The Most Prestigious and Selective Pre-college Summer Programs



Attending a pre-college summer program has many benefits, as we have explained in another blog post, from learning a subject in-depth, exploring a college major, getting insight into a potential future career, earning college credit, to forming friendships and connections. While there are hundreds of programs to choose from, a few are absolutely prestigious, so prestigious that if you get accepted, you will have one foot in the door of the nation’s finest colleges and universities.

Of course, the benefits of attending these prestigious programs go beyond boosting your college application profile. You will be challenged to push your intellectual limits, you will be taught and mentored by some of the world’s brightest minds in your chosen field, and you will be surrounded by highly driven and successful peers who will consciously and subconsciously challenge you to bring the best of yourself.

In this blog post, we summarize these most selective pre-college summer programs. The application is no less competitive than college admission at an Ivy level school. So, plan early and work diligently to submit a strong application. All of these programs are either completely free or offer generous financial aid packages. Note that the application and decision dates of these programs could vary from the dates provided in this article, so check their websites to get the latest information.

Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP)

The Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP) is a free, six-week program that is designed to endow students with a sense of intellectual vitality, interpersonal awareness, and community responsibility that will prepare them for leadership in whatever walk of life they choose. Students come from around the world with a wide range of life experiences and backgrounds. TASP is completely free, including the cost of tuition, books, room and board, field trips, and even travel if needed.

The selection process is extremely rigorous. TASP seeks students who are not only intelligent but also thoughtful and curious, not only motivated but also compassionate and generous with their talents. The most important factors are essays and, in the second round of screening, interviews with TASP regional representatives. Recommendations from teachers and community leaders are also important.

  • Grade at Application: 11

  • Test Required: No standardized test is required or recommended

  • Deadline: January

  • Decision: April

  • Cost: Free

Research Science Institute (RSI)

Each summer, the Research Science Institute (RSI) gathers 80 of the world’s most accomplished high school students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for five weeks. RSI combines on-campus course work in scientific theory with off-campus work in science and technology research. Immersed in the research cycle from start to finish, students will learn from accomplished professors, design and conduct a research project of their choice under the guidance of experienced scientists and researchers, and finally prepare written and oral presentations on their research findings. RIS is completely free.

RSI is extremely competitive. Selected students have demonstrated superior scholastic achievement in mathematics, the sciences, and verbal arts. They will have shown the potential for leadership in science and mathematics through activities in and outside the classroom. Many students have participated in mathematics, science, and engineering competitions. Some have completed university-level coursework, worked in a research laboratory, or conducted original scientific research.

  • Grade at Application: 9-11

  • Test Required: Strong PSAT/SAT or ACT scores are a huge plus

  • Deadline: January

  • Decision: March

  • Cost: Free

Program in Mathematics for Young Student (PROMYS)

Founded in 1989, PROMYS is a six-week summer program at Boston University designed to encourage highly motivated and mathematically gifted high school students to explore math in greater depth. Students will immerse themselves in a creative and supportive community of their peers, counselors, research mathematicians, and research scientists.

The selection is competitive, and students who were rejected are encouraged to apply the following year. About 80 students are chosen each year. The most important factor will be the applicants’ solution to a set of challenging math problems. Other important factors include teacher recommendations, transcript, and responses regarding interest in the program.

  • Grade at Application: 9-12

  • Test Required: No standardized test is required or recommended

  • Deadline: March

  • Decision: May

  • Cost: Free for students whose families make under $60,000 per year; $2,500 for families who can afford the tuition


The Summer Science Program (SSP)

The SSP offers rising juniors and seniors an inspiring immersion into hands-on experimental science. Working in teams of three, participants complete a real research project from the start to finish in five and a half weeks. The program is intense and challenging, with materials presented at a pace faster than college courses; however, each student receives a high level attention from a dedicated team of seven faculty.

Participants will be placed into three tracks, and each track has prerequisites (listed in the parentheses below) that students must have completed before the program starts: astrophysics for 11th graders (calculus, OR physics AND precalculus), astrophysics for 10th graders (calculus AND physics), and biochemistry for 10th and 11th graders (biology AND chemistry AND strong algebra skills). Successful candidates have demonstrated exceptional achievement in the most advanced math and science classes available to them.

  • Grade at Application: 10-11

  • Test Required: No standardized test is required or recommended

  • Deadline: January for international applicants, February for U.S. citizens and permanent residents

  • Decision: March for international applicants, April for U.S. citizens and permanent residents

  • Cost: Generous financial aid is available to provide free or discounted tuition to roughly half of the attendees


Boys State and Girls State

Boys State and Girls State, an intensive one-week summer program, are among the most respected and selective educational programs of government instruction for U.S. high school students. Selected high school juniors become part of the operation of local, county and state government, and learn the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of U.S. citizens, along with the structure of city, county, and state governments. Students are elected to various offices and engage in activities such as legislative sessions, court proceedings, law-enforcement presentations, assemblies, bands, choruses and recreational programs.

Selection, which is highly competitive, is based on merit and ability, and previous participants are not allowed to attend again. Students who have demonstrated leadership, character, scholarship, loyalty, and service in their schools and community will be considered. Although the selection process varies by state, participants are often nominated by high school principals or guidance counselors to local Legion posts. The post will then conduct interviews to select their representatives.

  • Grade at Application: 11

  • Test Required: No standardized test is required or recommended

  • Deadline: Varies by state

  • Decision: Varies by state

  • Cost: Fully sponsored and free in most cases


Boys Nation and Girls Nation

After participating in Boys and Girls State programs, two participants are chosen from each state to serve as “senators,” who will convene in Washington, D.C. for a week to participate in a mock legislature, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these bright young minds. Students will be responsible for submitting bills and resolutions, participating in senate sessions, and electing officials such as president and vice president. Not only will students develop an understanding of the fundamentals of the U.S. federal government, they will also gain leadership lessons for life. This seven-day experience will lay the foundation in a variety of careers including public service, government, military, law, education, and media.

  • Grade at Application: 11

  • Test Required: No standardized test is required or recommended

  • Deadline: Varies by state

  • Decision: Varies by state

  • Cost: Fully sponsored and free in most cases

Women’s Technology Program (WTP)

WTP is a rigorous four-week summer academic experience offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to introduce high school students to engineering through hands-on classes, labs, and team-based projects. Instruction is provided by female MIT graduate and undergraduate students. Guest speaker talks by MIT faculty and industry engineers expose students to research and career directions.

WTP is designed for students who are excited about learning, who have demonstrated their ability to excel at math and science in high school, and who have no or very little prior background in engineering or computer science. WTP offers two tracks. The Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Track is designed for female students with no prior programming background. The Mechanical Engineering Track focuses on the engineering design process as used in mechanical engineering.

  • Grade at Application: 11

  • Test Required: No standardized test is required or recommended

  • Deadline: January

  • Decision: April

  • Cost: Free


Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES)

MITES is a rigorous six-week residential enrichment program for rising high school seniors who have a strong academic record and are interested in studying and exploring careers in science and engineering. As its name suggests, this program specifically recruits students from underrepresented or underserved communities. Students take one math course, one life sciences course, one physics course, a humanities course and an elective course. Placement into these courses is determined by diagnostic tests during the program orientation. Students will learn the value and reward of pursuing advanced technical degrees and careers while developing the skills necessary to achieve success in science and engineering.

  • Grade at Application: 11

  • Test Required: No standardized test is required or recommended

  • Deadline: January

  • Decision: April

  • Cost: Free, except transportation to and from MIT


Stanford University Mathematics Camp (SUMaC)

SUMaC is a four-week, residential program at Stanford University for a select group of mathematically talented rising high school juniors and seniors from around the world for intensive study in advanced mathematics. Students will be immersed in the world of mathematics through lectures, guided research, and group problem solving, along with fantastic support from faculty and teaching assistants as well as their peers.

Admissions is competitive. Students are selected based on their grades in math courses, teacher recommendation, their responses to the why SUMaC questions on the application, their performance on standardized math exams and math contests, and their performance on the SUMaC admission exam. The admission exam is a collection of challenging math problems for applicants to work on at home over an extended period before the application deadline.

  • Grade at Application: 10-11

  • Test Required: Standardized test is recommended

  • Deadline: March

  • Decision: May

  • Cost: Financial aid is available

Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS)

SAMS is a fully paid, six-week residential program at Carnegie Mellon University for students from underrepresented communities to explore STEM-related fields. Students will engage in a rigorous curriculum taught by world-renowned faculty and skilled staff mentors. Students will develop a deeper understanding in STEM subjects via traditional classroom instruction and hands-on projects during the time of the program. Further, they will be able to continue their discussion and interaction with the program faculty and staff from August to December. Students will earn college credit after program completion.

  • Grade at Application: 10-11

  • Test Required: No standardized test is required or recommended

  • Deadline: February

  • Decision: Rolling

  • Cost: Free


The Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics (HCSSiM)

HCSSiM is an intensive six-week encounter with college-level mathematics for talented and highly motivated high school students from around the world. Students spend a major portion of each day actively engaged in doing mathematics (not simply learning the results of mathematics). With a mission to prepare and motivate students to pursue degrees and careers in mathematics, HCSSiM provides students unparalleled access to faculty members in classrooms, at meals, and in the program dorm.

  • Grade at Application: No restrictions, typically 9-11

  • Test Required: No standardized test is required or recommended

  • Deadline: There is no official deadline

  • Decision: Decisions are made on a rolling basis

  • Cost: Financial aid is available