2021 Summer Programs

By: Jason Robinovitz | Last Updated: January 6, 2021

girl wearing blue shirt planting plantsDo you want to enhance your chances for college admission? Most selective colleges evaluate your summer experiences as part of their admission-decision process. They look for students who take advantage of summer opportunities that enrich their lives — and that also distinguish them from the rest of the applicant pool.

We’ve got some wonderful suggestions that may get your wheels turning about summer plans to do just that. You may say, OK, but summer is at least six months away and I’ve got plenty of time to plan. Plus, the pandemic might throw a monkey wrench into any summer program. Wrong! Now’s the time to research and apply to summer programs that are not only enriching and fun, but also improve your prospects for college admission. Because most programs pivoted to virtual last summer, many students enjoyed remarkable opportunities that enhanced their college applications.

Some programs mentioned below have already indicated their plans to operate residentially or virtually in summer 2021, while others will make that decision in the coming months; only a few have suspended programming for this coming summer. That means you still have a broad range of options – the broadest possible if you begin your research now, ahead of procrastinators. Many competitive programs have early winter deadlines.

Enrich Your Summer with a Summer Program

There are myriad ways to enrich your summer through a diverse range of programs that will allow you to explore a potential major or career, deepen your interest in a particular academic area, improve your athletic or arts-related skills, enhance the lives of others, and more. Here are just a few ideas, some of which are “pandemic-proof":

  • man sight on white microscope
  • Study and live on a college campus for a week or two or three – or more
  • Get involved in a local or global community service project
  • Get a job or an internship that may foreshadow your college study focus
  • Participate in a foreign-language immersion program
  • Hone your debate skills in a specialized workshop
  • Improve your athletic prowess at sports showcase camps
  • Assist in a lab-based research project
  • Take courses locally or virtually to improve your GPA, rank, curriculum
  • Help out on a medical mission trip in a rural area
  • Create or add to your art portfolio for college admission

Some summer programs are highly competitive, like MIT’s Research Science Institute for six rigorous weeks of advanced math, science, and engineering; or Bank of America’s Student Leaders Program which awards paid internships in non-profit organizations; or Scripps High School Student Summer Internship Program which provides hands-on biomedical research opportunities; or The Wharton School’s Leadership in the Business World for an introduction to a top-notch undergraduate business program for a select group of high school students; or the no-cost Telluride Association Summer Program for Juniors (suspended for summer 2021) who share a passion for learning.

Other selective summer programs that target high achieving high school students include:

Other programs offer opportunities to almost any college-bound student who applies — and can be just as personally rewarding as those with competitive admissions — such as Summer Discovery, with its enrichment and academic offerings on dozens of college campuses in the US, UK, and Singapore, as well as internships in major metropolitan areas around the globe. In addition, Summer Discovery recently added selective business programs at Wharton. Many of our nation’s top universities offer unique summer programs just for high-school students: you can take a high-caliber course for credit or for the pure enjoyment of learning – and your academics are complemented by a rich assortment of extracurricular activities. And if you’ve got a younger sibling in middle school who wants to get an early taste of a college future, check out the programs offered through Explo and SummerDiscovery at UCLA or Georgetown.

Programs abound in almost every discipline you can imagine: visual and performing arts, sports journalism, aerospace engineering, fashion design, film-making, creative writing, graphic design, creative writing, social justice, career exploration, business, chemistry, sports management, Arabic, biology, government, law, medicine, math, public speaking, global studies… and the list goes on!

Whatever you’d like to do over the summer, there’s probably a program for it – all you have to do is Google what you’re looking for: typing “summer pre-college program” will reveal a ton of offerings, many of which have taken the pandemic into account. But be careful about the true source of the summer opportunity you choose. There are organizations that want to make a fast buck by offering programs of little substance. In some cases, a student can actually receive an “invitation” as though receiving a special chance participate in the extraordinary. Yes, there are some spectacular programs (Brown and Duke, for example), but not all such invitations are created equal.

Two very helpful search websites may point you in positive summer directions:

  • College Summer Program List, a free site that can invigorate your summer program search process by providing a great list of links.
  • Spend time at Teen Life Summer Program, a resource targeted at high school students and parents searching for pre-college opportunities.

Participation in a summer program away from home isn’t essential for admission to a selective college under current circumstances. Spending your summer competing athletically or working, volunteering, or taking a local or virtual college or high school course for credit can prove just as productive. 

Start brainstorming now about what you’d like to be doing for the summer to make your future shine. Choose carefully – and have fun, too! And, of course, you can always call us for ideas.

Topics: College Admission Summer School Extracurricular Activities


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