Summer Learning Programs: What, Why and How

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You may think summer school is only for students with remedial academic needs, but many students choose to take part in special summer learning programs to:

  • Explore their interests
  • Develop new skills
  • Get hands-on experience that a classroom doesn't offer
  • Meet other students with similar interests
  • Get a taste of college life
  • Try out college classes
  • Earn college credit, if available

Taking part in a summer program is also a plus on college applications; it shows colleges that you’re committed to learning.

Where and What

Summer learning programs are available in every area of study from the arts and sciences to languages and athletics. They may be offered at colleges, museums, performing arts centers, and recreation centers.

You can find residential programs in which you live in housing with other students. You can also find classes you can commute to. So, if you don't want to leave home, you can still take part in a summer program.

Here are examples of summer programs for high school students:

  • A 5-day creative-writing program on a college campus.
  • A weeklong program in 3-D game design at a computer camp.
  • A 3-week language-immersion class at a school in another country.
  • A 6-week program on a college campus with college-level courses in subjects like engineering, psychology, and environmental studies.
  • A summer-semester math class at a community college.
students doing work

How Much

Private summer programs can be expensive, but some offer scholarships or financial aid. Talk to your school counselor if you find a program you’re really interested in that's outside your price range.

You can also look into these federally funded programs. They’re free or relatively inexpensive.

  • Governor's Schools: These summer programs are offered in around 15 to 20 states each year. You may have to submit teacher recommendations and an essay when you apply
  • Upward Bound: This college preparatory program provides academic tutoring and mentoring to students who come from low-income families or will be the first in their family to go to college.

How to Get Started

For the best options, start looking into summer programs during the winter before you want to attend. Many programs have March deadlines and a limited number of spaces. And some programs ask for application materials that require planning.

Here’s how to begin:

  • Decide what your goal is. Do you want to earn credit for college, develop a new skill or meet students who share your interests?
  • Ask your counselor for suggestions.
  • Research summer programs online.
  • Look into summer programs at nearby colleges or other colleges you’re interested in.
  • Find out the application requirements for the programs you’re interested in. Some programs require high school transcripts, test scores or samples of creative work.

If your goal is to gain experience and learn new skills, remember that interning or holding a summer job can be just as valuable as taking part in a summer learning program.

Real Summer Adventures

Ian, a high school junior, went to a marine-science summer camp on an island off the coast of Maine. While there, he had an opportunity to go snorkeling.

"On a rock in about 12 feet of clear water was a starfish the size of a medium pizza," he recalls. "The discoveries of treasures like these made the camp so incredible ."

Marcus, a high school senior, explored fiction writing and Italian at a university. "I was interested in both subjects, and neither was offered at my high school," he says. Through the program, he gained confidence and eased his "fears about surviving in a college classroom."

Soni, a high school senior, got "a taste of college life" through a summer journalism program at a university. She lived in the dorms, ate in the dining hall, and did her own laundry. Most importantly, she says, "Attending this program made me realize that journalism is what I truly want to do with my life."


Why are summer learning programs important?

Summer learning programs are important because they allow students to continue learning and prevent the "summer slide," which is the loss of academic skills and knowledge during the summer break. Summer learning opportunities provide a safe and supportive environment for students during the summer.

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How do summer learning programs differ from traditional college programs?

A summer learning opportunity for students differs from a traditional college program by offering a more relaxed and flexible learning environment. Additionally, these programs can provide opportunities for experiential learning, such as internships or study abroad programs, which may not be available during the regular school year. Some of the benefits of summer programs are they can help students build skills and knowledge in areas outside of their traditional academic focus, such as sports or the arts.

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What are some examples of summer learning programs available for students?

Several types of summer programming are available for students, such as academic camps, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs, language immersion programs, study abroad programs, community service programs, and internships.

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What are the costs associated with summer learning programs?

The costs of summer learning programs vary depending on the program's length, location, and activities offered. Some programs are free. Others can cost thousands of dollars. However, many programs offer financial aid options to make the programs accessible to students from diverse economic backgrounds.

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