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Best Ivy League Summer Programs for High Schoolers

7 minute read

Attending a rigorous summer program during high school can be a life-changing opportunity. For students who are passionate about academics, summer programs can give you a taste of college-level coursework while immersing you in a community of like-minded and similarly curious peers. In particular, Ivy League summer programs for high schoolers help students prepare for college and beyond by introducing them to real ongoing research, connecting them with Ivy League professors, and helping them find their passions.

Here is the ultimate guide to the best Ivy League summer programs, followed by our tips for making sense of your options, building a strong application, and maximizing your Ivy League summer experience. 

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Top Ivy League Summer Programs

1. Yale University Summer Session Pre-College

Yale's pre-college program allows advanced high schoolers to enroll in real Yale courses (for credit) alongside undergraduate students.

Location: New Haven, CT

Program Dates: May 27 - June 28, 2024 (Session A), and/or July 1 - August 2, 2024 (Session B)

Eligibility: rising high school seniors and recent graduates (must be 16 years or older by program start date)

Tuition & Fees: $5,070 for one-course credit, $4,075 for room & board (one session), $235 (other fees)

Financial Aid: N/A

Application Deadline: April 1 (Session A) or May 6 (session B)

2. Summer@Brown

Summer@Brown gives high schoolers access to the full spectrum of Brown University’s open curriculum. The courses are not for credit, and no grades are given (students who attend for at least two weeks receive an individual performance report from their teacher).

Location: Providence, RI; online; or hybrid

Program Dates: 1, 2, 3, or 5 weeks between June 23 and July 26, 2024 (varies by course)

Eligibility: high school students who will be 14 - 18 years old at the start of the program

Tuition & Fees: $3,406 for a single 1-week, on-campus course (including room & board), up to $9,870 for a 5-week course

Financial Aid: Scholarships are available. Apply by March 15. See https://precollege.brown.edu/costs-aid/scholarships

Application Deadline: Rolling

3. University of Pennsylvania Pre-College Programs

By enrolling in one of Penn's pre-college programs, high school students can study alongside undergraduates to receive course credit at the University of Pennsylvania. (As a side note, I grew up in the Philadelphia area, and one of my high school classmates earned enough credits through Penn’s pre-college programs that, when he eventually matriculated at Penn, he was able to graduate in only three years.) Outside of their pre-college framework, Penn also offers a range of non-credit summer courses for high schoolers.

Location: Philadelphia, PA, or online

Program Dates: July 2 - August 10, 2024 (in-person), or July 5 - August 9, 2024 (online)

Eligibility: rising high school juniors and seniors

Tuition & Fees: ​​$13,648 for one in-person course unit; $8,248 for one online course unit

Financial Aid: Available for Philadelphia area public and charter school students: https://hs.sas.upenn.edu/summer-programs/tuition/scholarship 

Application Deadline: January 31

4. Columbia University Engineering SHAPE

Columbia Engineering's Summer High School Academic Program for Engineers (SHAPE) is a three-week, project-based program with Columbia’s Engineering faculty. Although the classes are taught at the college level, no course credit is awarded. The program also includes optional electives and college prep workshops.

Location: New York, NY

Program Dates: July 8 - July 26, 2024 (session 1), or July 29 - Aug 16, 2024 (session 2)

Eligibility: rising sophomores, juniors and seniors; recent high school graduates

Tuition & Fees: $5,500 (includes tuition & fees; housing not provided)

Financial Aid: Need-based scholarships are available. Apply by March 24.

Application Deadline: Rolling

5. Yale University Young Writers’ Workshop

The Yale Young Writers' Workshop is aimed at high school students but is modeled on the Yale Writers’ Workshop, which is for professionals. Although the Young Writers’ Workshop is fully online, the program is very small, with space for only twelve students per genre (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and graphic). The faculty are published writers and experienced teachers, and each day begins with a talk featuring an invited guest author.

Location: Online

Program Dates: July 7 - 12, 2024

Eligibility: rising juniors and seniors in high school (16 - 18 years old)

Tuition & Fees: $950

Financial Aid: N/A

Application Deadline: April 1

6. Columbia University Climate School In the Green Mountains

This pre-college program is the only one on the list that takes place in person but off campus. Participants live and study at Vermont State University in Castleton, Vermont, for thirteen days while exploring current topics in climate. The transdisciplinary curriculum includes climate science, policy, activism, and sustainability.

Location: Castleton, VT

Program Dates: June 30 - July 12, 2024

Eligibility: students in grades 9-12 (including rising 9th graders)

Tuition & Fees: $6,790 including room & board (does not include travel)

Financial aid: Scholarships available. Apply by March 15. See https://www.climate.columbia.edu/pre-college-programs/scholarships 

Application Deadline: Rolling

7. Brown University Pre-Baccalaureate Program

The Pre-Baccalaureate Program at Brown allows highly motivated high school students and recent graduates to take classes for Brown University credit. Participants join undergraduate students in the classroom for accelerated, seven-week classes, and are graded on a letter scale (with the option to receive a more detailed Course Performance Report). The summer program takes place entirely online.

Location: Online

Program Dates: June 17 to August 2, 2024

Eligibility: Rising high school seniors and recent graduates, age 17 by program start date

Tuition & Fees: $5,113 (one course) or $10,074 (two courses)

Financial Aid: Scholarships available. Apply by March 15. See https://precollege.brown.edu/costs-aid/scholarships 

Application Deadline: Rolling

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Understanding Ivy League Summer Programs

Definition and Objectives

For this list, we sorted through over 60 Ivy-affiliated program webpages and brochures. Based on that research, we decided to define an Ivy League summer program as an academic program that is tightly affiliated with an Ivy League university (for more information, see “Evaluation Academic Reputation” below) and that is open to — or geared towards — high schoolers. 

There are plenty of amazing Ivy League programs out there, but these seven are the ones that stood out to us.

The objective of this article is to help high school students find and make sense of the courses they can enroll in at Ivies during summer break. 

Key Benefits of Attending & How Polygence Can Help

The most important outcomes from attending one of the programs listed (or a similar one through an Ivy League institution) are:

  • Experience in rigorous academic environments

  • Exposure to university-level research

  • Connection to university faculty and mentors

Polygence’s mentors have experience learning and teaching at Ivy League universities. If you’re a current high schooler who is interested in Ivy League opportunities, we can match you with a one-on-one mentor to answer your questions and set you up for success on campus through an individual research project. Boost your college admissions chances with our summer programs for high school students!

Criteria for Selection

Evaluating Academic Reputation and Program Quality

Sifting through, understanding, and evaluating the quality of the many Ivy League summer programs is no small feat. Hopefully, this list saves you time and energy when deciding which specific programs to apply to and attend.

As noted above, this list only includes programs that are taught by faculty and/or researchers at the affiliated Ivy Leave institution. (Note: the Yale Young Writers’ Workshop is the one exception; its faculty is composed of world-renowned authors). Some Ivy League schools partner with private companies to operate the residential side of their programs while the university manages the program’s academics. For example, the University of Pennsylvania works with a company called Summer Discovery to plan student activities and monitor student wellbeing outside of class, while Penn faculty handle the teaching. Similarly, the Columbia Climate School works with Putney Student Travel to organize the logistics of their off-campus Green Mountains program, but faculty, staff, and researchers at the Climate School oversee academic lectures and discussions. These types of partnerships are common.

However, we excluded programs that are only loosely (or not at all) academically affiliated with the host university. During the summer, many universities (including Ivy League schools) rent out a portion of their dormitories and academic halls to separate companies that host their own, independent academic programs. These types of for-profit courses usually have “.com” domains and tend to emphasize the location of their programs (e.g. “Live on campus at Yale” or “Study at Harvard this summer”) more than academic quality. They are also typically more expensive than official university courses.

Diversity in Course Offerings

Our list also aims to provide a balance of broader programs with a range of course offerings, as well as smaller, more specialized programs. For the larger programs, we preferred diverse course listings spanning multiple academic departments.

Opportunities for Faculty Engagement and Mentorship

Next, we looked at class sizes and student-to-faculty ratios. All of the listed programs allow students to meet one-on-one with faculty members and, in general, favor small seminars over larger lecture formats. Smaller classes encourage students to develop connections with teachers, who can become valuable mentors during and after the program.

Access to Ivy League Resources and Facilities

Except for the Columbia Climate School in the Green Mountains, which takes place off campus, all of the in-person programs listed give participants access to the same university resources, materials, and facilities that undergraduate students receive on day one.

How to Apply

Application Process Overview

While the application process varies from program to program, you will generally be asked to submit:

  • An online application form

  • An official high school transcript

  • A writing sample or additional essay

  • A teacher recommendation

Tips for a Successful Application

Many programs have a rolling admission policy, meaning that they accept qualified candidates on a first-come first-serve basis. Once a program is full, later applicants are offered positions on a waitlist. Whether a program has a hard deadline or a rolling admission policy, we recommend that you start preparing your application in the fall, almost a year before you wish to attend. In addition to allowing you and your recommenders plenty of time to craft a strong application, you will have a higher acceptance rate and a chance for a financial aid package if you apply early. 

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Several of the listed programs offer partial or full scholarships based on financial need or other criteria, such as attending a local public school. In most cases, applicants wishing to be considered for a scholarship must apply early (typically by mid-March at the absolute latest). For more information, refer to the scholarship opportunities linked below the respective programs.

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Maximizing the Experience

Networking and Building Relationships

Connecting with teachers is instrumental to maximizing your pre-college summer program experience. Students who are engaged in class and contribute to discussions will get more out of their chosen program; they will also stand out to teachers, who can become valuable mentors during and following the college application process.

Leveraging the Experience for College Applications

Completing an Ivy League summer program is an impressive addition to any college application, particularly those to Ivy League schools. While some Ivy League summer programs give out individual grades, others don’t. Either way, students may have the option to request individual evaluations or performance summaries from their teachers. For courses that are graded on a letter scale, students can choose to attach their summer transcripts to their college applications to demonstrate their ability to succeed in rigorous academic environments. Furthermore, high school students who complete summer coursework alongside enrolled undergraduates will also earn college credit if they end up attending the same institution for college.

How These Programs Shape Futures

Pre-college summer programs can become defining moments in students’ academic careers. For example, my experiences with summer programs during high school had a strong influence on my trajectory in college and beyond. The two programs I attended (one after my sophomore year and one after my junior year of high school) were my first experiences with undergraduate coursework. They helped me identify the subjects I am passionate about and, equally importantly, those that I’m not.

Preparing for Your Ivy League Summer with Polygence

Whichever program you choose, get the most out of your Ivy League summer program with a Polygence research project! If you are a current high school student, Polygence can match you with a one-on-one expert mentor who will guide you through an independent, undergraduate-level project that will prepare you for success during your Ivy League program next summer. In addition, many of our mentors (like Tram and Devon) have taught undergraduates at Ivy League universities and can fill you in on what to expect, offer personalized advice, and answer your questions.