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10 Free Summer Programs for High School Students in Chicago

If you’re a high school student in Chicago looking to spend a productive summer building your skills, you should consider participating in a summer program. Many renowned institutions in Chicago offer free summer programs tailored for high school students spanning various fields including business, STEM, art, architecture, leadership, and more. These programs offer a valuable opportunity to enhance your summer experience and prepare for college life beyond textbooks. 


Whether you have a particular goal in mind or want to explore new avenues in your chosen field, participating in a summer program will demonstrate your proactive approach to practical learning. Fully funded programs can add a prestigious and professional touch to your college applications and help you create a strong portfolio! Beyond academics, these programs can also help you explore potential career paths and guide you in your future academic and professional endeavors.

Here are 10 of the best free summer programs for high school students in Chicago! 

Subject Areas: STEM fields

Location: University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Eligibility: Current 11th-grade students, who are at least 15 years old, and enrolled in a U.S. high school, are eligible. 

Application Deadline: March 5, 2024

Dates: July 21 - July 26, 2024

Cost: Free

The Neubauer Phoenix STEM Summer Scholars program at the University of Chicago provides an opportunity for high school students interested in STEM fields. This program combines a virtual mathematics preparatory course followed by a one-week residential experience on the UChicago campus, where you’ll get to participate in classes, tours, and lectures designed to expose students to various STEM disciplines. 

During your week on campus, you will have the opportunity to hear from world-renowned UChicago faculty and alumni in molecular engineering, mathematics, computer science, and other fields, and visit notable research facilities like Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab, which will help to enrich your understanding of potential careers in science and engineering. This program is specifically geared towards promoting diversity in STEM by bringing together students from different backgrounds to learn and explore together. 

Subject Areas: Economics (microeconomics & macroeconomics) - poverty, climate change, trade, and healthcare inequities.

Location: University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Eligibility: Current 10th-grade students, who are at least 14 years old, and enrolled in a U.S. high school, are eligible.

Application Deadline: March 5, 2024

Dates: June 9 - June 11, 2024

Cost: Free

The Voltage Scholars program is a three-day, two-night accelerated program that introduces students to the concepts of macroeconomics and microeconomics and allows them to learn about selective college admissions from UChicago admissions counselors. Owing to little diversity in the field of economics, this program aims to gather a broader range of perspectives and backgrounds to widen the field’s ability to contribute to public policy and society. 

As a participant, you will have the opportunity to learn from hands-on lectures about UChicago’s distinctive approach to the field of economics. Another plus point is that Voltage Scholars get to network with current college students since the program is run alongside the Becker Freidman Institute’s Expanding Diversity in Economics undergraduate program!

Subject Areas: Computer Science, data science, electrical and computer engineering, and mobile app development.

Location: Discovery Partners Institute, Chicago, IL

Eligibility: Students who will be entering 11th or 12th grade, or their first year of college at a 2 or 4-year Illinois institution in the Fall are eligible to apply.

Application Deadline: May 2, 2024

Dates: June 24 - August 2, 2024

Cost: Free

The DPI Digital Scholars program is an innovative initiative that offers high school students an incredible opportunity to explore various STEM subjects. Through this program, participants get to work alongside university researchers and industry experts on real-world projects in fields ranging from artificial intelligence to sustainability. During the program, you’ll have the option to take a course in computer science, data science, electrical and computer engineering, or mobile app development.

What makes the DPI Digital Scholars program particularly appealing is its commitment to preparing students for future careers in technology and science. By exposing you to cutting-edge research and development, the program helps you to develop critical skills that are highly sought after in the workforce. You’ll also get to build foundational college and career readiness skills and gain access to Chicago’s tech community with daily speakers and weekly workshops.

Subject Areas: Architecture and design

Location: Chicago Architecture Center, Chicago, IL

Eligibility: Incoming sophomores, juniors, and seniors who attend high school in the city of Chicago are eligible. 

Application Deadline: March 31, 2024

Dates: This program runs for three semesters - Summer (6 weeks), Fall (7 hours for 16 Saturdays), and Spring (7 hours for 16 Saturdays). The 6-week summer program starts in May (the exact dates are not specified).

Cost: Free

CAC’s Teen Fellows program provides youth from the city of Chicago with a unique opportunity to build foundational architecture skills. As a participant, you will get to attend college courses at Harold Washington College, earn dual credits with CPS and City Colleges of Chicago, work with physical models using various materials, develop design projects focused on local challenges, and build personal portfolios. You’ll also develop digital designs using software such as Sketch-up, AutoCAD, Rhinoceros, Revit, Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop; visit architecture firms and architecturally significant sites; and get a chance to participate in a paid summer internship at a local architecture or design firm. 

Although this program runs for three semesters, it begins with a six-week summer session and can be pursued along with school commitments for the other two semesters. You’ll earn a stipend through CAC’s partnership with After School Matters (ASM) to cover personal expenses like lunch & transportation during the program. CAC also offers teen programs that are designed to especially increase access for girls and students from populations historically underrepresented in architecture, construction, engineering, and design.

Subject Areas: Science and medicine

Location: Virtual

Eligibility: Applicants must be rising high school sophomores, juniors, or seniors at the start of the program.

Application Deadline: March 4, 2024

Dates: SHE is a two-week, part-time program that typically runs the second half of July (Exact dates TBA).

Cost: Free

SHE (Summer Healthcare Experience) in Oncology is a virtual, multi-institutional program for high school students interested in science and medicine. Its mission is to empower individuals who identify as women and otherwise underrepresented in the sciences to enter biomedical career pathways, specifically within the field of cancer.

Over two weeks, you’ll collaborate on a genetics-based research project, and a patient case study project, to explore key facets of cancer science and care. You will also get to participate in daily faculty lectures, panel discussions, and skill-building workshops to acquire knowledge and networks for your next steps in biomedical career pathways.

SHE in Oncology is funded by a grant from the American Cancer Society. Programming is delivered in part through a partnership with eCLOSE Institute. You’ll also receive a $500 taxable stipend on completion of the program.

Subject Areas: Science, environmental studies, botany, ecology.

Location: Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago, IL

Eligibility: All applicants must be enrolled in a Chicago Public School. 

Science First applicants must be high school freshmen or sophomores; College First applicants must be high school sophomores or juniors. 

Application Deadline: May 20, 2024 

Dates: Science First - July 15 – August 9, 2024 

College First - June 17 – August 9, 2024 (includes the Orientation)

Cost: Free; participants may earn a stipend for the College First Program

The Chicago Botanic Garden is a unique opportunity for high school students that prepares them to become and lead a new generation of scientists who have the education and training needed to address the modern-day environmental and conservation challenges.

Science First is a learning opportunity to see the Garden's 385 acres of plants and nature and a great way to meet other science-curious students. Each summer, approximately 40 students from Chicago Public Schools travel to the Garden and spend four weeks being immersed in a free, nature-based, science enrichment program that engages them in a unique, hands-on experience.

College First is a dynamic paid internship program for eligible Chicago Public High School students that entails career mentorship, field ecology and conservation science, and college prep and assistance. Each summer, approximately 20 students from Chicago Public Schools travel to the Garden and spend seven weeks exploring a vast array of potential science careers and using the Garden's 385 acres and resources to learn about native ecosystems and plants.

You can find out more details about Science First here and College First here

Subject Areas: Biophysics, biochemistry, immunology, and pharmacology.

Location: University of Chicago Medical Center, Chicago, IL

Eligibility: High school juniors or seniors, at least 16 years of age at the time of application.

Application Deadline: Applications typically close in January.

Dates: The program runs from the second full week of June through the first week of August for 8 weeks (2024 Dates TBA).

Cost: Free

The ResearcHStart program at UChicago Medicine offers high school students a valuable opportunity to engage in cutting-edge cancer research alongside experienced professionals. This initiative allows participants to spend their summer immersed in a real-world scientific environment, gaining hands-on experience and contributing to meaningful research projects. The program is tailored for students interested in pursuing a career in medical research, providing them with a solid foundation in various scientific techniques and methodologies.

By participating in the ResearcHStart program, you’ll not only enhance your research skills but also develop critical thinking and problem-solving abilities crucial for your future academic and professional endeavors. You will have the chance to work in some of the most advanced labs at UChicago Medicine, under the guidance of leading scientists and researchers. You’ll also receive a taxable stipend of $3000 after the program.

Subject Areas: Environmental science, climate & energy policy, sustainability.

Location: University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Eligibility: Applicants must be at least 15 years of age and be current high school juniors enrolled in a high school in the U.S.

Application Deadline: March 5, 2024

Dates: July 28 - August 2, 2024

Cost: Free

Young Innovators Climate & Energy Program is a one-week residential program offering talented students an immersive experience in climate and energy policy careers. Led by experts from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), the Becker Friedman Institute, and the Climate Impact Lab, students engage in discussions, lectures, and collaborative projects on current climate and energy challenges. 

Students will also be exposed to opportunities available in a large urban center for academic work and professional development through activities that showcase the city of Chicago, including a tour and discussion panel with industry professionals at Invenergy's Chicago headquarters. Invenergy team members will speak about their experience working in different parts of the industry and provide examples to students of what they can do with STEM degrees.

Subject Areas: Civic leadership, entrepreneurship, business, professional development. 

Location: University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Eligibility: Current 9th grade students, who are at least 14 years old, and who attend a rural or small-town high school within the U.S.

Application Deadline: March 5, 2024

Dates: July 28 - August 2, 2024 

Cost: Free

The Emerging Rural Leaders I program is a unique opportunity for rural and small-town students to learn leadership skills and engage in civic discourse. Readings, lectures, discussions, and hands-on projects are provided to students along with lessons from leading faculty in the Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse, the Booth School of Business, and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship. 

As a participant, you will get to understand and build skills in civic leadership and deliberation, dive into experiential learning activities focused on growing collaboration, teamwork, and problem-solving skills, explore local opportunities for entrepreneurship by creating and pitching community-based business plans, and learn about the highly selective admissions process and pursue workshops on admissions-related topics.

Subject Areas: Quantum Mechanics

Location: University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Eligibility: Current 9th or 10th grade students, who are at least 14 years old, and enrolled in an Illinois high school.

Application Deadline: March 5, 2024

Dates: July 28 - August 2, 2024 

Cost: Free

In this one-week accelerated program, curious and ambitious high school students will be exposed to the counter-intuitive quantum world via lectures with faculty in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, theoretical discussions, and tours of world-class lab facilities. As a participant, you will get to see the inner workings of quantum computers, learn about quantum engineering’s rollout to the consumer market, and even play quantum-adapted board games to understand the concept of entanglement.

Additionally, you will also get to attend sessions to prepare for future careers in STEM and meet with UChicago admissions counselors to learn about highly selective college admissions.

One other option - Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you would like to participate in a rigorous research program open to high schoolers, you should also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program 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.

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.

Image Source: UChicago logo


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