The right plan makes all the difference in successful summer program admissions

When I first met Valeri last October, she was very frustrated. She’d been rejected from COSMOS and a few other summer programs she’d applied to in her freshman year. Looking ahead to sophomore summer, she was unsure how to proceed.

What a perfect scenario for the Blue Stars team! We love cool puzzles like finding the perfect summer programs for a student interested in neuroscience, Alzheimer’s research, and computer programming. Once we helped Valeri define a best-fit list of programs – consulting our database of over 500 programs – we next mentored her on application strategy and crafting essays that convey her unique interests and experiences.

The result? Valeri was accepted to all three programs she applied to: The Bioengineering Summer High School Internship Program at UCSD (BE-SHIP), the Neuroscape Internship at UCSF, and COSMOS!

Choosing BE-SHIP, Valeri had a blast working in a lab focused on synthetic biology and regenerative medicine. She’s now continuing her research during the school year. She’ll certainly receive extra attention from admissions readers at top schools for this advanced pre-college work.

By working with a mentor on her summer applications, besides these great results, Valeri gained valuable life skills most teens don’t learn in high school:

  1. Identifying her interests and matching them with opportunities outside of the classroom
  2. Writing a “mini-memoir” personal essay in her own authentic voice
  3. Managing her time while working on a large, complicated project

Applying to summer programs is the perfect way to practice in advance what it is like to apply to college. Attending summer programs next leads to amazing growth experiences and more clarity about possible future majors and careers.

To make your life easier, I’ve located my 10 favorites below. I’ve also included a short list of ultra-competitive programs at the end of the post. I hope this gives you new ideas for helping your teen plan for a summer that contributes to both personal growth and admissions success!

Dr. M’s 10 Favorite Summer Programs

  1. Summer@Brown – This is our go-to program for our younger students interested in subjects more specific than simply Biology, Engineering, or Journalism. If you look through the course catalog, you’ll see college-like topics such as “Biomedical Engineering: The Smart Design of Medical Implants and Devices” and “Globalization, Media, and Culture.” The Brown pre-college course catalog is so much fun to peruse! Even if the program doesn’t work for your child because of cost1 or location, you can get some great ideas for more creative, specific ways to activate your child’s interests. Brown summer classes provide great pathways for younger students to gain definition early and then build on this definition in future summers.
  1. CSSSA – The California State Summer School for the Arts is an extremely high-quality and affordable 4-week art program. Offering concentrations in animation, creative writing, dance, film, music, theater, and visual arts, CSSSA helps talented students advance their artmaking skills, take creative risks, and participate in a community of peers. While focused on California students, CSSSA accepts 20 out-of-state students a year. If not, CSSSA, then there are many summer art programs around the country. Our students who attend summer art programs always come back electrified!2
  2. COSMOS – This highly competitive STEM camp spans four UC campuses and allows students to explore topics like photonics, number theory, and machine learning. COSMOS is a great way to explore technical subjects in more depth while gaining hands-on experience. Last summer, one of our students worked on a project optimizing the accuracy of a revolutionary device allowing direct communication between the brain and a computer through real-time brainwave analysis. Brain-computer interface (BCI) – how cool is that? COSMOS also admits up to 20 out-of-state students.
  3. Blue Stamp Engineering – If your teen is into robotics, electrical engineering, computer engineering, or mechanical engineering, this is the program for them! Located in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and New York City, Blue Stamp guides students in conceiving, building, and documenting an independent project. What I love about this program is the way they incorporate project management and soft skills into their STEM curriculum. Blue Stamp also provides advanced opportunities for returning students and functions like a community for techie tinkerers.
  4. Nature Bridge – Students who attend a Nature Bridge program invariably come back transformed profoundly, having in some way or another pitted their wits against nature. I’ll never forget working with a student who had just hiked to the peak of Cloud’s Rest and helping her with an application essay about pushing past the pain of her blistered feet, the annoyance of mosquito bites, and her own self-pity. When she got to the summit, the clouds were at her fingertips, black hawks soared above, and Wavin’ Flag was blasting in her ear, “When I get older, I will be stronger!” What a powerful growth experience that also translates so well into a “hero’s journey” admissions essay!
  5. Science Internship Program (SIP) – SIP at UC Santa Cruz provides 10 weeks of intensive research in subjects ranging from astronomy and astrophysics to biomolecular engineering. They’re also building up their social sciences offerings and last year offered an opportunity in anthropology, oral storytelling about immigration, and digital humanities. Unique! A student of ours who participated in this project last summer now has a clearer idea about how to integrate her love of film and writing into the world of technology and can show herself to be a humanities person ready for 21st-century interdisciplinary careers.
  6. Drexel Environmental Science Leadership Academy (DESLA) – A hidden gem for teens passionate about environmentalism, DESLA describes itself as “one part adventure travel, one part leadership training, and two parts field experience.” The program offers three distinct week-long programs on the New Jersey shore, in the Poconos, and at Yellowstone National Park. A student of ours who spent time at Yellowstone was most excited to see how scientists work in the field. Since he hadn’t had any prior experience in environmental science, he found it eye opening and inspiring. He’s now become active in the environmental club at school!
  7. Berkeley Precollege – With residential and commuter options, Berkeley Precollege offers real college classes for high school students. The program also provides an introduction to college life, including scheduled activities, library and campus tours, as well as information about writing college essays. Last summer, a student interested in the social sciences took an undergraduate economics class and received college credit for it! If your child is interested in UC Berkeley and wants to get a feel for the campus, or is simply hoping to try out college-level work, this might be the perfect option.
  8. High School and Pre-Medical Student Stanford Summer Internship – Is your child dreaming of becoming a doctor? This opportunity, focused on cardiothoracic surgery, gives students the chance to learn procedures such as suturing, grafting, and even dissecting a real porcine heart! Students also attend lectures by experts on key topics in the field. An intensive and truly immersive experience, The Stanford Summer Internship can pave the way to future admission to the ultra-competitive programs listed below.
  9. Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS) – Your teen can spend two weeks on the beautiful Yale campus studying STEM, humanities, or the social sciences. With topics that vary from year to year, YYGS creates mini learning communities with students from all over the world. When our student took Sustainable Development & Entrepreneurship a few years back, she discovered ways to combine her interests in business and social justice, gained experience in the rigors of a Yale education, and boosted her admissions profile with an elite academic experience. Six months later, she was accepted to NYU’s Stern School, Early Decision!

 An extra list of ultra-competitive programs 

If your teen is laser focused on scientific research and/or is hoping to attend an elite school in a STEM subject, here is a list of some of the most competitive summer programs in the country.

  • Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program (SIMR)
  • Research Science Institute (RSI)
  • Summer Science Program (SSP)
  • Research Apprenticeship in Biological Sciences (RABS)
  • Simons Summer Research Program
  • Raising Interest in Science and Engineering (RISE)
  • Science & Engineering Research Academy (SERA)

Be sure to also check out this in-depth article on the Best Art Schools In The World. It’s an advanced and updated guide with more than 2,500+ words and with more than 35+ universities to pick from.

Best Art Schools In The World

1 Most, if not all, of these programs offer financial aid, so be sure to look for information on each website.

2 While CSSSA explicitly prohibits professional coaching on applications, other art programs do not. Specialists in art applications, Blue Stars loves to coach creative students as early as possible so that they can develop their own, unique artmaking voice.

Read Dr. M’s recent blog posts:

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