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College Before College: Academic Summer Programs To Enrich Your Applications

Most people think of summer as a time for rest and relaxation, and no doubt it is—summer plans are usually limited to the beach, a job, and friends. But, for those who think outside of the box, there’s options beyond the usual: activities that can actually enrich your college applications. Although this might sound boring (who wants to go to school during summer?), summer school isn’t the only thing you can do. If you attend a program that’s relevant to your interests and future plan of study, that reflects the sort of initiative and dedication that colleges look for in a student, and it’s fun for you—a win-win!

It’s never too early to start thinking about it, either: programs exist for the summers after every grade in high school, including the 9th and 12th. Below is a list of some programs that provide relevant college preparation for high-school students. It should be noted that these programs provide financial aid and guidance, and accordingly, admittance to them is merit-based.

1. John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY)

This program, founded in 1979 and known informally as CTY, was the first to identify academically gifted high-school students and provide them with summer learning opportunities. CTY is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, lending it the sort of credence that makes it look good on your college applications. To register, students must take standardized tests through CTY’s “Talent Search” program. A qualifying score allows participation in online or residential summer programs. CTY offers courses in everything from humanities to math to science, so there’s plenty of options depending on your interests.

2. Rhode Island School of Design Pre-College Program (RISD)

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), founded in 1877 and often ranked among the best in the world for art and design, runs an immersive summer program for creative teens of all ages. Younger teens can participate in less academically-oriented programs, taking classes in figure drawing, sculpture, and computer animation, to name a few. Rising high school juniors and seniors, meanwhile, can attend the pre-college program, which gives them the opportunity to live and learn like a RISD undergraduate.

3. Iowa Young Writers’ Studio

The famous Iowa Writer’s Workshop was the first of its kind in the country, and remains the top MFA program to this day, counting among its alumni Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award recipients, and U.S. Poet Laureates. The university runs a summer residential program for high school students, in which students take classes in the creative writing discipline of their choice, under the tutelage of Iowa Writer’s Workshop graduates. Though the program prefers those who have completed at least their sophomore year, it’s open to mature 9th graders as well. Its selectivity and reputation make it a great choice for any young writer looking to embellish their ability and college application.

4. Worcester Polytechnic Institute: Launch and Frontiers

Founded in 1865, Worcester Polytechnic Institute was one of the country’s first engineering and technology institutes. Today, it runs two pre-college programs. The first, Launch, is for students entering grades 9 and 10. It offers studies in a variety of disciplines, including Robotics, Cybersecurity, Environmental Modeling, and Interactive Media & Game Development. The second program, Frontiers, is tailored to older students, those entering grades 11 and 12. It offers more intensive courses, such as in Aerospace Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Actuarial & Financial Mathematics. Overall, the program is a great choice for any STEM-focused student.

5. Summer Institute for Mathematics at the University of Washington

The Summer Institute is open to students who have completed at least three years of high school mathematics classes, including algebra, trigonometry, and geometry. It is a six-week residential program that allows students to attend classes, hear from guest lecturers, and work on individual and group projects. The options are quite interesting to anyone with an interest in math—classes include the study of time as a fourth dimension, experimental mathematics, and game theory.

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