6 University Summer Programs to Apply to for 2021!

Finding a summer activity as a high schooler may be a confusing process, and one way to spend it aside from volunteering, going on a trip, or binge-watching TV shows, is to join an academic summer program! Especially in the US, there are tons of options to choose from! 

We understand that it may be a complicated (and expensive) process to search and apply for summer programs, so I have asked several other grads to write about their personal experiences (and added some of my own into the mix)! Note that the availability of these programs may be subject to change according to public health regulations. For instance, many programs shifted to either fully online or were cancelled altogether in 2020. 

1. Yale Young Global Scholars

Elena (M20, IB in Indonesia, UCLA)



I was inspired to write this article by a high school summer program I joined: Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS), which I absolutely loved. YYGS is a 2-week academic summer program held by Yale University that offers sessions on various topics, including “Applied Science & Engineering”, “Politics, Law & Economics”, “Literature, Philosophy & Culture”, and the program I attended in summer 2019: “International Affairs & Globalization”. My time in YYGS was both eye-opening and profound: I was able to meet countless inspirational and wonderful people who have been impactful in their own communities—doing so  in an incredibly enriching and supportive environment. Here, I was also able to collaborate with an amazing group on a Capstone Project, where we delivered a research paper and presentation on the topic of “Refugees & Migration”, specifically centering on Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh.

I was also able to expand my views and understand more about what other students were doing for their community, especially through platforms like the YYGS Speaker Series, which allowed students to deliver a talk regarding a topic they’re passionate about. YYGS allowed me to form lifelong bonds with friends from various backgrounds, as well as learn from wonderful instructors passionate about their own fields.

Although YYGS was brief, the impact it has had on my friendships and community involvement (and to an extent, my outlook towards an ideal university environment) expanded to much more than that. The YYGS Alumni Network, for one, has opened the door to many opportunities, both domestic and international! This includes an inter-school project to assemble and distribute protective gear to medical facilities in Indonesia, as well as the opportunity to shed light on current pressing events in an emerging political journal founded by a fellow YYGS alum! There also exists the YYGS Ambassador Program, which you can take advantage of to deepen your involvement and remain connected with the alumni network. Not only that, YYGS is also very friendly to international students! Despite being the only Indonesian in my program, I was able to feel at “home” among my internationally diverse peers. 


YYGS also offers sufficient need-based financial aid to many of its scholars, both domestic and international! I have also heard that many students enlist the help of their schools or local organizations to fundraise money for the trip. YYGS is definitely an amazing experience that not only prepared me further for university but also changed my outlook on life. I recommend YYGS to current sophomores and juniors who love learning and are looking to spend their summers productively. 

To provide more options, I have asked some other grads which summer programs they recommend:

2. John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth

Kathlyn (M20, IB in the British Virgin Islands, Gap Year)

“I attended the Center for Talented Youth (CTY) in Johns Hopkins University in 2016 and 2017. My second year there, I was crowned “Empress” (the keeper of CTY traditions). To name a few of my experiences in the program, I met amazing people, took part in a Model UN simulation in a Game of Thrones setting, and felt like I had finally found my tribe: the super nerds. Debates were lively, everyone was kind, and the counselors and students made everyone feel so at home. CTY is one of the most enriching experiences of my life—where nerds can be nerds, and lifelong friendships are forged.

I met one of my best friends here, and we still talk nearly everyday, despite being 13 hours and thousands of miles apart. If you have the resources, this program is worth it—one of the best gifted programs in the world and, for those interested, the networking options are astounding. I met people who went on to get perfect ACT scores, perfect IB scores, and go to some of the best universities in the world! I definitely recommend this program, especially to prospective and current IB students—we are the kind of students that would thrive in the CTY environment. Additionally, there’s something special about being somewhere where everyone feels like they belong.”

3. LaunchX at MIT

Frances (M20, IB in Indonesia, University of Pennsylvania)

“I attended the first session of LaunchX at MIT in summer 2019, which is a four-week intensive course where students not only learn about entrepreneurship (from idea identification all the way to pitches and financial projections), but also had the opportunity to work in teams to actually launch their own businesses. Coming into the program, I did not expect that I would run around Harvard Square looking for people to interview or tinker with Arduinos to build MVPs (minimum viable products). Despite the rigour, the program’s hands-on learning approach made it one of the most fun and invaluable experiences of my time in high school. This was because, instead of just sitting in a classroom listening to lectures about entrepreneurship, students were able to immediately apply what they learnt to their own businesses.

During the program, my team and I attempted to address the issue of drowsy driving by creating a sensor-equipped device that would be able to detect a driver’s blinking patterns and automatically alert them whenever they started to get drowsy behind the wheel. From developing this business, I was able to experience first-hand the importance of leadership, communication, diligence, resilience, and critical thinking when it came to entrepreneurship. Most importantly, I was also able to surround myself with peers who were as passionate as I am on the subject, to exchange ideas and witness how they, too, put on their thinking caps to solve persisting needs in society.

Overall, LaunchX has left me with invaluable insights on entrepreneurship and lifelong friendships. If you are a high school student who is also interested in entrepreneurship, out-of-the-box thinking, and is excited to take up the challenge, I definitely recommend joining this program!”

4. Stanford National Forensic Science Institute (SNFI) : 2016 Parliamentary Debate Summer Tournament (by invitation)

Jon (M19, IB in Philippines, Fordham University)

  • Eligibility: Separate programs for 7-8th graders, and 9th to 12th graders, International Students welcome — Invitation only for the tournament
  • More Information Here

“So this is an interesting story: I was at a debate conference (at which I only got to semi-finals) when one of the judges introduced himself to me, then invited me to a 2-week SNFI Parliamentary debate training program, which subsequently proceeded to a Parliamentary debate tournament. Note that the SNFI Parliamentary Debate summer program is open to anyone who wishes to apply, however, the debate tournament that I took part in is only by invitation or sponsorship. The SNFI summer program had an intense and thorough curriculum that was based around a “university” type of schedule which includes morning lectures, afternoon practice workshops, and evening “electives”, which were fun! I would highly recommend this program to students who have prior experience with parliamentary-style debate and would like to learn skills to be a better Parliamentarian.

Being at Stanford was a great experience that provided insight into the “university” experience. More importantly, however, was the fantastic opportunity to meet fellow debaters from all over the USA. It was a fascinating experience to meet peers who shared the same interest in debate but had vastly different cultural and societal backgrounds to me—some of the friends I made at the program and the tournament are still my friends until today. Surprisingly, we have met on multiple occasions as friends, teammates, and even occasionally as competitors at a debate tournament.”

5. Harvard Debate Council’s Summer Program for Public Speaking and Argumentation

Jon (M19, IB in Philippines, Fordham University)

  • Eligibility: Students who are entering 9th-12th grade for physical programs, Students entering 7th-12th grade for online program
  • More Information: Tuition varies with online/physical programs

“The Harvard Debate Council’s summer programs are designed to introduce and prepare teens to participate in public speaking engagements, congressional-style debate, public forum participation and argumentation. The specific program I attended in 2015 was my first experience in being taught by debate professionals. Prior to this summer camp, I had only been taught by my high school’s debate coach and older students who were veteran debaters. I was impressed with their curriculum, which focused on enhancing my ability to engage in public speaking by giving us workshops to grow our self-confidence and skills. Moreover, within the two-week program, there were fun events such as public debates held in Harvard’s parks and public speeches around the campus to encourage students to speak out of their comfort zones.

I had an absolute blast being at Harvard’s summer course because it really is geared towards first-timers and beginner debaters! More than that, you get to explore Boston every afternoon and weekend which is truly one helluva experience!”

6. Oxford Pre-IB Diploma Summer Course + Cambridge Mid-IB Diploma Summer Course

Jon (M19, IB in Philippines, Fordham University)

“At Oxford Study Courses’ Pre-IB Summer program, they offer one, two, three, or four week programs for students to participate in. Each week focuses on two of your chosen IB subjects (whether it is HL or SL) and the classes are taught by IB examiners, teachers, and even textbook authors. Honestly, the Pre-IB course ensured that I was ready for my first year of IB because it equipped me with enough content learned, techniques mastered, and preparation for how to tackle internal assessments (IAs). Moreover, at the pre-IB course, you get to meet IB students from all around the world, as well as the IB accredited professionals that create, mark, and critique your exams and IB curriculums.

Similar to how the Oxford Pre-IB program prepares students for IBDP Year One, the Cambridge Mid-IB program aims to prepare you for IBDP Year Two. The curriculums are geared towards getting students ready to take the exams, writing the Extended Essay, and completing the TOK Essay and Presentation—these are highly significant to IBDP Year Two because it is usually these aspects of the IB that create a stressful time for students.”

Note on University Admissions:

Bear in mind that you do NOT have to spend your summer in an academic program. Attending a prestigious summer program does not guarantee a “boost” in the strength of your application, rather it serves as an opportunity for learning and self growth. There are also many other options out there, here are just some that I have heard of and researched on. I also compiled a small list of other renowned programs and their financial aid information (including FREE programs) to help you find the best way to further your academics during your summer break! If you find that any of these programs suit you, feel free to apply, and I hope you have a great time there! 🙂

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