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Pre-College Summer Program
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Nikki Bruno Read bio

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Shannon Lee Read bio

At some point during high school – or perhaps even earlier – aspiring college students begin to get excited about what college might have in store for them. The idea of living in the dorm, eating in the cafeteria, exploring the campus and making new friends makes them eager to get there. Pre-college summer programs can prepare students for the unforgettable experience of higher education, from new social interactions to living on their own to tackling the higher-level coursework. Here’s what students need to know about pre-college summer programs, including how to find one.

Summer Program FAQ

Summer programs are designed for students who are already accepted into college or those who intend to apply to college one day soon. But beyond that, there can be many differences. Here’s a quick FAQ.

How do summer programs work?

Many colleges offer summer programs, which are an opportunity for potential students to explore college life. Students can choose from hundreds of programs that cater to their interests, allow them to visit a particular school, give them the opportunity to earn college credit and more. Note that applications start early and can be quite competitive.

How much of the summer does it take up?

That depends. Some programs last for a weekend, while others take a few weeks, and still others take a few months and fill up the majority of the summer. There are also programs that allow the student to choose – for instance, there might be ten weeks available, and a student can choose which week or two they want to attend, or take advantage of every week offered.

Where are the programs held?

In most cases, programs are held right on campus, where students can get a feel for everything about the institution – the dorms, the cafeteria, the classrooms and more. But other programs are held in areas that focus on the program’s purpose. For instance, a summer program for those interested in marine biology might take place on a ship or shore far away from the college that is sponsoring it.

Who are they for?

Summer programs are designed for those who are either considering a college and want to get some idea of what the experience will be like, or for those who are already enrolled in college and want to get a head start on classes or get to know the campus. Colleges also offer summer programs for students at a wide variety of grade levels, such as special programs just for middle school students. Still others have programs targeted toward those interested in a particular educational path, such as those who intend to major in mathematics, business or engineering.

What is the experience like?

With hundreds of summer programs to choose from, it’s impossible to describe what an individual student’s experience will be like. However, there will likely be a few similarities: Most summer programs take place on campuses, so students will have an opportunity to explore and learn the lay of the land. They will likely meet many new people and make fast friends. And they will certainly walk away from the experience having learned something about the college, themselves, and their future plans.

Find Pre-College Summer Programs

Colleges and universities around the country are offering unique pre-college opportunities to high school students every summer. Use our search tool to find a program near you, or even one in a different area of the country for a real "away-at-college" experience. This list is not exhaustive, so if you don't see your school of choice here, check its website directly to see what's being offered.

Pre-College Summer Program Benefits

Pre-college summer programs can be such a valuable experience that many colleges strongly recommend a student try out at least one before they enroll in college and begin classes. Here are just a few of the benefits:

Types of Programs and Classes Offered

Some pre-college summer programs are designed specifically for students who have already been accepted to college and intend to start in the fall semester. These programs might also serve as an orientation of sorts, allowing students the opportunity to explore the campus, check out a few classes, say hello to their professors and establish a good relationship with their advisors. It also allows them to meet other like-minded students who just might become lifelong friends.

Other programs are designed for high school students who aren’t finished with their schooling just yet, and simply want to find out more about the college life or perhaps gain a few credits during their summer downtime. These programs are usually highly structured and include a great deal of fun activities to choose from during a week or more of time on campus. Students can explore specialized classes designed to give them a taste of a variety of majors, with the hopes of perhaps sparking what will become a lifelong passion.

Here are a few examples of real-world programs and what students can expect from each:

Summer Freshman Start – University of Nevada, Reno

Students who have already been accepted to University of Nevada, Reno can take advantage of the summer program that allows them to complete certain core courses before the fall semester begins. Summer courses include those in math, English, and 100-level and 200-level courses that are required for graduation. In addition to the variety of classes students can take during the summer session, there are also free events, such as concerts, barbecues, movie nights and more. There’s even the special opportunity to save some cash – the Summer Freshman Start Tuition Award is available to students who are enrolled in at least six summer session credits. Awards are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Harvard Pre-College Program

This program is divided into three sessions throughout the summer; students can choose to attend one, two or all three. Students live in an undergraduate house near Harvard Square, enjoy meals at the dining hall and take non-credit courses that expose them to a variety of potential majors. The Pre-College Passport is an important part of the summer program; students can from events that focus on social life, trips and activities, college readiness and academic exploration. Off-campus fun is also included, from trips to Fenway Park to meeting with admissions advisors at other local universities. Sophomores and juniors are encouraged to apply; students do not need to be admitted to Harvard to enjoy this program.

Classes Offered in Pre-College Programs

Many students opt for pre-college programs that allow them to get a jump start on their college classes. There are a variety of options available for those who need the extra time in class; here’s a sampling of what they can expect.

Some students need a little extra help with certain subjects; for instance, some schools require that students who scored below a certain threshold on a SAT section take a course that prepares them for the more vigorous classes they will encounter during the college years. Students can often complete these prep courses during the summer and be on track with their classmates when the fall session begins.

The general education courses required of all students during their first year are often an option for those who attend summer programs. Those who attend a full-time summer program might take an accelerated course in math or English to fulfill at least one of their lower division requirements.

These are requirements students must meet to graduate, such as freshman seminar or basic orientation courses. Those who are in a complicated major that requires a very heavy course load might also be able to take on some of those courses during the summer program, thus easing their schedule down the road.

Students who aren’t entirely sure of their educational path can start out with some of the basic courses that most higher-level courses will build upon, such as algebra or calculus, biology or anatomy, English, Spanish, and other options. By choosing these courses to take during the program, students can eventually build upon them when they do choose a major.

Want to learn about the history of baseball? How about discovering how our food goes from seed to plate? Some summer programs offer non-credit courses that focus on something interesting, but not typically found in the normal course catalog. These fun courses can sometimes even spark a new passion!

Summer Pre-College: True or False

There are lots of rumors floating around about summer programs. Here’s what students and parents need to know about what summer programs really do for students – and what they don’t.

From the Expert

Nikki Bruno is a teacher-turned-“edpreneur” whose life goal is to take the stress out of school. Her company, Student Coaching Services, offers a variety of academic coaching and college advising programs for students in high school and college. Nikki is constantly infusing her background in psychological science and yoga philosophy into her coaching practice.

If a student can only choose one program to attend, what criteria should they look at to narrow down the options?

Students should keep in mind that many of these programs are competitive, so, for example, if they're not a top student, they shouldn't be applying to a program at an Ivy League school, but they might have a chance at a state school. Programs that offer a variety of courses can offer students the most well-rounded experiences. While some programs are topic specific, such as an engineering or art camp, many allow you to take courses on different topics at once.

Finding a program that offers college credit will allow students to start working toward their diploma early. Some programs also offer additional sessions on test prep and career skills. Others emphasize leadership or community service and are great for developing 'soft skills.' But overall, students should aim to have a fun summer exploring their passions!

What's the best way to find summer programs? 

Start by researching the colleges you're interested in and see if they have a program put together. Talk to other students and the guidance department at your school to see what others have done and may recommend. There are many lists online and also independent companies who run summer programs out of colleges that aren't associated with the school itself but use its facilities and faculty. Google will help you find whatever you are looking for, as long as you use specific enough search terms (if you just put in “pre-college summer program”, you're going to get a lot of results!) 

You can also hire an Educational Consultant like me to help you sort through programs and pick out the best ones. Often times, parents and students simply don't have the hours required to search and sift through programs, and consultants often have a whole network of colleagues to solicit opinions and experience from regarding the quality of a particular program.

Anything else you would like to add about pre-college summer programs?

It's not the only way to have a meaningful summer! Students can take courses at their local community college without having a high school degree in order to earn college credits and get classroom experience. Not only are there summer courses in math and science, but there are plenty in the arts too! Students who are leadership-and-service-minded can work on a project over the summer that will help their community thrive. If a student has an interest in a particular career, they can use the summertime to 'shadow' a professional at work, or even intern.

Pre-College Program Resources

  • Prep Scholar: 129 Pre-College Summer Programs for High School Students

    This list of potential programs provides a very good place to begin.

  • Summer Discovery

    Designed for students in middle school and high school, this website focuses on enrichment programs that take place on a variety of campuses across the nation.

  • Summer Program Finder

    This handy website helps students find their program based on interest, grade level, region, cost range, length of program and more.

  • USummer

    This directory focuses on everything related to summer programs, including financial aid for those that are a bit pricey.

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