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10 Free Programs for High School Students in California

Are you a high school student in California looking for a way to enhance your resume, or boost your college applications? 

Try signing up for one of the 10 completely free programs listed below! 

Not only are these programs free but they also provide a gateway to in-depth knowledge, skill development, real-world applications, and networking opportunities. Whether you’re interested in STEM, arts, humanities, or the social sciences, or simply trying to figure out your passion, these programs are your ticket to early exposure in your chosen field. 

Beyond the financial benefits, these programs can be a solid addition to your CV and make your college applications shine a little bit brighter! Moreover, a fully funded program adds a certain prestige to your portfolio that can give you an edge when you pursue a career in your chosen subject.

Now that we have mentioned all the benefits of pursuing a fully funded program as a high school student, let’s dive straight into our curated list of the 10 free programs for high school students in California!

Subject areas: Medicine, Biology, Chemistry

Location: Stanford, CA

Eligibility: Applicants must: 

  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident

  • Be 16 years or older at the start of the program

  • Be juniors or seniors at the time of application

Cost: Free; students receive a stipend of at least $500 and up to $2500, depending on their family’s need.

Deadline: February 24, 2024

Dates: June 10 - August 1, 2024

Selectivity: High

Expected cohort size: 50

The SIMR is an 8-week summer program open to high school juniors and seniors. The program offers hands-on research under the guidance of a one-on-one mentor at a top-class lab within the Institutes of Medicine at Stanford University as well as select departments. As an applicant, you can choose from eight areas of research (institutes) which include immunology, neurobiology, stem cell and regenerative medicine, cardiovascular biology, cancer biology, genetics, bioinformatics, and bioengineering. After being accepted, you are assigned to a specific institute based on your choices.

Although most of your time will be dedicated to lab research, there will be joint lectures as well throughout the summer. You should expect to be on campus around 40 hours a week during the program. The highlight of SIMR is the poster session where you will get to present a research poster of your project. Family, teachers, and Stanford community members (faculty, students, and staff) are invited to view the posters and speak with you about your research on the last day of the program. 

Another option students in SIMR have is getting into the bioengineering boot camp. This is a hands-on learning experience in bioengineering that does not involve lab research. You can find out more details about the boot camp here

Subject areas: Mathematical biology

Location: University of California, Irvine

Eligibility: Applicants must currently be high school students, and not be graduating in spring 2024

Cost: Free

Deadline: April 14, 2024

Dates: June 17 - July 25, 2024

Selectivity: Moderate

Expected cohort size: 50

Math ExpLR is a 6-week mathematical biology program where students are paired with undergraduates and collaborate on a computational biology research project with a principal investigator. As a participant, you will get a larger view of research in computational biology and university studies. In addition, you will attend skill-building workshops that prepare you to carry out mathematical research, including Matlab programming, mathematical modeling, giving research presentations, and writing a research paper.

With a few exceptions, all meetings, courses, and activities in this program occur in person. 

Subject areas: Communication and media

Location: University of Southern California (USC), LA

Eligibility: Applicants must reside and attend school in LA County to be eligible

Cost: Free

Deadline: Applications closed for summer 2024

Dates: June 17 - July 19, 2024

Selectivity: Moderate

Expected cohort size: 26

The Annenberg Youth Academy (AYA) for Media and Civic Engagement is a 4-week summer intensive academy for high school students from the communities surrounding the USC University Park and Health Science Campuses. Students are exposed to the equivalent of first-year college-level courses and develop an understanding of the necessary role that media communications and journalism play in building thought leadership and innovation.

As a participant in AYA, you will strengthen skills in writing, critical thought, public speech and debate, multimedia production, and ethnography — all essential competencies required for excellence in and out of the classroom. Additionally, you will have opportunities to meet the school’s innovative scholars who are advancing issues of race, gender, and ethnicity in communication and journalism.

Subject areas: Technology and Social Media Operations

Location: Meta Headquarters, Menlo Park, CA

Eligibility: Applicants must be:

  • Sophomores in high school 

  • Residing in East Palo Alto, Belle Haven, North Fair Oaks, or Redwood City

  • Minimum Cumulative GPA of 2.0

Cost: Free

Deadline: March 1, 2024

Dates: June 17 - July 26, 2024,

Selectivity: High

Expected cohort size: 150-200

Meta Summer Academy (formerly known as Facebook Summer Academy) is a highly competitive 6-week summer internship program for high school sophomores held by Meta at their headquarters. Students get an opportunity to learn about the day-to-day operations of one of the world’s leading social media networks by being part of a dynamic workforce.

The program is highly selective and aims to inspire and motivate young people to achieve economic success, stability, and mobility through skill development and early exploration in the tech industry. As a participant, you will learn coding, explore career options, and develop soft skills that will help you build a successful career. You will also receive direct mentorship from Meta employees who will guide you through constructive feedback. The program is prestigious and demanding and requires you to commit 30 hours per week over six weeks. 

To read an in-depth review of the program, read this article.

Subject areas: Liberal Arts

Location: Pomona College, Claremont, CA

Eligibility: Applicants must be:

  • Currently a 9th-grade student

  • A resident of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, or Ventura Counties

Cost: Free

Deadline: February 26, 2024

Dates: June 23 - July 19, 2024

Selectivity: Low

Expected cohort size: 90

PAYS is a free program where students engage in a combination of college-level courses, cultural events, workshops, projects, and field trips during an intensive 4-week, residential program as well as throughout the academic year, for 3 consecutive years upon acceptance. Participants often come from populations traditionally underrepresented in college like low-income families and marginalized ethnicities. Pomona College covers all costs including housing, food, activities, and transportation to field trips. As a participant, you will live in a dorm on the campus while taking math and critical inquiry courses taught by Pomona professors. Additionally, you will receive hands-on support from trained college TAs in learning and leading your own seminars.

To learn the detailed offerings of this program, visit this link.  

Subject areas: Healthcare

Location: Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles

Eligibility: Applicants must be:

  • Currently a freshman, sophomore, or junior in high school

  • Residents of Los Angeles County 

Cost: Free

Deadline: January 12, 2024

Dates: The program has 2 sessions: 

Session 1: June 24 - 28, 2024

Session 2: August 5 - 9, 2024

Selectivity: Low

Expected cohort size: Not specified

Camp CHLA is a 5-day, in-person healthcare career exploration camp offered twice per summer for high school students to explore, learn, and participate in the work that team members at Children’s Hospital, LA do every day. As a participant, you will attend various activities including but not limited to:

  • Presentations from select healthcare professionals detailing their personal career journeys and “day-in-the-life” details about their roles

  • Hands-on skills in health promotion and disease/injury prevention, such as CPR, first aid, body ergonomics, and more

  • Networking opportunities with like-minded students 

  • Real-life and up-close exposure to the world of healthcare and lifesaving work happening throughout the hospital


Subject areas: Medicine

Location: Los Angeles Pediatric Society, LA

Eligibility: Current 11th and 12th grade students can apply

Cost: Free; participants are awarded a $500 scholarship at the end of the program.

Deadline: February 16, 2024.

Dates/Duration: 6-8 weeks; dates vary for different sessions.

Selectivity: Low

Expected cohort size: 100-180

Started in 1969, the Eve and Gene Black Summer Medical Career Program was designed to encourage high school students to choose careers in the health profession. Open to students from Los Angeles and its surrounding counties, the program is often best described as a medical mentorship. 

As a participant, you will attend daily sessions, presentations, and interactive lessons hosted by professionals in various medical fields. These include a variety of general pediatricians and specialists, including surgeons, nurses, pharmacists, dietitians, ophthalmologists, radiologists, and therapists, (i.e., physical, speech, occupational, or cognitive).

Subject areas: STEM

Location: La Jolla, CA

Eligibility: Applicants must: 

  • Be a San Diego County resident and have completed their most recent semester of high school at a public or private high school within San Diego County.

  • Be at least 16 years of age on or before the start date of the program.

  • Have completed at least one year each of high school-level chemistry and biology successfully.

  • Have a minimum grade point average of 3.

Note: Only students from the five REACH partner schools are eligible to apply for the 2024 Summer Internship Program. These schools include Barrio Logan College Institute, San Diego; Hilltop High School, Chula Vista; Hoover High School, San Diego; Lincoln High School, San Diego; and Morse High School, San Diego.

Cost: Free; students are paid a $4,760 stipend for their research.

Deadline: April 19, 2024

Dates: June 24 - August 9, 2024

Selectivity: High

Expected cohort size: Not specified

Scripps College Student Research Internship is a highly prestigious program that exposes high school students to contemporary issues in biomedical research and provides hands-on laboratory experience and guidance. The program aims to increase the number of talented students who choose a career in the biological and chemical sciences, particularly first-generation college-bound students and students from groups that are historically underrepresented in the sciences.

As a participant, you will receive direct mentorship from leading scientists that will enable you to understand complex scientific concepts and methodologies through rigorous coursework. This will not only prepare you for college admissions and academics but also for future career endeavors. To get an in-depth review of this program, read this article!

Subject areas: Multidisciplinary 

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Eligibility: Applicants must:

  • Be completing their Sophomore, Junior, or Senior year

  • Be enrolled in an LA County high school

Cost: Free; interns earn a stipend for their work.

Deadline: March 15, 2024

Dates: June 20 - August 9, 2024

Selectivity: Moderate

Expected cohort size: Not specified

The Intern Project (TIP) is an 8-week internship program that offers outstanding high school students from schools across LA County the opportunity to work in dynamic career areas. TIP company partner fields include but are not limited to Arts, Media & Entertainment, Engineering & Tech, Business, Government, Sports, and Healthcare & Medical Technology and more.

​Activities include informational interviews, skill workshops (communication, introduction to software used, project management and planning, or small skill-based projects). As a participant, you earn a stipend and a college credit as well! Although a majority of the program workshops are virtual, you will be required to attend 80% of the in-person meetings. 

TIP also offers a fall and spring program. To know more, click here

Subject areas: Multidisciplinary

Location: San Francisco, CA

Eligibility: All high school students can apply; priority will go to 11th-grade students.

Cost: Free; students are paid a weekly stipend

Deadline: February 29, 2024

Dates: Dates vary based on the internship but the program is typically held during the summer months

Selectivity: Moderate

Expected cohort size: Not specified

SFUSD's Work-Based Summer Internships are an exceptional opportunity for you to expand your learning outside of the classroom and explore careers in a hands-on environment. Over the course of six weeks, you can explore working professionally in industries like animation, architecture, automotive technology, computer science, culinary arts, marketing, education, law, finance, hospitality, and more. Additionally, you will have the chance to network with like-minded interns and work with experienced mentors.

This internship provides in-depth insights into the operations of these industries and allows you to tackle projects extending beyond foundational concepts.

Bonus Programs 

If you’re looking to build a project/research paper in the field of AI & ML remotely, consider applying to Veritas AI! 

Veritas AI is founded by Harvard graduate students. Through the 100% virtual research programs, you get a chance to work 1-1 with mentors from universities like Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and more to create unique, personalized projects. In the past year, we had over 1000 students learn AI & ML with us. You can apply here!

Looking for an immersive internship experience?

Check out Ladder Internships!

Ladder Internships is a selective, virtual internship program where students work with startups and nonprofits from around the world! The startups range across a variety of industries. As part of their internship, each student will work on a real-world project that is of genuine need to the startup they are working with, and present their work at the end of their internship. In addition to working closely with their manager from the startup, each intern will also work with a Ladder Coach throughout their internship. Apply now!

If you’re interested in pursuing rigorous research as a high school student, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students. Last year, we had 150 students on full need-based financial aid!

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD 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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