Exciting summer programs for High School students

By Rajkamal Rao  

Image Courtesy: Rao Advisors

There are outstanding summer programs to keep your teenager engaged and active, while giving them an opportunity to make friends, learn, and have fun. Summer programs are also about exploration, so it is fine to have your child enroll in a program that you may consider to be outside of her interests or career goals. 
Colleges look for four components in a student's overall profile. Your chosen summer program must fulfill one or more of these components.
  1. Commitment to an activity resulting in improving skills. If you are committed to an activity and keep doing it, you are naturally going to get better at it.

  2. Team dynamics. When you are in an activity that promotes team dynamics, you learn to share, give, and take. 

  3. Leadership. If you are good in #1 and #2 above, you could be promoted to a leadership role within your EC activity.

  4. Service to community. The impact of your EC activity is important. Are you dedicating part of your week to helping others who are less fortunate than you are?

We recommend summer activities that will best help students describe in their college essays the way they grew. contributed, and learned.

  • 11th-12th grade summer: Leadership programs; volunteering in field of major; research; internship, or job.

  • 10th-11th grade summer: Research; volunteering; SAT/ACT/PSAT prep; explore summer learning.

  • 9th-10th grade summer: Volunteering; explore summer learning.

  • 8th-9th grade summer: Volunteering; explore summer learning.

Summer academic programs fall into two basic buckets, STEM and Liberal Arts. Non-academic programs range from providing service at a local nursing home to volunteering for an international organization such as the Red Cross. Work or internship options are also attractive ways to keep children engaged. For a review of why extracurricular activities are important, please read our post here.

Below are a few good summer programs. Applying early is critical.

Liberal Arts & Humanities

For high school students who are interested in pursuing a political science, government, or international relations career, there are numerous opportunities. Many start off in high school clubs that culminate in inter-school competitions at the regional, state, or even national level. Other opportunities are available through essay competitions or internships.

The best ones are those that are sponsored by the government, or by organizations representing the government. It is never a good idea to pay exorbitantly for such experiences, so be wary of internships or summer sessions at elite top schools such as Stanford, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Tufts, Columbia, and Brown.


There are numerous STEM programs that may interest your child. Many require students to have demonstrated STEM skills in school through coursework and club activities. Some are open to all students.

Computer Science
  1. Google Kickstart Coding Competitions (may be open at other times during the year too)
  2. Cisco STEM programs

  3. Girls who code

  4. Open-source coding projects to help communities - Call for Code (IBM)

  5. TechOlympics Hackathon - in mid-February

  6. Congressional App Challenge 

  7. Cyberstart (Cybersecurity training)

  8. Computer Science Scholars Program at CMU

  9. AI Camp at Stanford

  10. Persolv AI bootcamp (fee-based program conducted by Stanford graduates)

    General Science, Engineering, and Research

  11. SkillsUSA Career and Technology Education (School club)
  12. Boston University RISE program

  13. High School Aerospace Scholars - NASA

  14. Texas Space Grant Consortium - NASA/UT Austin

  15. Summer Science Program

  16. Research Science Institute at MIT

  17. MITES program at MIT 

  18. BWSI program at MIT

  19. Pre-College Program in Computational Biology at CMU
  20. US Naval Academy Summer programs

  21. USAF Summer Seminar

  22. Boston Leadership Institute Biology Research

  23. Applied Physics Aspire program at Johns Hopkins

  24. Engineering Innovation at Johns Hopkins

  25. Science Internship Program at UC Santa Cruz

  26. Aspiring Scholars Directed Research Program (ASDRP) - Fremont, Calif

  27. Program in Math for Young Scientists - Boston University

  28. Ross Math Program at Ohio State

  29. Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP)

  30. National Space Club And Foundation Scholars Program - Greenbelt, Maryland

  31. High School Summer Program at MD Anderson

  32. Thomas Jefferson University Summer Science (for Health Science students)

  33. Fox Chase Cancer Center
  34. California State Summer School for Mathematics & Science (COSMOS)

  35. UCLA Nanoscience Lab Summer Institute

  36. The University of Texas at Austin High School Research Academy

  37. The University of Pittsburgh Hillman Cancer Center Academy

  38. The Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program - George Mason Univ

  39. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Summer Student Program

  40. Coriell Summer Experience for Students

  41. Advanced Genetics lab at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst

  42. Research opportunities at Auburn University

  43. Research opportunities at Southern Methodist University

Volunteering and Community Service

No matter what your passion for community service is, there's always an organization that is eager to have you volunteer. 


  1. Feeding America
  2. North Texas Food Bank

  3. The Salvation Army

  4. Make-A-Wish foundation

  5. Habitat for Humanity - must be at least 16 years old

  6. Home Run Hitters International (Camp M.I. for disabled children)

  7. Hispanic organizations Unidosus or the AAMA (Issues: Rights & Criminal Justice, Education, Health, Immigration, Voting, Youth, and the Economy). These organizations are excellent for students who are pursuing advanced Spanish and want to improve their language skills.


  8. Cardboard project to help bridge the digital divide with underprivileged communities (Dallas).

  9. Itstemkids (FREE preschool STEM program to help disadvantaged African American and LatinX children in Grand Prairie)

  10. SAT Tutoring at Schoolhouse.world (affiliate of the Khan Academy)

  11. Destination Imagination

  12. United to learn (helping students at Dallas ISD)

  13. Coding your future - Teach Python and Java skills to underprivileged middle and high schoolers

  14. Houston area: iBug Today, technology assistance for the blind.

    Public Health
  15. American Red Cross

  16. National Breast Cancer Foundation

  17. Bone Marrow Registry

  18. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

  19. Amedisys Hospice

If none of the above options appeals to you, here's an expanded list of causes to help you find an organization in your area. Often, local charities are the best places to find meaningful and fulfilling opportunities.

  • Advocacy & Human Rights
  • Animals
  • Arts & Culture
  • Children & Youth
  • Computers & Technology
  • Crisis Support
  • Disaster Relief
  • Education & Literacy
  • Emergency & Safety
  • Environment
  • Health & Medicine
  • Homeless & Housing
  • Hunger
  • Immigrants & Refugees
  • Justice & Legal
  • LGBTQ+
  • People with Disabilities
  • Politics
  • Race & Ethnicity
  • Seniors
  • Veterans & Military Families
  • Women

A Note About Rao Advisors Premium Services
Our promise is to empower you with high-quality, ethical and free advice via this website.  But parents and students often ask us if they can engage with us for individual counseling sessions.

Individual counseling is part of the Premium Offering of Rao Advisors and involves a fee.  Please  contact us for more information.

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