Polypilot product mascot

Introducing PolyPilot:

Our AI-Powered Mentorship Program

Learn More
Polygence blog / Research Opportunities and Ideas

Top 20 Most Competitive Summer Programs for High School Students

11 minute read

If you’re trying to figure out how to make your application stand out to colleges, demonstrating your strengths and pushing yourself beyond the classroom are key. One way to do this is to participate in a highly competitive summer program. Just the fact that you had the initiative to apply and the skills to be accepted speak volumes to college application officers. Warning: It requires some courage to apply to any of these 20 programs. They are all notoriously difficult to get into. If you apply and don’t get in, don’t worry. Neither did most other applicants. We’ve organized the programs from highest to lowest rates of acceptance rates. Good luck!

Most Competitive Summer Programs For High Schoolers 

20. Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists (PROMYS)

Hosting institution: Boston University

Acceptance rate: <14%

Cost: $6,000 

Format: In-person (Boston, MA)

Application deadline: March 5th

This 6-week program is for high school sophomores to seniors who love math. Each day kicks off with Number Theory lectures followed by research projects done in the lab, advanced seminars, and guest lecturers. Some examples of past minicourses include Brouwer Fixed Point Theorem (in 2D), Linear Algebra, Generating Functions, Spectral Graph Theory, Surreal Numbers, LaTeX Workshop, The Moon is a Planet, and Other Astronomical Hot Takes, and

Geology. Financial aid is available.

19. Canada/USA Math Camp

Hosting institution: Various

Acceptance rate: 13%

Cost: $5,000

Format: In-person (Location varies from year to year)

Application deadline: March 9th

If you find beauty in advanced mathematical ideas and would like to live and breathe math for 5 weeks, this summer program is for you. You’ll study with world-renowned researchers and hang out with students from all over the world who are just as passionate about math as you are. Some topics you’ll cover include Abstract Algebra, Topology, and Real Analysis, and past projects include building robots and crocheting a nonorientable surface. Financial aid is available. 

18. Summer Science Program (SSP)

Hosting institution: Various 

Acceptance rate: 10%

Cost: $8,400 (but most qualify for discounts)

Format: In-person (Host campuses include New Mexico Tech, University of Colorado, Purdue University, Indiana University, Harvey Mudd College, Caltech, and MIT)

Application deadline: March 3rd

This 5-week “educational experience of a lifetime” is open to high school juniors. Running since 1959, SSP immerses its 12 research teams (of 3 participants each) in a difficult research project. Past programs have included astrophysics, biochemistry, and genomics.  You will also attend guest lectures, go on various field trips, and meet other brilliant kids from all over the world. The program fee is scaled to what each family can afford. 

17. Stanford University Math Summer Camp (SUMaC)

Hosting institution: Stanford University

Acceptance rate: <10%

Cost: $3,550-$8,250

Format: Online and In-person (Stanford, CA)

Application deadline: February 1st

Go beyond the key concepts in math that you may learn in high school into more advanced topics (e.g., group theory) and then apply them to real-life applications (e.g., the Rubik’s Cube). This program is for high school sophomores and juniors who are curious about higher math. It’s offered as both an online program (3 weeks) or a residential program at Stanford (4 weeks). The online version is slightly less competitive in that 64 participants are chosen, but you can ask to be considered for the online program, the in-person, or both. 

16. High School Scientific Training and Enrichment Program (HiSTEP)

Hosting institution: National Institutes of Health

Acceptance rate: <10%

Cost: Paid a $2,150 stipend 

Format: In-person (Bethesda, MD)

Application deadline: February 1st

HiStep is a 5-week full-time summer internship in the main NIH campus in Bethesda, MD, and it’s open to all high school students. Topics include current issues in human health (e.g., AIDS, neurological disorders, women’s health), basic science skills, STEM-M careers, college and career advising, and a lot of work in the lab. 

15. Simons Summer Research Program

Hosting institution: Stony Brook University

Acceptance rate: 8%

Cost: Paid fellowship

Format: In-person (Stony Brook, NY)   

Application deadline: Early February

Also known as the Simon Fellowship, this prestigious and highly selective 8-week program matches about 30 students each year with a Stony Brook faculty mentor in the fields of science, math, computer science, and more. Students are selected based on their academic achievements, research potential, and personal qualities such as creativity, curiosity, and dedication. This program gives you a great opportunity to join research groups, produce a research abstract, work with a supportive community of peers and mentors, plus receive a stipend award.

14. Research in Science & Engineering (RISE)

Hosting institution: Boston University

Acceptance rate: ~7%

Cost: $5,620-$8,908

Format: In-person (Boston, MA)

Application deadline: February 14th

RISE is a 6-week, 40-hour-a-week program for rising high school seniors who want to major in STEM and work in the field. Astronomy, Chemistry, Computer Science, and Neurology are just a few of the research track options. You will work on research projects with Boston University professors, postdoctoral fellows, or graduate students as advisors. They also participate in weekly peer-to-peer training. The event culminates in a poster discussion, where participants present their work.

13. Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS)

Hosting institution: Carnegie Mellon

Acceptance rate: <7%

Cost: Free

Format: In person (Pittsburgh, PA) (with an online “pre-course”)

Application deadline: March 9th

This is a great program for a deep dive into engineering (it’s a 5-week course), and it’s free. It concludes with an exciting symposium. Students explore math, science, seminars, writing workshops, small group mentoring, and collaborative learning, as well as have a chance to learn about financial aid, FAFSA, and college admissions. We love this program because it is a fully funded, merit-based program for participants, making it accessible to traditionally underrepresented communities.

12. HOPP Summer Student Program

Hosting institution: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Acceptance rate: 5%

Cost: Paid $1,200 stipend

Format: In-person (New York, NY)

Application deadline: Early February

HOPP SSP is an 8-week full-time internship program (you must have your own housing and transportation) at the esteemed Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center open to all high school students. You will conduct an independent biomedical or computational lab-based research project with guidance from a mentor. You’ll also go to training sessions and lab tours, and present your final results at the end of the summer.

11. Summer Internship Program (Spark SIP)

Hosting institution: Spark

Acceptance rate: <5%

Cost: Paid internship

Format: In-person (Seattle, WA) 

Application deadline: Mid-March

The Spark SIP program connects high school students with specific industry experts and educators in the Greater Seattle area that will act as sponsors. In March, you can explore the Spark website for projects you might be interested in. You can apply for up to 5 different projects. If accepted to a project, you will then work on it over the course of the summer for an agreed-upon stipend and hours. 

10. Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP)

Hosting institution: Harvard and MIT

Acceptance rate: <5%

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Cambridge, MA)

Application deadline: 

For Cambridge Rindge & Latin School students in Cambridge, MA, only: SRMP is not a summer program, and its eligible student population is relatively small. But we included it because it is an amazing opportunity. Acceptance into the program shows you what it’s like to work on real, cutting-edge, year-long research with groundbreaking astrophysicists and climate scientists from diverse backgrounds. Working in small teams of 2 or 3, you will conduct an independent research project and then present your findings at the end of the session in May. 

9. Research Science Institute (RSI)

Hosting institution: Center for Excellence in Education

Acceptance rate: <5%

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Cambridge, MA)

Application deadline: 

This is always one of our top most cost-effective, prestigious, academically rigorous, socially enriching picks. It only admits about 100 high school juniors each year from a pool of thousands of applicants. (No seniors allowed.) It is hosted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and students are selected based on their academic achievements, research potential, and personal qualities such as creativity, leadership, and motivation. The program is free with all expenses paid, including travel, room and board, and research supplies.       

8. MITES Summer

Hosting institution: MIT

Acceptance rate: 4%

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Cambridge, MA)

Application deadline: February 1st

MITES is a challenging 6-week, residential program for rising seniors at MIT geared toward historically underrepresented and underserved students. You’ll take seminars with esteemed STEM professionals and tour local companies that employ MITES alumni and MIT labs. You’ll also be a part of an extraordinary success community. Many alumni go on to study at MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Brown, and Stanford. It’s an amazing opportunity. 

7. Boys/Girls State

Hosting institution: The American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary (Boys | Girls)

Acceptance rate: 3-6%

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Various)

Application deadline: March

If you’re interested in government, history, democracy, and politics, Boys and Girls State are respected, 1-week programs that teach citizenship and leadership skills for U.S. high school students via role play. Each state program runs its own program focusing on its own legislative sessions, court proceedings, assemblies, law enforcement, among other topics. There’s also a great documentary about Boys State, if you’re curious about the experience.

6. Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program (SIMR)

Hosting institution: Stanford

Acceptance rate: 3-6%

Cost: Paid stipends ($500-$1,500)

Format: In-person (Stanford, CA)

Application deadline: February 25th

Primarily accepting high school juniors and seniors in the Bay Area, this 8-week program matches participants with Stanford faculty and postdoctoral fellows to work on medically-oriented research projects in one of the top labs in the country. You can choose from 8 areas of research: immunology, neurobiology, cancer, bioengineering, stem cell, cardiovascular, bioinformatics, and genetics. This is not a residential program so you must account for your own room and board.

5. Telluride Association Summer Seminar (TASS)

Hosting institution: Telluride Association

Acceptance rate: 3-5%

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Cornell University, University of Maryland, and University of Michigan)

Application deadline: January 4th

Most of the programs on this list have been STEM-heavy, but here is a great option for those who are more interested in history, politics, literature, and art. This 6-week program features seminars about how power and privilege affect social structures, community activities, outings, and service projects. Tuition, books, room and board, and field trips are all completely free.

4. Bank of America Student Leaders

Hosting institution: Bank of America

Acceptance rate: 3-4%

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Various and a week in Washington, D.C.)

Application deadline: January 12th

If you’re looking to make a change in your community or even the world at large, this program can help give you the tools to make a difference. High school juniors and seniors get paired with local nonprofits to complete an 8-week internship that addresses issues in their communities. The summer session ends with an all-expenses-paid final Student Leader Summit in Washington, D.C., where participants will explore the connection between business nonprofits and government and how they work together to solve problems. They also meet with their Congressional group from their district to discuss the issues they feel most impact their community. 

3. Women's Technology Program (WTP)

Hosting institution: MIT

Acceptance rate: 3%

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Cambridge, MA)

Application deadline: January 15th

Girl power! WTP is a rigorous 4-week day program (no dorms, commute-in only) for the summer after your junior year, open to students in the U.S. only. In past years the focus has been on electrical engineering, computer science, and mechanical engineering. Apply if you like problem-solving and are rather new to but very interested in engineering. 

2. Rockefeller Summer Science Research Program (SSRP)

Hosting institution: Rockefeller University

Acceptance rate: <3%

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (New York, NY)

Application deadline: January 9th

If you’re a high school junior or senior interested in biomedical research, this 6-week program gives you the opportunity to do your research in the RockEDU Laboratory, a 3,000 square foot space dedicated to biomedical training. You’ll be given equipment training, take part in lab meetings, lectures, and design and conduct your own project as part of a themed track. Note that this is not a residential program so you will need to be responsible for your own room and board.

1. Anson L. Clark Scholars Program

Hosting institution: Texas Tech University

Acceptance rate: <3%

Cost: Free

Format: In-Person (Lubbock, TX)

Application deadline:  Mid-February

This free and intensive 7-week program offers exceptional students interested in biology the opportunity to work with outstanding professors at the University's General Health Sciences Center. Although the program is research-based, it also includes weekly hands-on seminars, discussions, and field trips. We’re very impressed by this program’s academic rigor and its on-campus experience with zero cost to the student. The only catch is that only twelve students are selected every year. 

Do Your Own Research Through Polygence

Your passion can be your college admissions edge! Polygence provides high schoolers a personalized, flexible research experience proven to boost your admission odds. Get matched to a mentor now!"