courses in the summer, but it can help bolster their college application. However, if your child is already enrolled in AP classes or the IB Program, they may have demonstrated enough academic aptitude and can spend the summer traveling, working, or pursuing extracurricular activities. 

6. What Happens If My Child’s Credits Don’t Transfer? 

Not every college will accept credits your child earned while taking classes at a community college. Some schools require your child to earn a grade high enough for the credit to transfer, while other schools don’t accept them at all. 

Before your child enrolls for the summer at a community college, double-check the transfer credit policies of the schools they want to attend. 

Final Thoughts 

College summer programs for high school students can be excellent opportunities for your child to transition into college life. These programs can help your child build new connections, explore new courses, help them choose a major, and overall better prepare them for the college experience. 

Some students may find taking college-level courses in the summer is in their best interest and can help them get ahead. Your child can also do other things to fortify their college applications, such as traveling abroad, volunteering, or securing a part-time job or internship. 

If your child is interested in a summer program for high schoolers, it's an excellent way for them to gain new skills and strengthen their applications. 

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