Are there Low-Cost or Free Summer Programs for High School Students?
Introduction to Summer Program Options
Around the country, there are a variety of summer programs that are available for high school students. Most summer programs have some type of monetary cost for participants. This is particularly true of residential pre-college summer programs, which are often designed to provide a preview of the types of opportunities that are available in a college setting. While there is a cost to many pre-college programs, there are a number of colleges, universities, and educational organizations that offer relatively low-cost opportunities for high school students. This post is intended to provide information about these programs along with specific examples that may be of interest.
If a student would like to attend a particular summer program, but it is cost-prohibitive, it is recommended that the student and/or parent contact an official program representative to inquire about potential options. Some summer program directors and representatives will try to work with students and families to see if the program can be made accessible. In addition, some programs have a limited number of scholarships available and/or financial aid that may be helpful. However, sometimes there is not a workable way to lower the cost of a program of interest. This online directory has a wide range of programs. To view specific summer programs beyond those that are included in this article, students and parents can see the blog page, the state pages, or the topic pages.
In addition to contacting a program representative, students may want to consider all of their options to help make the summer productive. For example, students may want to try to find a program near them that will not have a residential cost, such as at a local college. A student may decide to examine beneficial alternatives to summer programs, such as finding a part-time job, engaging in career shadowing, prepping for the SAT or ACT, volunteering to do community service, and / or honing skills for an extracurricular activity. It can also be helpful for students to speak with a school counselor or a teacher about ideas and opportunities that can be valuable for the summer.
Information about Summer Programs that are Low-Cost or Free
There are some summer programs that are considered to be low-cost or that are free. These programs are often sponsored by an organization or there is funding available through a college. It often takes research to be able to find this type of program. Some of these programs are designed for students based upon demographics and/or location.
This article contains examples of low cost or free summer programs, but this is not meant to constitute a comprehensive list. It is also important to note that the cost of a summer program is subject to change. As a result, the cost to attend the summer opportunities included in this article could change depending on the funding status of a program.
Specific Opportunities: Relatively Low-Cost or Free Summer Programs
- Penn State – Business Opportunities Summer Program
This high school summer program is designed for students with an interest in majoring in business and potentially pursuing a career in the business field. Participating students take mini-courses pertaining to the field of business. These courses enable students to interact with professors at the university, get a feel for college academic expectations, learn about areas in the business field, and gain experience on a college campus.
This program is residential, which allows students to get a preview of life in a college setting. Participants also can learn about different types of business majors at the university. For those students admitted to the program, there is a relatively low cost to attend. There are also some scholarships available for those students with a financial need.
Learn more: Penn State Summer Business Program
- Girls Who Code Summer Program
This program is designed to help female students learn about a variety of aspects pertaining to computer science. The program is approximately a month and a half in length and it is intended for rising high school juniors and seniors.
The program provides female students with the chance to engage in experiential learning with a broad variety of technology topics. For example, participants can learn about game design, coding for apps, and robotics. In addition, students gain insight into career paths in the fields of computer science, technology, and engineering. The program has a variety of locations. It is free for accepted students to attend.
Learn more: Summer Coding Program
- Indiana University Summer Journalism Program
The IU offers a pre-college institute that is designed to help high school students explore journalism, develop a variety of skills, and examine aspects of the field from different perspectives. Throughout the program, students have the chance to gain insight into high-interest topics and trends within journalism, interact with instructors, collaborate with peers, and take part in engaging learning exercises.
The program runs across five days during the summer. It includes workshops on a wide range of topics including documentary film, journalistic reporting, photography, investigation and more. The program has been in existence for over sixty years and provides a unique pre-college experience that enables high school students to learn about interesting ideas, issues, and career pathways associated with journalism.
The program takes place at Indiana University in Bloomington. Students can stay on the campus and eat meals in university dining halls. There is a registration process for the program. As of the fall of 2020, the program cost was approximately four hundred and twenty-five dollars, which includes residence on the campus. There is also financial assistance for qualified students.
Learn more: IU Summer Journalism Institute
- University of Wisconsin Summer Engineering Program
This program enables students, with an interest in engineering, to learn more about the field. Students have a chance to enhance their knowledge in the areas of math, science, and technology, and to learn about how this academic curriculum directly connects to engineering.
Students also have the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities, go on field trips, connect with faculty members, and gain knowledge from experts in engineering. The program is approximately a month and a half in length, it is residential, and it is free for accepted applicants. The program is designed for rising high school 11th and 12th graders. It is also designed to attract female students as well as students from backgrounds that have been underrepresented in the engineering field.
Learn more: UW Summer Engineering Program
- Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville Healthcare Diversity Summer Program
This program is designed to promote healthcare professions for students from minority backgrounds. Through the summer camp, students have the opportunity to learn about majors and jobs in areas like pharmacy, dentistry, and nursing.
Admitted students also have a chance to learn from university instructors, gain insight into multiple healthcare fields, and enhance their knowledge and skills. This program is residential and it is free for accepted students. It is intended for high school students entering the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades.
Learn more: SIU Summer Healthcare Program
- Santa Clara University Summer Engineering Seminar Program
This program is designed for students who are interested in potentially pursuing college majors in engineering and science. Participating students have a chance to learn from instructors, participate in workshops, and develop skills through project-based activities.
Students also have the opportunity to meet professors and learn about different areas in the engineering field. This summer program is residential and it is free for accepted students. The program is intended for students who have completed 10th or 11th grade. The program is also meant to support students who have not been exposed to engineering as well as those who have a financial need. Based on the program’s information, female students and students from backgrounds that have been underrepresented in engineering are encouraged to apply.
The University of Santa Clara also offers a summer program, known as Young Scholars, which enables motivated high school students, who are freshmen through juniors, to take classes at the university for a seventy-five percent reduction from the traditional cost.
Learn more: Santa Clara Summer Engineering Program
- Research Science Institute Summer Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Research Science Institute enables motivated and talented students to take classes, work with professors, and engage in research. At the beginning of the program, participants take intensive courses in the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering, and math). Students then build on their knowledge and engage in research with mentorship from leading researchers. Students participate in the different phases of the research process, which culminates with a presentation of their work. The program is free for accepted participants. The program is designed for students in the 11th grade (those having one year left until graduation).
Learn more: Summer Research Program at MIT
- Texas A & M Geosciences Summer Program
This program, known as GeoX, is run by the College of Geosciences at the university. It provides high school students with the opportunity to learn about a variety of topics in the area of geo/earth science. Students have the chance to engage in unique hands-on activities, learn from instructors at the university, collaborate with peers, and develop a better understanding of the geosciences field.
The program is designed to enable students to explore high-interest topics, such as the physical science of the ocean as well as on the planet of Mars. Through the program, students are able to enhance their knowledge of college majors and occupations in areas relating to the geosciences. In addition, high school students also have a chance to learn about Texas A & M University as well as about the college admission process. This program is free and admission is selective.
Learn More: Texas A & M Summer Science Program
- Stephen F. Austin State University Pre-Med Summer Camp
Stephen F. Austin has a medical summer program for Texas students who are currently 11th graders in high school. The program is designed to help students to learn about academic pathways that can lead to careers in the field of medicine. The program is intended to be for students who are aspiring doctors, dentists, veterinarians, and optometrists.
Students have a chance to learn from and interact with practitioners in varying medical areas. Participants also have the opportunity to hear from current medical students who are in graduate school. They also learn about taking steps to prepare for the process of applying to graduate schools in the field of medicine. This program is free for accepted students who live in Texas and preference is given to those students who demonstrate a financial need.
Learn more: Summer Medical Camp at SFASU
- Virginia Summer BLAST Program
The BLAST program is designed to help students learn about the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). It takes place on campuses around the state of Virginia, which include Virginia Tech, UVA, and Old Dominion.
Through the program, participants have the opportunity to learn from professors and staff members, work together with peers from different locations, and gain experience on a college campus. During the program, students have a chance to participate in a variety of experiential-based exercises to become more familiar with STEM.
There is no cost to this program and there is an application process. The program is designed for rising high school freshmen and sophomores from the state of Virginia.
Learn more: Summer Blast Program in Virginia
- Duquesne University Summer Program
This program, known as the Summer Institute, is designed to provide high school students with a preview of college. Through the program, students have the opportunity to take classes on the campus and learn about life in a college setting.
Through the program, high school students have a chance to learn from professors, get a feel for college-level coursework, and enhance their understanding in a subject area of interest.
Participating students also have the opportunity to stay on the campus in university-run housing. This enables them to get a feel for living in a college environment. In addition, students have the opportunity to explore the university campus, utilize the college’s resources and facilities, and participate in co-curricular activities.
This program has been designed for high school 11th and 12th-grade students. There is not a cost for qualified students to participate in the program.
Learn more: Duquesne Summer Program
- Manhattan College Summer Engineering Program
Manhattan offers a summer program that is designed to help students learn about engineering. Through the program, students become more familiar with different facets of engineering. In particular, students gain insight into the varying disciplines within the engineering field (e.g. civil, mechanical, electrical).
During the program, students can participate in a variety of activities to enhance their knowledge of the engineering field. For example, students have the opportunity to take part in experiential lab exercises, participate in discussions, and learn from instructors and professionals. These learning activities can help high school students to consider if they have an interest in pursuing a major and / or career in engineering and the sciences.
In addition to engineering, this program is also designed to help students with the college admission process. As a part of the program, students learn about techniques that can be utilized to prep for and take the SAT. There is also information shared about the college admission process that can be useful for college-bound students.
This program is designed for minority and female students who are rising 11th and 12th graders in New York City. The program does not have a cost. There is an application to complete.
Learn more: Manhattan Summer Engineering Program
- Arizona State University Summer Health Institute – Phoenix, Arizona
This program is designed to provide upper grade-level high school students with the opportunity to learn about a variety of career opportunities in the health field. Participants have the chance to become more familiar with healthcare occupations such as being a doctor, physical therapist, dentist, and more.
During the program, students learn about health care professions in a variety of ways. These include hearing from guest speakers, touring medical facilities, and participating in simulations.
The program enables students to reside in ASU’s Phoenix campus and get a sense of being a college student. There is not a cost for this residential program.
The program is designed for students who have completed their junior year. There is an application process for this program.
Learn more: Arizona State Summer Healthcare Program
- University of Texas at Austin Summer Business Programs – Austin, Texas
McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas sponsors summer business programs that are designed to provide high school students with the opportunity to examine the field and corresponding professions. Students learn about business principles, concepts, and ideas during the program. They also have a chance to find about college majors and career possibilities that are connected to the field of business.
The programs are intended for rising 11th and 12th grades and typically run for six days in length. There is an application process for this program.
Learn more: High School Business Programs
- University of North Texas Engineering and Computer Science Summer Programs – Denton, Texas
There are several different technology-based programs offered by UNT. The topics in the previous summer have included app development, game design, programming, coding, and more.
The programs are designed for students in grades 7 – 12. It depends on the program with regard to the grade level range. The typical length of each program is approximately four days. Some of the programs have a relatively low cost and one of them has been offered at no cost. If a student has an interest in a program with a cost and it will cause difficulty to pay the fee, it may be helpful to contact the program office or a program representative to inquire about options.
Learn more: UNT Summer Programs
- Princeton University Summer Journalism Program – Princeton, New Jersey
Princeton offers a unique summer program for high school students that focuses on the field of journalism. Participants have a chance to learn about journalism from instructors with professional experiences. Students also engage in experiential activities that include applying journalistic practices to articles and collaborating with peers to create a journal that is published on Princeton’s website.
This residential program enables students to live on the campus in residence halls that are typically utilized by college students. The pre-college experience can help with the transition from high school to college.
Students in this summer program also receive information and mentorship about the components involved with college applications. The assistance with college applications extends beyond the summer.
The program is designed for high school students who will be entering their senior year after the summer. There is not a cost associated with this program.
Learn more: Princeton Summer Journalism Program
- SMASH Summer STEM Program – Multiple College Campuses
The SMASH Summer Program provides high school students with a unique opportunity to explore areas within the STEM field. This is an extended program that students begin participating in after their freshman year in high school. It continues in the summers beyond the initial one.
Through the program, participants have the chance to learn about interesting topics in the areas of science, tech, engineering, and math. Students work with university faculty members and expert professionals to learn about potential college majors and careers in the STEM field. Students can also stay on a college campus, learn about post-secondary educational opportunities, and get a preview of living and learning in a university setting.
The universities that serve as hosts for the SMASH Summer Program include Stanford, UC Berkely, UC Davis, Morehouse College, Northeastern University, Wayne State, Wharton, SMASH Illinois (Illinois Institute of Technology and Southern Illinois University), and the University of Michigan. More information is available from SMASH for interested students.
The SMASH summer programs at different universities can offer a variety of exciting summer opportunities for students. For example, Stanford University has offered SMASH-Med, which is designed to help students learn about the medical field.
There is an application process for SMASH. The program has been designed for students in the ninth grade, who live near one of the host universities. There are several additional academic criteria for applicants. The program tries to serve students from traditionally underrepresented groups in the STEM areas, low-income families, and/or first-generation college-bound students. Any high school students who will be completing the ninth grade and who meet the academic criteria can apply to the program.
Learn more: SMASH Summer Program
- Stanford Summer Medical Research Program – Palo Alto, California
Stanford offers a unique summer opportunity for students interested in medicine as well as research. The program enables students to engage in medical research with the guidance and support of professors and graduate students.
Through the eight-week summer program, students learn about the research process and the types of projects that are being done to further medical progress. The program has multiple focus areas within the medical field. These include neuroscience, bioengineering, genetics, and more.
The program is intended for current high school juniors and seniors. Any student can apply, but preference is given to those students who live in the local area. There is an application for the program. There is an application fee, but there is not a cost for students to participate if they are accepted for the program.
Learn more: Stanford Summer Medical Research Program
- University of Tennessee Summer Business Program – Knoxville, Tennessee
UT has a summer business program that is sponsored and coordinated by the College of Business. The program provides significant foundational knowledge of the field of business. Students engage in discussions, hear from business professionals, collaboratively work with peers, and participate in experiential simulations connecting to the business field.
The summer program designed for high school students who are going into their senior year and who represents one of the following: an under-represented background, the first in the family to be college-bound, or qualify for free and reduced lunch.
Participants stay on the campus and get a preview of college life. There is no cost for the program, but there is a small fee to reserve a space when registering. There is an application for this program.
Learn more: UT Summer Business Program
- Texas A & M University Summer Math Camp – College Station, Texas
This summer program is designed for students with a strong interest in mathematics. The program enables students to examine mathematics at an in-depth level and engage in mathematical problem-solving activities.
This program is intended for high school students (ages 14-18) and there is not a cost to attend.
Learn more: Texas A & M Math Summer Program
- University of Wisconsin Summer Engineering Programs – Madison, Wisconsin
This residential program is typically six weeks in length and enables upper grade-level high school students to develop knowledge and acquire skills that connect to engineering. Participants have the opportunity to explore engineering topics, learn about college majors, participate in hands-on activities, learn from professors, and gain experience on a college campus.
Through the program, students take classes in areas that allow them to begin to build a solid foundation in the engineering field. The classes focus on mathematics, science, engineering design, and more. Students also have a chance to gain an understanding of the ways in which engineering is utilized in practice by visiting engineering firms and related sites.
The residential program is sponsored by the College of Engineering and the Diversity Affairs Office. It is designed for high school students who are going into the 11th and 12th grades. This program is considered to be selective and there is not a cost for admitted students.
Learn more: UW Summer Engineering Program
- Long Island University, Post Summer Honors Program – Brookville Brooklyn, New York
LIU Post offers a summer honors program for high school students who will be entering the twelfth grade after the summer. The program is held in two locations: Brookville and Brooklyn.
Through the program, students have the opportunity to explore a topic of interest, preview life on a college campus, converse with and learn from faculty members, and collaborate with peers from different locations. There are a variety of high-interest course offerings and the classes vary based on the two locations. The courses focus on subject areas such as the veterinary field, acting and theatre, healthcare professions, business, and more. The courses within the program enable students to get a feel for what it is like to study an area of interest at the college level.
The summer honors program at LIU is a pre-college experience. As a result, students can stay on the campus in residence halls to get a feel for college life. There is also a commuter option for students who are close to the campus. With the residential or commuter option, students have a chance to spend time learning in a university setting.
The program is designed for students who will be going into their senior year of high school. The program is tuition-free. There is a relatively low activity fee.
Learn more: LIU Post Summer Honors Program
University of Wisconsin ProSci: Computational Science Summer Program – Madison Wisconsin
ProSci offers high school students a chance to learn about and become more familiar with the field of computational science. The program enables students to explore computer science along with engineering.
During the program, high school students take part in a variety of activities such as discussions, experiential learning exercises, and simulations. The program fosters an atmosphere that allows participants to be active learners and to ‘learn by doing’. Students also have a chance to utilize the resources at the university and get a preview of what it is like to study computer science in a college environment.
The program is designed to be residential with participating students staying the campus. The program is free for accepted students and there is an application process.
Learn more: University of Wisconsin ProSci Summer Program
- Indiana University Girls with Nerve Summer Camp – Bloomington, Indiana
The Girls with Nerve Summer Program is designed to promote excitement in the sciences and particularly focuses on the area of neuroscience. The program is intended for high school and middle school female students, who are interested in an exciting hands-on experience during the summer.
The week-long summer camp provides students with the opportunity to learn about neuroscience, gain insight into the way the brain works and explore the work being done in the university’s labs. The camp includes a variety of hands-on and experiential learning activities. Students have a chance to collaborate with each other, engage in interesting discussions, view and take part in demonstrations, and learn in a college setting.
Girls with Nerve is a free summer day camp that is held at Indiana University for high school and middle school female students.
Learn more: IU Girls with Nerve Summer Camp
- Physics of Atomic Nuclei (PAN) Summer Program for High School Students – East Lansing, Michigan or South Bend, Indiana
The PAN summer program is held at Michigan State University and the University of Notre Dame. The program is designed to give students an opportunity to examine high-interest physics topics and concepts.
Through the one-week program, high school students have a chance to learn from faculty members, engage in laboratory activities, and take part in interesting discussions. Students gain insight into aspects of physics such as cosmology and astrophysics.
One of the features of the program is the hands-on nature. As a result, students get to participate in a variety of experiential learning exercises. The program can also help students learn about potential college majors and career pathways in the area of physics.
The program has a residential and commuter option. Students can participate in extracurricular and co-curricular events outside of academic learning time.
There is an application process for the program and it is free for admitted students.
Overall, there are a variety of summer program opportunities for high school students. A large number of these programs have some type of cost associated with participation. However, there are some summer programs that are considered to be low-cost or free. These programs may by sponsored by a college or the college may have received funding from an outside source. It often takes some research to find low-cost summer programs of interest.
If a student finds a program of interest that is cost prohibitive, it can sometimes be helpful to speak with an official program representatives to explain the situation and inquire about options. Students can also check to see if local colleges offer commuter-based programs, which tend to be less expensive than those with a housing cost. Students can also check at their school, often with a school counselor, to seek recommendations for summer opportunities.
It is also important to note that there are many different activities that high school students can engage in during the summer. As a result, if a student cannot find a structured summer program that aligns with their goals, interests, and finances, they may opt to pursue other productive alternatives during the summer months.