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10 Free Pre-College Programs for High School Students

Pre-college programs offer a glimpse into university life, fostering academic growth, research skills, and personal development. They empower ambitious high schoolers to explore diverse fields, sharpen skills, and gain invaluable insights, setting a strong foundation for their academic journey. 


Recognizing that expenses can hinder access to pre-college programs, we’ve curated a list of exceptional programs that come at no cost (and some even offer stipends!).


These programs vary from highly selective to more accessible and cover a spectrum from STEM-focused to humanities-centered experiences.


RSI, a premier summer research initiative, is a coveted opportunity for 100 high school juniors to delve into STEM research. The program launches with an intense week of classes led by MIT professors. At its core lies a transformative 5-week research internship, guiding students through individual projects under mentorship.


Culminating in conference-style oral and written reports, participants get the chance to publish and present their findings. RSI also opens doors for students to interact with eminent leaders in science and technology, including Nobel laureates like Dr. Dudley Herschbach and MIT’s chancellor, Dr. Cynthia Barnhart.


Note: Explore our comprehensive guide for more on applying to the RSI program.


Cost: Fully funded, stipend provided, $40 application fee with a need-based refund.

Location: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

Application deadline: Closed for 2024. To be announced for 2025.

Program dates: 6 weeks, specific dates to be announced for 2025

Eligibility: 

  • Current high school juniors (third year of high school).

  • Strong academic record and demonstrated potential in mathematics and science.

  • Recommended PSAT Math Score: ≥ 740, Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Score: ≥ 700.

2. Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation

Although not a traditional university scholarship, the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation stands as a non-profit research program tailored for gifted students from low-income backgrounds. Stemming from the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, renowned for its extensive one-on-one research opportunities for high school students, the foundation provides the same access to independent research experiences at zero cost.


The Lumiere Breakthrough Scholar Program is the equivalent of the Individual Research Scholar Program at Lumiere Education. In our flagship program, we pair talented high-school students with world-class Ph.D. mentors to work 1-on-1 on an independent research project. At the end of the 12-week program, you’ll develop an independent research paper. You can choose topics from subjects such as psychology, physics, economics, data science, computer science, engineering, chemistry, international relations, and more. You can apply here!


Cost: The program is fully funded!

Location: Remote — you can participate in this program from anywhere in the world!

Application Deadline: There are 4 annual cohorts that run in fall, spring, summer, and winter

Program Dates: Vary based on yearly cohort.

Eligibility:

  • You must be currently enrolled in high school or plan to enroll as a freshman in college in the fall of 2023.

  • Students must demonstrate a high level of academic achievement. (Note. Students have an unweighted GPA of 3.3 out of 4)

  • No previous knowledge of your field of interest is required!


The U.S. Department of State spearheads NSLI-Y, providing fully-funded scholarships for American youth to explore overseas linguistics studies. Participants undergo immersive language classes, cultural integration within host families, and an enriching experience lasting either a summer or a full academic year. 


The program offers profound linguistic and cultural immersion, emphasizing engagement through everyday conversations with locals, honing language skills at markets, and learning to prepare traditional dishes with host families. Currently, NSLI-Y offers courses in eight languages: Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian, and Turkish



Cost: Fully funded travel, classroom instruction, cultural events, and accommodations in the host country. You are financially responsible for acquiring passports and visas, receiving medical and document examinations, and any other miscellaneous expenses.

Location: Estonia, China, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Korea, Latvia, Morocco, Taiwan, Tajikistan, and Turkey, among other countries.

Application deadline: To be announced

Program dates: To be announced

Eligibility:

  • Should be a U.S. citizen or applying to become one.

  • Must be between 15 and 19 years old when the program starts. Students can apply during their senior year to attend the summer NSLI-Y.

  • GPA: 2.5 / 4.0. 

The pre-college program at MIT, offered by one of the world’s top institutes, enables high school students to take on five challenging college-level courses in just six weeks. It aims to nurture academic growth, research capabilities, critical thinking, and personal development. 

Through immersive sessions, discussions, and individualized guidance from top mentors in STEM fields, participants delve into the importance of STEM disciplines in tackling real-life problems. Over 30% of MITES alumni have successfully secured admission to MIT, underscoring the program’s profound impact and effectiveness.


Note: We’ve covered more about this pre-college program in our blog here.


Cost: No Cost. Students only pay for transportation to and from MIT.

Location: MIT, Cambridge MA

Application Deadline: February 1st, 2024

Program Dates: Late June through early August

Eligibility:

  • All high school students in their junior year.

  • Students must hold U.S. Citizenship or have Permanent Resident status.

TASS presents two distinctive programs: TASS-CBS (Critical Black Studies) and TASS-AOS (Anti-Oppressive Studies). Spanning various university settings, these free six-week programs are designed to shape young individuals into critical thinkers, influential leaders, and active contributors within society and the global community


If you have a passion for exploring history, literature, politics, and art within the context of African descent, this program is worth exploring. Subject areas covered include Leadership, Democracy, and Service, offering a rich and diverse learning experience.


Note: We’ve covered this program in depth in our deep dive here. 


Cost: Free of cost with all meals provided. If the cost of travel is a problem, students can apply for assistance in paying for travel, and financial aid to replace earnings from summer employment.

Location: Cornell University, University of Maryland, and University of Michigan

Application deadline: January 2024

Program dates: 6 weeks, June 23 — August 3, 2024

Eligibility: High school juniors and seniors from all backgrounds; focused on providing this opportunity for students of color and/or of disadvantaged backgrounds!


The Stanford Institute of Medicine Summer Research Program invites individuals to explore an array of medical disciplines, from neurobiology to cancer biology, through an intensive two-month immersion. Under the guidance of esteemed scholars, researchers, and Ph.D. fellows in medicine, participants delve into their chosen field, navigating the nuances of research ethics, methodologies, and scientific data collection and analysis. It’s a challenging yet rewarding opportunity to deeply engage with the complexities of medical research.


Note: Here’s a guide we wrote on SIMR.


Cost: No cost; $500 stipend provided ($40 application fee can be waived).

Location: Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Application Deadline: February 24, 2024

Program Dates: June 10- August 1, 2024 (8 weeks)

Eligibility:

  • Must be juniors or seniors at the time of application.

  • Must be 16 years or older by the start of the program.

  • Students must be living in the U.S. and hold either citizenship or permanent resident status.

The Anson L. Clark Scholar Program at Texas Tech University extends a unique opportunity to 12 exceptionally qualified high school juniors and seniors for an intensive 7-week summer research immersion in their preferred subjects. Scholars delve into research projects, working closely alongside seasoned faculty members to acquire invaluable hands-on experience. Upon successfully concluding their research project and submitting a report, scholars are awarded a $750 stipend.


Note: Find more details about this program in our blog here!


Cost/Stipend: No cost, the program provides a $750 stipend. On-campus meals, room and board, and weekend activities/programming are covered. Travel to and from the program location, personal expenses, and medical expenses are not covered.

Location: Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX

Application Deadline: February 15, 2024

Program Dates: 7 weeks, June 16, 2024 -August 1, 2024

Eligibility: At least 17 years of age by the program start date, and should graduate in 2023 or 2024 (U.S. and International)


CS4CS introduces high school students to the fundamentals of cybersecurity and computer science. Covering a wide range of subjects including “white-hat” hacking, cryptography, steganography, digital forensics, privacy, and data usage, the program equips students with knowledge crucial in today’s expanding cyber industry. The curriculum includes hands-on learning with software tools for detecting cyber threats, exploring how ciphers safeguard networks, and honing coding abilities.


Moreover, participants explore behavioral science, learning to recognize and counter threats such as phishing scams and identity theft. What sets CS4CS apart is its unique incorporation of Irondale, a theater-based program designed to enhance communication and public speaking skills through engaging improv sessions. This innovative approach enriches the overall learning experience, making it dynamic and immersive for students.


Note: Learn more about this program in our review here.


Cost/Stipend: Full scholarship provided

Location: New York University, Manhattan, NY

Application Deadline: April 14, 2024

Program Dates: 3 weeks, July 15 — August 9, 2024

Eligibility: NYC residents that are entering 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grade in September 2024.


PSJP caters to students passionate about journalism in all its forms. This program presents a blend of virtual and residential experiences, featuring weekly lectures and workshops led by program alumni and esteemed journalists from renowned media outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, The Daily Beast, Politico, Sports Illustrated, and CNN, among others!


Students will attend discussion-based classes covering humanities, arts, culture, social events, history, and more. Moreover, participants engage in weekly discussion groups spanning diverse topics and attend seminars focused on the college admissions process. All this culminates in the skills needed for students to create their own newspapers.


Cost/Stipend: Fully funded 

Location: Princeton University at Princeton, NJ + Virtual

Application deadline: February 15, 2024

Program Dates: July (online workshops) — early August (residential), 2024

Eligibility

  • High school juniors living in the U.S.

  • GPA: 3.5/ 4.0.

  • Should meet one of these conditions: Combined parent(s)/guardian(s) income plus child support doesn’t exceed $60,000 OR receive free or reduced-price lunch at your high school OR qualify for an SAT or ACT fee waiver.

This summer program spans 10 weeks and targets rising sophomores and juniors in New York City who possess a deep interest in STEM. It provides immersive, hands-on experiences covering a broad spectrum of STEM fields, including Bio and Molecular Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Robotics, AI, Computer Science, and Machine Learning.

Beyond the practical learning opportunities, the program delves into essential subjects like college-level research, expository writing, scientific methodologies, professional development, and ethics! The initial 6 weeks of the program comprise remote workshops conducted after school hours, followed by 4 weeks of in-person sessions at NYU from 9 am to 4 pm.


Note: We’ve covered more about this program in this article.


Cost/Stipend: Fully funded scholarship, but participants are responsible for their meals and transportation in the program.

Location: New York University, New York, NY

Application deadline: March 1, 2024

Program Dates: 10 weeks, June 3, 2024 — August 9, 2024

Eligibility: High school students living in New York City in grades 10 and 11 at the time of application.



Additionally, you can also work on independent research in AI, through Veritas AI's Fellowship Program!


Veritas AI focuses on providing high school students who are passionate about the field of AI a suitable environment to explore their interests. The programs include collaborative learning, project development, and 1-on-1 mentorship. These programs are designed and run by Harvard graduate students and alumni and you can expect a great, fulfilling educational experience. Students are expected to have a basic understanding of Python or are recommended to complete the AI scholars program before pursuing the fellowship. 


The AI Fellowship program will have students pursue their own independent AI research project. Students work on their own individual research projects over a period of 12-15 weeks and can opt to combine AI with any other field of interest. In the past, students have worked on research papers in the field of AI & medicine, AI & finance, AI & environmental science, AI & education, and more! You can find examples of previous projects here


Location: Virtual

Cost

  • $1,790 for the 10-week AI Scholars program

  • $4,900 for the 12-15 week AI Fellowship 

  • $4,700 for both

  • Need-based financial aid is available. You can apply here

Application deadline: On a rolling basis. Applications for fall cohort have closed September 3, 2023. 

Program dates: Various according to the cohort

Program selectivity: Moderately selective

Eligibility: Ambitious high school students located anywhere in the world. AI Fellowship applicants should either have completed the AI Scholars program or exhibit past experience with AI concepts or Python.

Application Requirements: Online application form, answers to a few questions pertaining to the students background & coding experience, math courses, and areas of interest. 


Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a Ph.D. student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1–1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.




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