Everyone tells us that our summers during high school are important. Especially after sophomore and junior year. You finally have the time to devote to something, whether that be an internship, a job, or a passion project (like this blog!). Now, even I have already told you this (go read this) but it’s worth a reiteration.
Even though whatever you do in those summers is undoubtedly of value and helps your growth as a person and as a college applicant, there are a few summer programs that are almost like a neon sign screaming “Look here! This one’s the real deal!” These are ones that mark you as one of the best in the nation at its respective focus and are opportunities not to be passed up.
In fact, a lot of the applications for these summer programs are opening around this time (I know, it feels like summer just ended, but the next one will be here sooner than you know). So I encourage you to apply, even if you think you don’t have a chance - you never know.
But first, let’s define “Competitive Merit-Based Summer Programs that Actually Make a Difference”.
They are incredibly difficult to get in, at least, a lot more difficult than your run of the mill internships or other summer opportunities. You are most likely competing with every student in the nation for maybe 50 spots or less, depending on the program, making its acceptance rate minuscule. But its competitiveness only increases the prestige of the program, and so if you manage to get a spot, it means that it’s a big deal.
This basically means that the program selection is based on merits, or academics. This can be grades off of a transcript, standardized test scores (usually the PSAT), subject test scores (if you have them), activities/honors, and teacher recommendations. This eliminates bias related to geography (although you never know, it still might play a role) or family employment.
Pretty self-explanatory: they happen in the summer. Some might be the entire summer, a full 7 or 8 weeks, through July and August, while some might only be for half of the summer or even shorter. Generally, the length of the program doesn’t really have any correlation with the competitiveness of the program itself, but it’s nice to have a longer, more involved program.
That Actually Make a Difference
When I say this, I’m mostly referring to the difference these programs make in the process of college admissions (which you can read more about here). These really separate you from the rest of the applicants, even at top-tier universities where it seems like no one has a real chance unless you’ve found the cure to the common cold. That being said, these programs and those like it by no means guarantee admissions. Nothing is guaranteed these days, you must have the application to back up your merits for admission.
But by showing you were accepted and participated in these highly competitive programs, you are making the decision a lot easier for college, because these programs are almost like a “vetting” procedure that let colleges know to take you seriously as an applicant.
But without further ado, let’s dive right in:
Length of the program: 6 weeks
Application deadline: January 12, 2018
Application Fee?: $65
This is the one program on the list that I knew about but didn’t apply to, and wish I did. Its deadline is pretty early and the application has already opened! But before I talk more about the application, let’s talk a little about the program itself.
RSI stands for Research Science Institute and it is one of the most prestigious programs in the world. (Yup, international applicants are welcome too.) It is an intensive, 6-week long experience in the summer, only offered to rising seniors (aka applicants in their junior year), from the end of June to the beginning of August. It is a residential experience sponsored by MIT (!) and the Center for Excellence in Education (also the non-profit that hosts the USA Biology Olympiad).
During the length of the program, 80 students will listen to intensive STEM lectures from renowned faculty, read the current literature in their field of interest, draft an experimental design, perform the related experiments under the mentorship of faculty members, and present their research findings orally and through a written presentation. The first week will focus only on the STEM lectures and classes whereas the last 5 weeks will be dedicated to the research project.
Because it is only 5 weeks of research, the product will not be something that is very breakthrough or publishable (although that does depend on the scientific discipline) but it gives students the opportunity to explore their own questions and design their own experiments.
Of course, this amazing program has a very lengthy and comprehensive application process. First off, there is an application fee of $65, because the program itself is free and they need some way to support themselves. But beyond that, the application has a lot of parts. Of course, there’s the general application with all the personal information, family information, school information. You can then choose a research field, but there is no guarantee you will end up with a mentor in that field.
Then there are 5 (Five!) personal statement questions which do not have a word limit or preference, but I would keep them to the point, scientifically concise. There is a space for coursework where your guidance counselor will submit your transcript, as well as space for you to self-report your standardized test scores (they also require a PDF upload of score reports). You can upload whatever nationally standardized tests you wish, from the SAT to APs to the ACT, but at minimum, the PSAT is recommended.
There is then a portion of the application where you can list the computer languages you are familiar with. Obviously, knowing comp sci is not a requirement, but the fact that they list it on the application means it has some value in the application process, and even if you’re a bio applicant it can’t hurt to become familiar, at least at the beginner level, with one or two of these languages.
The final part of the application you are responsible for is for your awards and accomplishments, both STEM and non-STEM related. This is the place where you can also list science fair entries or previous publications you may have.
Besides those parts of the application, you are also required to list at least two references who will provide a recommendation letter on your behalf for admission into the program.
Whew. That was one hell of an application to go through. But remember, this is one hell of a program, so don’t let the application process dissuade you from applying!
Length of the program: 6 weeks
Application deadline: February 1st, 2018
Application Fee?: Free!
MITES stands for Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science and is an academic enrichment program especially for those who come from underrepresented backgrounds. It is strictly an academic or course-based summer program, in that there is no research or similar opportunities. It is more focused on providing a foundation of knowledge that these students can then go on to build on in college and beyond. This program takes place from mid-June to end of July, which may conflict with some school schedules, so keep that in mind.
Students have the opportunity to take 1 calculus, 1 life science, 1 physics, 1 humanities, and 1 elective course during the program. These are courses that usually have exams and final projects to assess knowledge and to encourage true interaction with the course material.
In order to be eligible to apply, you must be either a US citizen or permanent resident and be a high school junior. According to the MITES website, applicants show an interest in STEM and have a strong academic record. And of course, like the program name itself suggests, generally the students accepted will be those from minorities. But keep in mind, this doesn’t have to be just ethnic minorities, it also includes those at a lower socioeconomic status, those who are first-generation college students, those who come from high schools with low admittance rates to top-tier universities. But even though they encourage these applicants to apply, I would apply anyway, just to give yourself a shot at the program.
The application process itself is fairly straightforward. The application opens in November (so any day now!) and requires general personal and education information, a test score upload if applicable (I would send it your scores if you have them), extracurricular activities, and essays. The essays (6 of them) are each a maximum of 300 words and are generally focused on career goals and challenges you have faced in trying to achieve your goals. You also have to submit three letters of recommendation, one each from a guidance counselor (who will also submit your transcript), a math teacher, and a science teacher. Finally, you need a proof of citizenship or residence and you are set to go - decisions are released mid-April.
In general, this summer program is targeted to specific populations and only focuses on enrichment in an academic sense, so it’s maybe not as sought after as some research programs, but it is still nationally recognized and a great program to take part in.
Length of the program: 39 days
Application deadline: March 2nd, 2018
Application Fee?: No, but there’s a hefty program fee
SSP, or the Summer Science Program, is an “immersion experience” for high schools students especially motivated in the sciences. There are two different SSP programs, one in astrophysics and one in biochemistry, offered on three different campuses (Astrophysics at New Mexico Tech and U of Colorado at Boulder, Biochem at Purdue). The dates for the programs differ but are around the end of June to end of July.
During this 39 day program, students will listen to guest lectures and field trips, but the main focus in on actually doing research. Students will be grouped into threes and are assigned something to study. The topics themselves are predetermined (for example, the biochem SSP will focus on “Fungal Inhibitor Design”) but students work together to do their own experiments and to collect data.
This program is open to all high school sophomores and juniors from around the world. Juniors are preferred, and there are different prerequisites for sophomore and juniors, which you can find on their website.
There is a program fee of about $5,000 (which in my opinion is plain ridiculous). They do offer financial aid, and they say that they are quite generous with it. Regardless, it is a large commitment, especially for only a 5-week long program. But, SSP is widely known, and it’s a pretty big deal if you get in.
The application opens in December and requires general information, test scores (but only if you have them), short answer question responses, a transcript, and teacher recommendations (preferably from current math and science teachers).
This program is probably the least desirable out of the ones on here because of its hefty price tag, but remember that applying just means you keep it as an option. Plus, its prestige will sometimes offset the cost.
Length of program: 7 weeks
Application deadline: February 2018
Application fee?: Nope
The Clarks Scholars Programs is a 7-week summer research program hosted by Texas Tech University Honors College. In this program, approximately 12 students chosen from the pool of applicants will be matched with a faculty mentor to perform research for the duration of the program, which will also include seminars, discussions, and field trips.
Although this may seem like a pretty standard research summer program, it is open to the entire nation and attracts a lot of applicants. In addition, it is not just focused on STEM, there are multiple research opportunities available in the humanities and fine arts as well.
The program itself is from mid-June to early August, which might conflict with some schools schedules. It is open to all applicants in their junior and senior years. For the entire duration of the program, room and board are provided for all students. At the conclusion of the program, scholars are awarded a $750 stipend.
The application requires the standard personal information, test scores, list of extracurricular activities, three letters of recommendation, and a transcript.
Clark’s is a great opportunity, very selective, and very immersive. Similar programs are actually offered in other universities too, like University of Florida, Michigan State University, Baylor University, and Stony Brook University (which I also talked about here).
Length of program: 6 weeks
Application deadline: January 16th, 2018
Application fee?: Freeee
TASP, or Telluride Association Summer Program, is a 6-week long academic enrichment program, somewhat similar to MITES. It is for high school juniors and offers a forum for students from all over the world to meet and share ideas and knowledge.
There are 4 different TASP Programs, on 3 different campuses (like in Cornell or University of Maryland), that have different focuses. For example, one is called “Protest Poetics: Art and Performance in Freedom Movements” and another is called “Just Comics”. Each of these programs is set up as a seminar-style program, where students meet for 3 hour long seminars every weekday. Besides the seminars, there will be group meetings, writing assignments, and assigned readings. Students will also plan excursions and service projects during the length of the program. Finally, TASP students also take part in a public speaking program as a part of their TASP Program.
TASP is completely free, which includes tuition and room and board, as well as possible travel costs.
In order to apply (which you should do soon because applications open early!), complete the online application and the essay responses by the deadline. Because at the preliminary stage of applications, only the essay responses are considered as a factor in admissions, make sure those essays are fantastic! After this initial application submission, certain students will be selected to interview with the association. If you are one of those students, you then must request a transcript and letter of recommendation to be sent to the association. Based on these interviews and transcripts, a final decision will be made.
This is definitely different than most summer programs and is more of a liberal artsish type program in that it is not STEM-related. Of course, it is still a very competitive and challenging program, and very personally rewarding.
Although this specific program is only open to high school juniors, the Telluride Association has one that is only for high school sophomores, which you can also find through their program website that I linked above.
Length of program: 1 weekish
Application deadline: Varies from state to state, but around May/June
Application fee?: $25, but depends on state
Program Website (for Boys Nation)
This one is drastically different from the others on this list, but it is so important that I thought it deserved a spot. In each state (besides Hawaii, sorry) there is a delegate of junior boys or girls (depending on the program) that meets every year. Two delegates from each state are then selected to be Senators for their respective (boys or girls) nation forum.
This state program is centered on policy and assemblies, made for those interested in pursuing politics or domestic or foreign affairs and policy. It is especially great for members of JSA or Model UN. During this weekish long program, delegates will attend seminars and lectures on politics as well as participate in conventions and elections.
The national program, the more prestigious one, focuses on lawmaking and policy procedures, emulating the US Senate. They will work with Boys/Girls Nation representatives as well as listen to lectures and seminars from different political speakers.
To apply to the Boys/Girls State, you must fill out an application (it opens in February) with general information as well as school information. The application is open to juniors, but sometimes the students that can apply are limited or have to be represented by a specific association in order to apply, which changes from state to state, so make sure to check out their specific website!
If you get into Boys/Girls State, you will then have the opportunity to run for a Nation Senator position, and those selected will travel to DC for the program.
In general, this is a great opportunity for those interested in community service and politics, and for those who want to pursue a career in politics in the future.
Length of the program: about 3 weeks
Application deadline: different from state to state, but around January
Application fee?: No, but complicated process
Program website (for NJ Governor’s Schools)
Many states, including New Jersey, have their own Governor’s School, which are some of the most prestigious state-wide programs available. They are usually 3 weeks in the beginning of summer and are open to all state residents. Usually, there are multiple Gov Schools that have different focuses. For example, NJ has one for the Science and one for Engineering. Most of this will be off of the NJ Science one because that was the one I was nominated for and applied for (which you can read more about here).
During this program, students will have the opportunity to take several classes, including a lab class, from several different subjects, work on a mini-research team project, and listen to guest speakers. The main focus of the program is the completion of this mini-research project, helped by the material learned in the classes.
The application process for these Gov Schools is usually very intricate and comprehensive. For the NJ ones, each school is eligible to nominate up to 3 juniors (depending on the size of the junior class - 1 nomination per 325 students). This nomination decision is up to each individual school and is up to their discretion. If you are interested in this program, you should communicate that interest to your guidance counselor to make sure you are considered for nomination. Once you have been nominated by your school, you then fill out the Gov School application.
This application includes a number of essays (the number depends on the school), teacher recommendations, transcript, and test scores (the PSAT).
The number of students selected to participate varies each year, based on the amount of funding and space.
Of course, this program is amazing and even being just a nominee from your school for the program is a big deal. Having prior research experience is a big plus for selection in this program.
Another resource/list for other great summer programs to apply to is this one from the MIT Dean of Admissions. It has a few more programs than I talked about here, all great programs to apply to.
Hope that helped guys, and even though these programs are super competitive and selective, don’t be afraid to apply! You never know how your life may change with these programs.
But always remember, these programs are not the end all be all. There are a bunch of ways to spend your summer, and a bunch of other programs you can apply to (read my posts on summer programs here, here, and here). However you decide to spend summer is perfectly fine, just don’t waste all that time!
And as always, thanks for reading!