Polygence blog / Research Opportunities and Ideas

15 Architecture Summer Programs for High School Students

9 minute read

If you want to gain hands-on experience in design and construction, learn from professionals, use the latest software and design materials, build models, and/or start a portfolio for your architecture program application, consider attending a few weeks at a summer architecture camp. We’ve found a variety of in-person and online programs that focus on architecture fundamentals, urban planning, biophilic design, even hip-hop-infused community building. By attending such a program, you’ll meet inspiring professionals who can give you advice and a cohort of like-minded future architects and designers.

If you’re also interested in pursuing your very own architectural research project, check out our art research project mentors who specialize in architecture, design, and interdisciplinary practices. They can help you complete a project you start at one of these summer camps or help you get started on something completely new.

What are some architecture experiences that are open to high school students? (Do they offer college credit?)

1. ArcStart

Hosting institution: University of Michigan

Cost: $3,600

Format: In-person (Ann Arbor, MI)

Application deadline: February 28th

This 3-week immersive residential program introduces you to the fundamental principles of architectural design, architectural history, drafting, and modeling tools. You’ll also visit a thriving architectural firm, learn how to create original design proposals, curate your work into a digital portfolio, and prepare for the college application process. You must be a rising high school sophomore, junior, senior, or rising college freshman to be eligible.

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2. BAC Summer Academy 

Hosting institution: Boston Architectural College 

Cost: $1,500 ($1,200 for early registration)

Format: Online or in-person (Boston, MA)

Application deadline: June 1st (March 1st for early registration)

The BAC Summer Academy is a 5-week program designed for high school students who are interested in art, architecture, interior design, engineering, industrial design, computer game design, landscape design, and/or urban planning. If you do the program in person, you will work in BAC workshops with other students, but the robust virtual program also lets you complete exercises (you will be provided with a materials kit), take part in critiques, and even visit architectural firms remotely from anywhere in the world. Scholarships are available; the application deadline is March 1st.

High school students who jointly enroll in the Urban Design and Planning Pre-College Fellowship must attend the program in-person. This adds two weeks to the total program duration and the total cost to enroll in the BAC Summer Academy program with the Urban Design and Planning Pre-College Fellowship add-on is $3,00 (or $2,400 for early registration).

BAC Summer Academy participants in the 11th or 12th grades earn 1.5 college credits upon program completion and will be eligible for a $2,000 scholarship to a BAC undergraduate program.

3. Build SF Summer Design Institute

Hosting institution: The Architectural Foundation of San Francisco

Cost: $3,000

Format: Online

Application deadline: Admission closes when full

This 3-week program pairs you directly with a professional architect or engineer mentor who will share their experience and help guide you on your path. You’ll learn how to use 3D modeling, video, and animation software. You’ll also learn how to present your own original design ideas and receive feedback, as well as how to collaborate with other students on a team project.

4. Career Exploration in Architecture, Interior Design, and Landscape Architecture Workshop

Hosting institution: University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL)

Cost: $650

Format: In-person (Lincoln, NE)

Application deadline: April 19th

An incredible bargain for a residential architecture program, this 1-week program at UNL is a great preview of what it’s like to be a college student. You will spend most of your time in the design studio practicing client/designer scenarios, learning architectural design fundamentals and history, and exploring career opportunities in the fields of architecture, landscape design, and interior design.

5. Carnegie Mellon Pre-College Architecture 

Hosting institution: Carnegie Mellon University

Cost: $7,200-$9,249 

Format: In-person (Pittsburgh, PA)

Application deadline: March 15th 

This 4-week program is extremely intensive, with full days of seminars and design studio time (as you would have in college), as well as field trips and special lectures. You will learn how to communicate your design ideas through 2D, 3D, digital, and analog techniques and how to participate in design critiques as a central component of the studio experience. To be eligible, you must be at least 16 years old and either a high school sophomore or junior at the time you apply.  

6. Columbia Summer Immersion

Hosting institution: Columbia University

Cost: $2,825-$12,449

Format: In-person (New York, NY)

Application deadline: March 3rd

The 3-week Intro to Architectural Design and Theory combines the study of architectural history and theory with hands-on technical drawing training. You will also take advantage of this program’s location with architectural tours of the Columbia campus and prominent architectural landmarks around New York City. Your instructors are Columbia faculty members and/or working architects at esteemed firms. Two other 1-week architectural programs are also available if you are strapped for time or budget.

7. Cornell’s Introduction to Architecture Summer Program

Hosting institution: Cornell University

Cost: $1,680 per credit X 6 credits = $10,080

Format: Online

Application deadline: May 29th

Cornell’s 6-week Intro to Architecture pairs studio design with in-depth drawing, digital tools, and architectural composition instruction and lecture courses. You’ll work closely with Cornell alumni and faculty on creating models for independent as well as team projects. You’ll also participate in a final review. The portfolio pieces you create will be suitable for college applications

8. Drexel’s Discovering Architecture 

Hosting institution: Drexel University

Cost: $2,750-$3,450

Format: In-person (Philadelphia, PA)

Application deadline:  April 3rd

Going to Drexel’s intensive 2-week architecture program for high school students is an authentic preview of what it would be like to go to architecture school there. The classes are taught by the same faculty, you live on the college campus, and you work in the same studios and labs as undergrads do. You'll visit with professional architecture firms and see the types of projects they are currently working on and how they go about it. The historic city of Philadelphia also provides another architectural classroom and you’ll take field trips throughout the city.

9. embARC Summer Design Academy

Hosting institution: Berkeley College of Environmental Design

Cost: $4,885-$13,230

Format: In-person (Berkeley, CA)

Application deadline:  May 1st

This 4-week summer program is perfect for students interested in both environmental studies and urban planning. Students at embARC study urban design, architecture, and sustainable city components. Throughout the program, you will have access to the Cal Architecture and Urban Design Studio. You’ll also have the chance to participate in a Sustainable City Planning workshop, a Digital Design workshop, as well as engage in an Environmental Design Conversations Series and a Community Build project. Prices vary based on whether you are a domestic or international student and whether you need housing. There are a small number of stipends and scholarships available to U.S. students who are accepted into the program and apply for financial support.

Students who complete this program will generally receive 1 college semester credit unit on an official UC Berkeley transcript.

10. Fallingwater’s High School Residencies

Hosting institution: Fallingwater Institute

Cost: $250-$1,200

Format: Online or in-person (Fallingwater, PA)

Application deadline: April 30th

Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece, exhibits several iconic elements that contribute to its architectural significance, including cantilevered balconies and terraces, the innovative use of reinforced concrete, and the incorporation of the waterfall directly beneath the house. It’s an amazing place to study architecture, and they host 4 one-week summer courses for high school students. Each week has a different focus, including model-making, portfolio prep, and biophilic design. Note that a limited number of full and partial, need-based scholarships are available. They also offer virtual versions of two courses for students who are unable to attend in-person. 

11. Hip Hop Architecture Summer Camps

Hosting institution: Hip Hop Architecture

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Atlanta, GA; Memphis, TN; Dallas, TX; and Hartford, CT in 2023)

Application deadline: Closes when full

This 1-week camp is a different take on architecture that also leans into urban planning and, surprisingly, into hip hop songwriting and recording. Designed to empower students who are often underrepresented in the field of architecture, these camps use hip hop culture as a lens to explore architecture and its power to unite communities. The camps focus on creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking, and also introduce you to top architects, urban planners, designers, community activists, and hip hop artists. Check out past student videos on the Hip Hop Architecture YouTube channel or website (where you can also listen to a curated mixtape) to hear some really great songwriting, see impressive projects, and get inspired by the uplifting messages. Hop Hop Architecture Summer Camp venues change yearly.

12. Project Pipeline 

Hosting institution: National Organization of Minority Architects

Cost: ~$25 registration fee

Format: In-person (Various urban sites around the US, including Washington, DC; Baltimore, MD; Houston, TX; Columbus, OH; Kalamazoo, MI; and more)

Application deadline:  Varies

Project Pipeline is a 1-week summer camp that seeks to diversify the architecture and design communities and empower underrepresented youth in those fields. You’ll be guided through all stages of design, including drawing, model building, researching, interviewing, and visiting building sites. By the end of the program, you will present a fully realized project that addresses an issue in your city.

13. RISD Pre-College

Hosting institution: Rhode Island School of Design

Cost: $8,100-$10,700

Format: In-person (Providence, RI)

Application deadline: Early February

This visual arts summer program offers an intensive 6-week-long pre-college experience for young artists at arguably one of the top design schools in the world. You will experience a college-style curriculum with day-long studio classes and can avail themselves of resources such as the RISD Nature Lab and the RISD Museum. You’ll experiment with new materials, tools and techniques, learn from mentors, and create final projects that can be used for college application. Note that need-based financial aid can cover up to 50% of the cost.

14. Early College Program Summer Institute (ECPSI)

Hosting institution: School of the Art Institute of Chicago 

Cost: $1,785 - $7,140

Format: Online or in-person (Chicago, IL)

Application deadline: June 23rd

ECPSI offers 1-week, 2-week, or 4-week courses, and they add new courses all the time so it’s good to keep checking back on their site. One of their 2-week, in-person architecture courses is called Architecture: Analog & Digital Processes and focuses on both traditional drafting skills and hand-built modeling as well as digital modeling. You’ll earn 2 college credits and by the end of the program, you should have projects you can add to your architecture portfolio. Note that merit and need-based scholarships are available to offset costs.

You can get more information about ECPSI by watching this hour-long webinar.

15. Young Women's Design and Building Institute

Hosting institution: Girls Garage

Cost: Free 

Format: In-person (Berkeley, CA)

Application deadline: March 1st

This 1-week architecture program is designed specifically for female-identifying high school students. Architecture is still a male-dominated field, and this program helps foster a community of fearless women builders by teaching them the carpentry, welding, and drafting skills they need to thrive. The cohorts are small (12 students), and together you’ll design and implement a real design project for a local nonprofit. If you’re interested, you can also check out this inspiring documentary about Girls Garage founder Emily Pilloton-Lam and her quest to teach design to a group of high school students in rural North Carolina.

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