Polygence blog / Research Opportunities and Ideas

Top 20 Free Summer Programs for High School Students

11 minute read

If you’re a high schooler looking for a good summer research opportunity, check out these top programs our experts recommend for you!

If you’re a high schooler looking for a good summer research opportunity, you’ve probably already noticed that they can get quite expensive, especially the residential programs offered at prestigious colleges. Those sometimes range up to the 5-digit mark. Here’s a list of no-cost summer experiences (some even pay you for attending) that qualify as amazing opportunities. You’ve probably also already heard of the term “pay to play.” Because these are free and not pay-to-play opportunities, they receive a lot more applications and can be quite difficult to get into. The virtual offerings do tend to have more openings. We’ve organized the list according to fields of interest.

Also, if you’re interested in doing a 10-week summer research project this summer with a Polygence mentor but affordability is an issue, you may be eligible for a partial scholarship.  

Do your own research with Polygence this summer!

Polygence pairs you with an expert mentor in your area of passion. Together, you work to create a high quality research project that is uniquely your own.

What are some free business programs for high schoolers?

1. Bank of America Student Leaders                          

Hosting institution: Bank of America

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 address 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. 

2. UT Austin’s McCombs Business School Summer Program

Hosting institution: University of Texas at Austen

Cost: Free

Format: In-Person (Austin, TX)

Application Deadline: January 31st

This program gives you the chance to acquire new skills relevant to careers in business by participating in a 6-day program at no cost. You’ll have the opportunity to engage with industry representatives, McCombs students, and faculty. You can participate in one of three programs: the McCombs Future Executive Academy (MFEA), Academy for Rising Leaders, and Discover Yourself in Accounting Majors and Careers.         

What are some biology programs for high schoolers?

3. 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 hand-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.     

4. Carl B. & Florence E. King Foundation High School Summer Program

Hosting Institution: MD Anderson Cancer Center

Cost: Free

Format: In person (Houston, TX)

Application deadline: Mid-January

Here’s an incredible program for aspiring doctors. The Carl B. & Florence E. King Foundation High School Summer Program offers a rare opportunity to participate in a research project in one of the biomedical courses under the guidance of a full-time MD Anderson faculty member. Students will learn the importance of basic principles that form the basis of scientific research. Selected students will work in the MD Anderson labs during the week, participating in hands-on research. Students walk away from the experience with a clear understanding of what it means and what it’s like to be a researcher in the biomedical sciences. This program is only open to current Texas high school seniors, but it’s making our top 10 list because its rare no-cost aspect makes it accessible to underrepresented communities.

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

Hosting institution: Stanford

Acceptance rate: 3-6%

Cost: Free + 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, but you will be paid a stipend.

6. Summer Mentorship Program (SMP) at University of Pennsylvania

Hosting institution: University of Pennsylvania

Cost: Free 

Format: In person (Philadelphia, PA)

Application deadline: May

We realize that this program is only accessible to Philadelphia high school students, but its academic rigor, excellent facilities, and no-cost status put it at the top of our free list for those of you interested in biology. The Summer Mentorship Program (SMP) is a 4-week immersion summer program hosted by UPenn’s Perelman School of Medicine, Nursing School, at the University of Pennsylvania. It is highly competitive, and typically accepts between 40-50 students each year.

7. (Virtual) Research Training Program (VRTP and RTP)

Hosting institution: Seattle Children’s Research Institute

Cost: Free

Format: Online or in-person (Seattle, WA)

Application deadline: April 2nd

Intended for rising juniors and seniors from historically underrepresented communities, this free, 1-week online program features lectures and lab demonstrations on biochemistry, immunology, and global and public health, as well as discussions on career and college options led by PhD-level scientists and educators. For those of you who live within a 2-hour commute of Seattle, WA, you may want to consider the 3-week, in-person program that offers a stipend to offset transportation costs. This in-person RTP program offers hands-on lab activities.

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What are some STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) programs for high schoolers?

8. AI4ALL / UW

Hosting institution: University of Washington’s Taskar Center for Accessible Technology

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Seattle, WA)

Application deadline: March 31st

We love how this program invites students from traditionally underrepresented groups to partake in a free, 2-week data science and artificial intelligence introductory workshop. High school students learn how to understand, analyze, interpret, and discuss real-world applications of data science and machine learning with the goal of understanding impactful technology decisions. 

9. DSI Summer Lab

Hosting institution: The University of Chicago

Cost: Free + paid internship

Format: In-person (Chicago, IL)

Application deadline: February 12th

DSI Summer Lab is an immersive 10-week paid internship program at the University of Chicago for high schoolers (and undergrads). You’ll be paired with a data science mentor in various domains, including computer science, data science, social science, climate and energy policy, public policy, materials science, and biomedical research. Your mentor will help you hone your skills in research methodologies, practices, and teamwork. You may also be eligible for projects in their Social Impact Track. No prior research experience is needed to apply.     

10. Girls Who Code’s Summer Immersion Program

Hosting institution: Girls Who Code

Cost: Free

Format: Online

Application deadline: April

If you’re a female or non-binary high schooler interested in tech, this program can offer you hands-on experience and access to a whole “sisterhood” of women in the tech industry. Past topics include beginner to intermediate CS concepts, the iterative design process, UX design basics, and even game design. You can choose from a 2-week immersion program or a more flexible 6-week self-paced version that lets you work the experience into your schedule. No prior computer science experience is required.

11. Laboratory Learning Program

Hosting institution: Princeton University

Cost: Free       

Format: In-person (Princeton, NJ)

Application deadline: Mid-March

This is an intensive, academically rigorous 5 to 6-week summer internship program with prestigious Princeton faculty and research staff, who will mentor you in ongoing research projects. The fields of study are engineering and natural science. Students submit a 2-page research summary of their summer project at the end of the internship. These papers can be used to great effect on college applications and/or serve as a jumping-off point for independent research.

12. MITES Summer       

Hosting institution: MIT

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 extraordinarily success community. Many alumni go on to study at MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Brown, and Stanford. It’s an amazing opportunity.     

13. Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS)               

Hosting institution: Carnegie Mellon

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). It concludes with an exciting symposium. Students explore math, science, seminars, writing workshops, small group mentoring, 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.

14. UC Irvine’s Math ExpLR Summer Research Program

Hosting institution: University of California Irvine

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Irvine, CA)

Application deadline: March
In this mathematical biology program, teams of high schoolers and undergrads work together on research projects for 6 weeks and present their findings at the end of the program. You will also take workshops and attend guest lectures in topics such as Matlab programming, mathematical modeling, giving research presentations and writing a research paper. Project themes change every year

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15. Women's Technology Program (WTP)

Hosting institution: MIT

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. 

Are there humanities and social science programs for high schoolers?

16. Princeton’s Summer Journalism Program

Hosting institution: Princeton

Cost: Free

Format: Online and in-person (Princeton, NJ)

Application deadline: End of February

Founded by Princeton alumni to help diversify newsrooms around the world, the free PSJP combines online workshops and lectures with a 10-day residential program at Princeton. You’ll take discussion-based classes on humanities, arts, culture, social events, and history with renowned educators and journalists. You’ll also tour major news organizations, conduct your own investigative reporting, author a group blog, and publish work in the program’s Princeton Summer Journal.  All costs to attend, including transportation to and from campus, housing, meals, and equipment for assignments, are covered by the program.

17. USC’s Annenberg Youth Academy for Media and Civic Engagement

Hosting institution: University of Southern California

Cost: Free

Format: In-person (Los Angeles, CA)

Application deadline: Late November

Calling all LA County high school students: This intensive 4-week program accepts 26 high school students for college-level courses designed to strengthen writing, critical though, public speech, debate, multimedia production, and other journalistic skills. You’ll take courses at the state-of-the-art media center at the USC Annenberg, go on field trips, and attend lectures with inspiring media experts.

18. Telluride Association Summer Seminar (TASS)     

Hosting institution: Telluride Association

Cost: Free

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

Application deadline: January 4th

Here is a great option for those who are 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.

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What are some multidisciplinary programs for high schoolers?

19. NYU’s Free High School Programs

Hosting institution: New York University

Cost: Free

Format: Online and in-person (New York, NY)

Application deadline: April

Calling all NYC high school students: NYU offers a treasure-trove of free online and nonresidential in-person summer courses. STEM, business, humanities, precollege preparation, the arts… it’s all here. They even have a high school program for aspiring dentists. Check individual classes for eligibility (some are only for middle schoolers), campus location, and dates.

20. Pomona Academy for Youth Success (PAYS)

Hosting institution: Pomona College 

Acceptance rate: Unavailable but only 30 participants are selected each year

Cost: Free       

Format: In-person

Application deadline: February 27th

Calling students in Los Angeles, CA, and neighboring areas: This is an unusual program in that it lasts for 3 years, you must apply in 9th grade, and it incorporates both a residential summer program as well as year-round academic enrichment. In addition to taking classes and participating in organized social activities, you are matched with a faculty member who will serve as your mentor in a research project. This wonderful program is primarily geared toward populations traditionally underrepresented in college. It’s an amazing opportunity… if you can get in.