One way of showcasing your academic ability is to get accepted into a selective summer program. The reality is that most summer schools do not enhance your scholar profile because they are not selective or do not have a clear output, such as a research paper or publication.
However, these programs, given their selectivity, are respected by admission officers because of the rigor in their selection process. Fair warning - they are highly competitive and hard to get into.
How did we choose the 10 most competitive programs?
We first collected 100 of the most popular summer programs in the United States for high school students. From there, we researched the acceptance rate. While the acceptance rate isn’t a one-to-one indicator of competitiveness (e.g., 1 in a million people win the lottery, that doesn’t mean it’s competitive), we thought it was the single most valuable metric for us to assess. Where we have made a decision to include a program that may have a higher selection rate, we have indicated why it's on the list.
How do we define competitive?
We define competitive as having a low acceptance rate, assuming that the caliber of the applicants is high. This means that getting accepted to the program is a clear signal of your ability as a student. Where admission statistics are not publicly available, we have made estimates.
We’ve had to curb the nerd in us and strictly exclude any program which doesn’t run in the summer (bummer!). Great programs like MIT’s THINK Scholar Program have been left out simply because they overlap with the school term - but do check it out if you are looking for competitive programs!
We’ve also curated other lists of excellent research opportunities to help you identify your passion while enhancing your scholar profile - check out the opportunities in computer science and AI, or psychology and medicine. Be sure to check out the best research mentorship programs and free summer programs for a good understanding of what’s out there.
Let's dive right in!
1. Texas Tech University’s Anson L. Clark Scholars Program | Acceptance rate: < 3%
Once selected for this 6-week program, you will join a small cohort of 12 high-achieving students to conduct research across a wide array of fields and receive 1:1 mentorship and guidance from some of the top scholars in the country. You will also attend discussions, seminars, and field visits as part of your curriculum.
This program recreates an intensive college application experience, taking into account the applicant’s test scores, grades and activity list. To give you an idea of just how competitive the pool is, selected students usually have SAT scores in the 99th percentile!
This program provides a stipend of $750.
Location: Texas Tech University (Lubbock, TX)
Application deadline: February13, 2023 (tentative)
Program dates: June 18 - August 3, 2023 (tentative)
Eligibility: Applicants must be at least 17 years of age by the program start date, and should graduate in 2023 or 2024 (U.S. and International)
2. The Rockefeller University’s Summer Science Research Program | Acceptance rate: <3%
Once selected for this program, you will spend about 35 hours per week for 6-7 weeks at the RockEDU Laboratory at Rockefeller University working on hands-on research in the field of biomedicine. The learning opportunity is excellent since Rockefeller is the oldest biomedical research institute in the United States and attracts top talent for research. This program provides need-based stipends.
Location: The Rockefeller University, New York
Application deadline: January 6, 2023 (tentative)
Program dates: June 26 – August 10, 2023 (tentative)
Eligibility: Juniors and Seniors currently in high school, should be at least 17 years of age.
3. Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program (SIMR) | Acceptance Rate: <3%
This 8-week program is hosted on the Stanford Campus. True to its name, this program provides extensive research opportunities across various medical disciplines for all its participants, ranging from immunology and neurobiology to cancer biology.
If selected, you will be assigned a particular field of study (branch) based on your preference and spend two months as a mentee. You will be mentored by eminent scholars, researchers, and Ph.D. fellows in the field of medicine.
Each branch has a slightly different internship structure to help you get the best exposure to that branch, so be sure to read through the internship structures carefully.
This program will keep you challenged and give you an immersive learning experience into the nuances of research work such as ethics, methodology, collection and analysis of scientific data, etc. The program provides a $500 stipend.
Location: MIT Campus
Application deadline: December 16, 2023 (tentative)
Program dates: June 13 - August 4, 2023 (tentative)
Eligibility: Open to juniors and seniors residing in the US with a permanent American residency
4. MIT’s Research Science Institute (RSI) | Acceptance Rate: <5%
If you get into this program, you have a very good chance of getting accepted to MIT as a freshman. RSI invites 80 of the brightest students from different countries to participate in a 6-week, fully funded research program, where you conduct independent research in STEM subjects, and engage in college-level course work. To make the most of this program, you are expected to keep yourself abreast of the latest literature in the field of your interest, design a research plan from scratch, and work on oral and written presentations of your findings, all under the guidance of the brightest scholars in the world.
Location: MIT Campus
Cost: Free of cost, stipend provided
Application deadline: January 15, 2023, for US citizens, and March 15 for International Students
Program dates: June 26 to August 6, 2023 (tentative)
Eligibility: All high school juniors can apply
5. Harvard-MIT’s Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP) | Acceptance Rate: <5%
A program that offers the best of Harvard and MIT's mentorship and research opportunities, the SRMP is open to all high school students with a passion for research to conduct independent research programs in the fields of astrophysics and climate science. The selection is highly competitive with only 10-15 students forming the final cohort.
The program offers all the resources you may need to carry out sound research, such as a laptop. You are split into 5-6 research groups, and expected to attend weekly discussion sessions, meetings, and guest lectures. At the end of your program, you will present a cumulation of your research efforts at the annual Harvard symposium.
Location: Harvard or MIT
Cost: Free; stipend paid by City of Cambridge
Application deadline: May 2023 (tentative)
Program dates: September - May 2023 (tentative)
Eligibility: Local High-school sophomores, juniors, and seniors (both international and US citizens).
6. Spark’s Summer Internship Program (Spark SIP) | Acceptance rate: < 5%
A program open to all high schoolers interested in computer science and related disciplines, the Spark SIP program allows students to immerse themselves in research opportunities in the field, interact and learn from scholars and leaders, and gain real-world experience through a full-time summer internship program. This program provides a $500 stipend.
Location: Greater Seattle Area
Application deadline: May 1, 2023 (based on past year's dates)
Program dates: 8 weeks, June to August
Eligibility: High school students who can work for 40 hours/week, for 8-12 weeks
7. Telluride Association's Summer Seminar | Acceptance rate: 3% to 5%
TASS is one of the country’s most selective summer programs for high schoolers, with a 6-week schedule focused on creative thinking problem-solving, community building, and academic enrichment. As a TASS participant, you will attend lectures, discussion sessions, team-building activities, and work on group projects with your fellow participants. The program expects you to dedicate 3 hours of college-level classes a day, and also exposes you to activities such as planning community service projects, and spending from a fixed program budget for the same.
Location: University of Maryland, Cornell University, and University of Michigan
Cost: Free of cost
Application Deadline: January 4, 2023
Program Dates: June 25-August 5, 2023
Eligibility: Open to all high school sophomores and juniors. TASS also encourages applications from students of color and underrepresented ethnic groups to help promote diversity and support underrepresented communities in each year’s cohort.
*The acceptance statistics are not available and vary from state to state, but you can expect it to be between 3-6%
The American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary support young leaders from around the country for Boys and Girls State. The summer programs are aimed at fostering leadership and community-building skills. The program is highly coveted, with a very rigorous selection process that shortlists about 40,000 boys and girls annually.
If you are selected for Boys/Girls Nationals, you will travel to Washington DC to engage with young leaders from across the U.S. As part of the program, you are divided into two parties, and expected to participate in subsequent program elections, propose bills, carry out motions, and familiarize yourself with basic governmental procedures. If you’re looking to pursue a degree in Political Science, Law, Public, Policy, etc., then this program should be on your radar!
Note: Putting this program on your resume is just as prestigious as earning the distinction of an Eagle Scout!
Cost: 10 scholarships of $20,000 scholarships and 88 scholarships of $1,000 are offered
Application deadline: Varies from state to state
Program dates: Varies from state to state
Eligibility: Open to juniors and seniors residing in the US with a permanent American residency
9. Boston University's Research in Science & Engineering (RISE) | Acceptance Rate: cannot be determined
RISE is a 6-week non-credit program for academically-motivated rising seniors who are interested in scientific research. There are 2 RISE tracks available to students: Internship and Practicum. The RISE Internship track gives students the opportunity to conduct research projects with faculty mentors. Internship students will conduct research for 40 hours per week under the guidance of a faculty member, postdoctoral fellow, or graduate student mentor and will perform research in their chosen discipline to acquire valuable technical and analytical skills. The RISE Practicum track gives students the opportunity to conduct group research in computational neurobiology. Practicum students conduct collaborative research in a university setting under the guidance of a Boston University instructor.
Location: Boston University Campus: Boston, MA
Cost: $8,558 (residential); $5,570 (commuter)
Application Deadline: February 14, 2023
Program Dates: July 2-August 11
Eligibility: Rising seniors
10. High School Scientific Training and Enrichment Program (HiSTEP) | Acceptance rate: <10%
If you are passionate about biomedicine and healthcare, HiSTEP should be on your radar. You will explore multiple streams of research, and complete workshops, lectures, and hands-on activities - earning a $2150 stipend at the end of this 5-week program.
Location: National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, MD
Application deadline: February 01 (tentative)
Program dates: June 12 to August 4 (tentative)
Eligibility: High school seniors are eligible to apply
Other great programs that we looked at but did not make it to the list (but are still highly selective and prestigious!) include Ross Mathematics Program, Beaver Works Summer Institute, Simons Summer Research Program by Stony Brook University, Pomona College Academy for Youth Success (PAYS) and Cornell's Summer College, to name a few.
One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you are looking to start your own research journey with 1-1 mentorship from a top PhD, check out the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. You can find the application form here.
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.