If you are a middle school or high school student looking to get ahead of the curve, an academic or pre-college summer program is one of the best options you have to experience the rigor of a college atmosphere while possibly earning credits that will go towards your undergraduate degree. In a pre-college program, you are essentially either taking undergraduate-level classes while still in high school or participating in an advanced educational program that will better prepare you for college.
You are often doing so with some of the added support of a group of peers who are in the same position; depending on the program, you may all live in a dorm room together or take a lot of the same classes. In some programs, you may also be taking classes with undergraduate students at that institution.
Attending a for-credit, pre-college, or residential program, like many of the ones described below, is a fantastic way to explore areas of interest and learn more about specific subjects that aren’t covered in the same way during your typical semester. Especially in some of these more prestigious programs, you will be expected to attend class regularly, spend at least several hours per day studying outside of class, and produce high quality work, preparing yourself for the demands of a more challenging academic environment.
Even in the cases where no college credit is earned, pre-college programs and similar summer programs for middle and high school students can also be an excellent way to connect with other like-minded students.
What is a Pre-College Program?
A pre-college summer program offers high school students the opportunity to take classes at a college or university and experience college life during the summer. Some of these programs can be offered to middle school students, but the majority and most competitive programs target high school students specifically.
Probably the most well-known (but recently replaced) pre-college program was Duke’s Talent Identification Program (TIP). It offered a residential summer camp for smart kids who could connect with each other while attending classes of interest.
The program was offered to students in both middle and high school. It required students to take the SAT or ACT as early as the winter of 7th grade, but placing in the top 5% of the respective grade level qualified students for an amazing summer program.
Duke, along with many colleges and universities, made the decision in 2020 to discontinue their Talent Identification Program in favor of a more general pre-college program that aimed to better prepare middle and high school students.
While Duke TIP offered a great service to a wide variety of students, many universities have sought to provide similar residential programs for students interested in different aspects of the original program. In particular, we are going to be looking at three distinct types of programs for students interested in continuing their education during the summer: academic programs for middle school students, residential pre-college programs for high school students, and credit-awarding courses for high school students.
With so many universities and colleges starting their own programs while simultaneously Duke University relaunches its version of Duke TIP, it can be difficult to know what the best, most-rewarding programs are. Depending on whether you are interested in programs for middle schoolers, residential high school programs, or credit-bearing high school programs, we have a few suggestions on which programs we think best provide meaningful educational experiences.
For middle school and high school students interested in a summer residential program where they can engage in fun yet challenging academic activities with other students, we strongly recommend Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development (CTD). It has multiple residential summer camps of varying levels of difficulty and encapsulates the experience of a challenging environment. It is also the program most similar to the former Duke TIP.
For high school students looking for a residential summer program that awards college credit, we believe that Harvard University’s Secondary School Program offers the strongest combination of a challenging curriculum, meaningful college experience, and college credit. We also recommend Emory’s Summer College Program and Georgetown University’s Pre-College Program. Both are credit-bearing residential programs with substantial offerings.
In addition to these programs, we have included other strong options for students seeking an enriching instructional experience during their summer.
Pre-College and Academic Programs for Middle Schoolers
With the demise of the Duke TIP program, Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development (CTD) catapults to our top pick for middle school students. Its selective, residential program was originally developed to compete with TIP and now remains the most established offering. Duke’s replacement for TIP, Continuing Studies, has the potential to be good but it’s too new to recommend unequivocally, especially since their admissions requirements seem in flux.
Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development
Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development focuses on providing educational opportunities to students age 3 through high school, has courses during all parts of the year, and includes a mix of online and in-person teaching. In particular, there are Academic Summer Residential Camps for grades 6–12. The Residential Summer Camps focus on skills and independence needed to succeed in college.
The Residential Camps for students grades 6–8 provide middle school students the opportunity to receive high school and college-level teaching. Courses are designed to teach students the critical and creative problem-solving skills they will need to excel in a more rigorous educational environment. They also introduce students to advanced concepts in a variety of subjects that would not typically be taught in middle school. Some examples include Aerospace Engineering and the Science of Flight, Brain and Behavior: Introduction to Psychology, and Imagining the Multiverse: Fanfiction Workshop.
Applicants are required to submit a teacher recommendation attesting that the student is performing at least one and a half years above grade level, a recent school transcript, and most recent standardized testing report (e.g. NWEA/MAP) or results of a state grade-level assessment.
Some applicants are pre-qualified if they meet both of the following criteria:
- Have successfully completed a previous course at the same or higher tier (Emerald, Magenta, or Indigo) within the previous two years. (Indigo is the highest tier.)
- Are applying for a course with the same subject (Math, Science, or Verbal) as the previous course taken.
- Session 1: June 25–July 14
- Session 2: July 16–August 4
Applications for this program are now open. For more information, click here.
In the case of both programs, high-achieving students will find a challenging environment where they are free to pursue their academic interests with other students who are similarly motivated. The residential nature of these programs are also a great way to foster independence in students looking to push themselves.
Duke University Continuing Studies Program
As stated before, Duke University continues to support a pre-college program for middle school students. The goal of the pre-college program for middle school is to offer opportunities for high-achieving students to explore academic fields that might interest them but which would not otherwise be available in their typical education as well as to prepare students for the more difficult Pre-College High School Program where they can continue their supplemental education.
The middle school program offers courses in six categories: Engineering, Humanities, Mathematics, Science, Social Sciences, and Technology. The program consists of 3 sessions (each two weeks long) running from the middle of June to the end of July.
- Session 1 Program: June 20–30
- Session 2 Program: July 5–15
- Session 3 Program: July 18-28
Applications are closed for this year. If you’re interested in attending next year: applications for the middle school program require a personal essay and the applicant’s most recent report card. There are no test requirements for the program. If you are interested in learning more about Duke’s Continuing Studies program, click here.
|Duke||6||Yes||2-Weeks||Top 5%||$4,700 or $3,000|
Residential Summer Programs for High School
If you are someone who is driven, self-motivated, and is doing well in your advanced high school classes, you might want to consider looking into any of the following residential programs for the summer. Each program is filled with college-level courses, and each student is sure to find a class that aligns with their interests.
Duke University Continuing Studies Program
Duke University’s pre-college program for high school students introduces a college experience at a premier university, including possible college credit, for students in grades 9–11.
Duke University’s high school program offers courses in 5 categories: Engineering, Humanities, Mathematics, Science, and Social Sciences. These courses do not award college credit; however, sophomores and juniors who are interested in college credit can enroll in the Duke Summer Session.
To apply to Duke’s Pre-College Program for high school, applicants must include a personal essay explaining why they are qualified and which courses they are interested in, an academic résumé that includes relevant non-academic experiences, and a middle or high school transcript. Standardized test scores are not included in the application process.
- Session 1 Program: June 20–30
- Session 2 Program: July 5–15
- Online Courses Program: July 17–28
- Lab Week Program: July 9-14
Applications are closed for this year. If you’re interested in attending next year, find information such as application dates or financial aid (about both the high school and middle school programs) on Duke University’s informational page here.
Emory Pre-College Program
The Emory Pre-College Program is a two-week program that includes more than 30 potential courses for interested students. Although these courses will not award college credit, they are still a fantastic way to prepare for a rigorous education at a premier university.
Emory’s pre-college program consists of three sessions, each two weeks long and spanning from mid-June to the end of July. The first session typically begins around the last week of June and each subsequent session begins a day or two after the previous session. Students can take up to two noncredit courses per session.
- Session A: June 18–July 1
- Session B: July 2–July 15
- Session C: July 16–July 29
- Session C Online: July 17–July 28
Applications for this program are now open. Find out more about Emory University’s pre-college program, such as Frequently Asked Questions, here.
Georgetown University’s Pre-College Academies
Georgetown University offers three main programs for high school students looking to challenge themselves and prepare for the academic rigors of a college education. However, the main residential program that will be of interest to most high school students is their Academies.
There are 1-week, 2-week, and 3-week Academies that focus on specific subjects with a variety of lectures, activities, and group discussions. Students will not receive college credit for these programs but will receive a certificate of completion from Georgetown University. To apply, students must submit a 300–500 word personal statement and contact information of their current high school counselor.
Applications for Summer 2023 are now open! To learn more about Georgetown University’s pre-college programs, including the dates of each Academy, please visit their website.
Harvard University’s Pre-College Program
Students who apply to Harvard University’s pre-college program can expect a two-week course that prepares students for college life at Harvard specifically. College-level courses are offered without the worry of grades, as these are not for college credit. Outside of classes, students will have the opportunity to participate in both social and co-curricular activities that help connect participants with other highly motivated students.
There are over 30 courses for students to choose from. While the courses are not graded, students who complete the college-level courses will receive written evaluations from their instructors and a Harvard transcript stating “Requirements Met” or “Requirements Not Met”.
Rising high school sophomores and juniors are eligible to apply to this extremely competitive program. The application process requires a transcript, a record of your current grades, counselor reports, and a few personal essays attesting to why you want to attend this pre-college program. No standardized test scores are a part of the assessment.
- Session I: June 25–July 7
- Session II: July 9–21
- Session III: July 23–August 4
Unfortunately, applications are no longer open. If you’re interested in attending next year, more information about Harvard University’s pre-college program (including financial costs and available classes) can be found here.
Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development
Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, as mentioned above, is available to both middle school and high school students.
Northwestern’s Academic Summer Residential Camps are a great way to spend the summer. Students will be able to further explore their interests with other students while experiencing residential life on campus.
Applications for Summer 2023 programs are open! If you would like more information about Northwestern’s many programs, you can find information about the Center for Talent Development here.
Brown University’s [email protected] Pre-College Program
Rising sophomores and older high schoolers interested in attending a university with an open curriculum should consider applying to Brown University’s summer pre-college program, as it provides an opportunity to explore the student-driven learning at this school.
[email protected] offers nearly 200 courses, everything from natural sciences to creative arts, each with its own eligibility criteria. On-campus, online, and hybrid options are all available, and sessions range between 1 and 4 weeks in length.
If you attend this program, expect to be learning or studying for 30 hours a week—3 hours of class and 3 hours of study time each day. The non-credit courses and multitude of activities available to students provide students a perfect opportunity to learn how to manage their time and study effectively before college.
Applications are now open for Summer 2023 programs until Friday, May 12! Learn more about the different courses available and how to apply at [email protected]’s online portal.
|Duke Pre-College||9||Yes||2 Weeks||Top 5%||$4,000|
|Emory Pre-College||10||Yes||2 Weeks||3.0 GPA||$4,464|
|Georgetown Academies||9||Yes||1, 2, or 3 Weeks||3.0 GPA||$3,100– $6,700|
|Harvard Pre-College Summer School||10||Yes||2 Weeks||Top 5%||$4,950|
|Northwestern CTD||Pre-K||Yes||Vary; 3 week for high school||Varies depending on tier||$4,425|
|[email protected] Brown||9||Yes||1–4 Weeks||Top 5%||$3,224–$7,982|
Credit-Awarding Programs for High School Students
For some students, the experience of a residential program isn’t as enticing as the opportunity to actually earn college credit and begin progress on coursework in the next step of their educational journey.
Many colleges and universities do offer programs aimed specifically at these ambitious students. While these programs are not typically residential, they do provide a true college experience—as high school students will be participating in classes attended by current university students.
The following programs are some of the best credit-awarding for high school students looking to get ahead.
Emory Summer College Program
The Emory Summer College Program consists of two six-week sessions, in which 10th and 11th grade students can take actual college courses provided at Emory University.
Emory Summer College is a non-residential program. Students can enroll in this program fully online or in person and take three or four credit courses. A wide selection of courses are available, including classes in STEM, the humanities, social sciences, languages, and more. Further, this program also provides a College 101 course as well, designed to help high schoolers prepare for college and the admissions process.
When considering applicants for its pre-college programs, Emory University typically focuses on grades and test scores (which are a mandatory part of the application process) and look for students who might be accepted when applying to the university during their senior year. Half of Emory students score between 1350 and 1520 on the SAT, or scoring between the 94th and 99th percentile. Similar PSAT scores would be 1220–1430 for sophomores and 1250–1430 for juniors. Emory accepts PSAT, SAT, PreACT, and ACT scores when considering applicants.
- Session 1: May 12–June 23
- Session 2: June 26–August 4
Applications are still open for Session 2 until June 9! Read more about Emory Summer College here.
Georgetown University’s Pre-College Program
Georgetown University’s College Prep Program is a five-week course that combines college courses, in which students can earn college credit through a 3- or 4-hour course, with college prep seminars that cover standardized test prep, strategies for the college admissions process, and skills needed to excel in a college environment. The course runs from the middle of July to the beginning of August.
Georgetown also offers separate credit-bearing courses for high achieving students who are interested. The application process is the same as the College Prep Program, but the student can take more courses and will not participate in the college prep seminars. Head to their summer programs site to learn more!
Harvard University’s Secondary School Program
Harvard University’s Secondary School Program (SSP) is a six-week residential, commuter, or online program that provides rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors with college summer courses that offer college credit. Enrolled students will pick two courses from a catalog of over 200. Each of these courses will award 4 credit hours, or a total of 8 credit hours.
If you enroll in the residential program, outside class activities will be included. These activities range from college counseling activities to music groups.
Applications are now open! This program is particularly competitive, and Harvard advisors suggest that interested students should apply as early as possible. The available slots fill up quickly.
2023 Program Dates: June 20–August 4
Unfortunately, applications are no longer open. If you are interested in attending this program next year, you can find more information here.
Johns Hopkins University Pre-College and Summer Term Programs
Johns Hopkins University offers both on-campus and online summer programs for academically advanced high school students, including the Pre-College Program and the Summer Term Courses.
The Pre-College Program is open to rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors. This program consists of three two-week sessions between June and August, in which students will take college courses that align with their academic interests, earn academic credit, and get a taste of college life. Residential, commuter, and fully online options are available for these programs.
Johns Hopkins’ Summer Term is open to rising juniors and older. What’s special about this program is that high schoolers will join college students in taking actual college courses. This means that high schoolers will be able to earn up to fourteen credits during the entire term, all before graduating high school. On-campus courses have two sessions of 5 weeks in length, and online courses range from 5 to 10 weeks.
Applications are open for 2023 programs! All students applying for admission to Summer at Hopkins programs are required to have a minimum GPA of 3.0, send in an official transcript or report card, and pay an application fee of $85. Learn more about these programs, admission requirements, and costs on the Summer at Hopkins website.
Northwestern University’s College Prep Program
In addition to Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, the university also provides a path for high school students to receive college credit through its College Prep Program. In 2023, there is a single “e-FOCUS” program that’s two weeks in length, and an “IN FOCUS” program with several sessions of two weeks each.
Rising juniors and seniors interested in this program can participate in online instruction only—there is no residential option. Each course offered is the equivalent to one college credit and gives high school students access to Northwestern faculty and instructors.
Included with the course is the “Wildcat Connect: Get Ready Series” which provides workshops and co-curricular activities for students in order to better prepare you for college and better integrate you into Northwestern’s community of students and alumni.
- e-Focus program: July 17–28
- IN FOCUS Session 1: June 19–30
- IN FOCUS Session 2: July 3–14
- IN FOCUS Session 3: July 17–28
- IN FOCUS Session 4: July 31–August 11
Unfortunately, applications are no longer open. If you are interested in attending this program next year & would like more information about the College Prep Program where students can earn college credit through online classes, click here.
The University of Chicago’s Immersion Program
The University of Chicago’s Immersion Program truly is immersive. High school students participating in this program live in U of Chicago’s residence halls, attend class in-person, and have access to many of the resources provided to its undergraduate student body.
Current high school freshman, sophomores, and juniors are eligible to apply to this intense program. U of Chicago Immersion has two summer sessions, each about 3 weeks long. Students select one course for their session, each of which is equivalent to a full, 10-week undergraduate course. Students will attend their class from 9am-3pm, Monday through Friday.
- Session I: June 12–29
- Session II: July 5–21
The nearly 50 available courses explore interdisciplinary topics in order to introduce students to the high level, involved learning at the university. Unfortunately, applications are no longer open—see what courses are available and how to apply next year at UChicago’s Immersion Program page.
|Emory Summer College||10||No||6 Weeks||3.0 GPA||$4,164 (Online)$5,277 (In-person)|
|Georgetown College Prep Program||9||Yes||5 Weeks||3.0 GPA||$9,819|
|Harvard SSP||10||Yes||6 Weeks||Top 5%||$7,200 (Online)$13,750 (In-person)|
|Johns Hopkins Pre-College||10||Optional||2 Week||Top 5%||$1,750 (Online) $5,512 (In-person)|
|Johns Hopkins Summer Term||10||Optional||5 Week (online 5–10wks)||Top 5%||$2,240 (For 2 Classes) + $3,882 (Housing)|
|Northwestern College Prep Program||11||No||Vary; 3 week for high school||Varies depending on tier||$4,425|
|University of Chicago||9||Yes||3 Weeks||Top 5%||$7,775|
How Do You Get into Pre-College Summer Programs?
All of the programs listed above are competitive, with students from across the country vying for entry. Given that, we have a few tips for students to look to when applying.
Most of these programs fill up very quickly. While we have the most recent deadlines listed in the above tables, probably the more important date is when applications open. We won’t have those dates until the end of the fall semester at the earliest, but students who apply closer to when applications open are much more likely to be successful.
Have Great Letters of Recommendation and Grades
Two areas that appear universally on the applications for these programs are transcripts and letters of recommendations. Having good grades to get into competitive academic programs is probably a given, but many students overlook the importance of having good relationships with their teachers and school counselors or advisers.
In addition to having good grades, most of these programs want students who are motivated and push themselves academically. Grades alone don’t tell that story. The letters of recommendation can have a powerful effect on your application as this is where universities get a better view of what it’s like to have you in their classroom.
Know Exactly What You Want Out of the Program
Every application requires students to submit at least one essay—usually detailing why you want to attend. Where letters of recommendation help schools better understand you as a student from a third-person perspective, these essays give them insight into you as a person and your genuine interest in your education.
You need to have a strong, well-thought out, and developed answer to why you want to attend this specific program at this particular school. Have answers in your essay to “Why this school?”, “Why this course?”, and “Why this program?”. If your essay can be submitted without meaningful edits to multiple programs, then it probably isn’t specific enough.
Should You Apply for these Programs?
The big question you are likely asking yourself, even before reading this article, is whether any of these programs are right for you. We can’t answer that question, but we do have some things you should consider when making that decision.
The first question you’ll need to ask yourself is, “What exactly do you hope to get out of whatever program you are looking at?” If you are looking for a summer camp for smart, intellectually curious kids, we believe the residential programs are a fantastic way to have many experiences that simply aren’t available elsewhere. However, don’t expect attendance at these programs to burnish your résumé or college applications once you are ready for that next step. Almost all of these universities and colleges with pre-college programs state that they do not consider attendance at pre-college programs when considering applications to their school.
If you are interested in college credit and to experience coursework at an excellent school, the programs mentioned above are a fantastic opportunity. As stated before, however, this coursework will likely not affect your application when it is time to apply to schools.
Lastly, if you are simply looking for a program that will stimulate your curiosity, many universities offer personal enrichment programs that are neither residential nor offer credit. We don’t generally suggest these programs and they aren’t listed above, but they are an option you may want to consider.
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