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Carleton Summer Liberal Arts Institute (SLAI) - Is It Worth the Hype?

If you’re a high schooler interested in liberal arts and humanities, considering a summer institute can be a significant boost for your college application! Pre-college programs like the Carleton Summer Liberal Arts Institute (SLAI) provide a solid experience that not only strengthens your academic profile but also gives you a taste of college life. In today’s blog, we’ll focus on what SLAI is all about, its application process, and whether you should consider participating in it.

We have also covered other humanities pre-college and summer programs in our previous blogs!

What is SLAI All About?

The Carleton Summer Liberal Arts Institute (SLAI) is a three-week pre-college program hosted over the summer, offering a variety of courses meant to cultivate intellectual curiosity and academic rigor among high schoolers. At SLAI, you can expect to take a course in one of such diverse fields as data science, neuroscience, humanities, and storytelling. SLAI provides opportunities for motivated students to excel in subjects they are passionate about by offering advanced learning experiences through interactive classes, hands-on projects, and close mentorship from Carleton faculty.

How is SLAI structured?

SLAI takes place from July 6 to July 26, and you will have to opt for one of the six available courses if selected for the program. Here’s a detailed look at each course:

  • Building Connections in STEM: This course is designed for students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It involves rigorous hands-on lab work, research projects, and interactive lectures. You will get to explore current, real-world STEM challenges and innovations, engage in experiments, and present your findings in the final symposium at the end of the program. The course covers topics such as robotics, environmental science, and biotechnology

  • Seeking Computational Solutions: Good for those keen on coding and software development, this course introduces students to various programming languages such as Python and Java. You will develop algorithms, create software applications, and work on projects involving data structures and artificial intelligence. The program includes daily coding sessions, guest lectures from industry professionals, and even the option to pursue research of your choice. The course approaches programming from a liberal arts perspective, encouraging you to explore computational solutions in two broad areas: where computers need to perceive something about their environment, or where computers need to respond to a complex scenario.

  • Fundamentals of Neuroscience: This course focuses on the study of the brain and nervous system. You will participate in lab experiments, anatomical studies, and theoretical studies on neural functions and disorders. Topics include neuroanatomy, neural signaling, and cognitive processes. The program emphasizes hands-on learning, and you will be conducting experiments using advanced neuroimaging techniques and analyzing data. You will also participate in discussions on contemporary issues in neuroscience, such as neuroethics and the treatment of neurological diseases.

  • Humanities: For students passionate about literature, history, and philosophy, this course involves a lot of reading and analyzing of both classical and contemporary texts. You will learn to use research, interpretation, and presentation techniques by engaging in discussions, writing analytical essays, and conducting independent research projects. You will also have access to Carleton’s extensive library resources and receive personalized guidance from faculty mentors, empowering you to elevate your critical thinking and writing skills to new heights.

  • Reimagining Society: Aimed at those interested in social sciences, this course explores societal structures, social justice issues, and civic engagement. You will study various sociological theories, participate in community-based projects, and develop strategies for social change. The program includes guest lectures from activists and policymakers, workshops on advocacy and public speaking, and opportunities to present research. This course is designed to be a great opportunity to learn about the dynamics of society, inequality, and social movements.

  • Storytelling Through Different Lenses: This course targets budding writers. Here you will learn about storytelling techniques, write your own narratives, and receive feedback from peers and mentors. The course approaches storytelling from three lenses — cognitive psychology, American studies, and film music. The curriculum includes workshops on storytelling through different media and the interpretation of experiences into coherent narratives.

Each course is led by experienced Carleton faculty, ensuring high-quality instruction and mentorship. You can expect to spend your day in a mix of at least 4-6 hours of lectures, workshops, and project work. Each course ends with a symposium where you’ll present what you’ve learned over the course of the program. The program also includes plenty of extracurricular activities such as field trips, guest lectures, and social events. 

Is the program prestigious?

SLAI is a selective program that requires recommendations and even portfolios for some of its programs. While it doesn’t offer a stipend, there are still plenty of learning opportunities available. The program offers in-depth lectures, as well as the opportunity to mingle with a strong network of peers and faculty. US News & World Report places Carleton’s faculty as the top-ranked in their Best Undergraduate Teaching list. Completing the program also awards you 6 Carleton college credits, which could give you a head start for college. Overall, we would rate this program as moderately prestigious, due to the richness of learning, solid industry exposure, and Carleton's reputation as a Liberal Arts College.

Who can apply?

To apply for SLAI, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a U.S. or international student, currently in grades 10 or 11.

  • Have a strong academic record.

  • Demonstrate a keen interest in the subject area of your chosen course.

How does the application process work?

Applying to SLAI requires the following:

  1. A completed online application form, requiring your basic information as well as short essay answers of 500 words or less.

  2. A copy of your most recent high school transcripts.

  3. International applicants will also need to provide TOEFL / IELTS / Duolingo / SAT / ACT scores to demonstrate English proficiency.

  4. Two letters of recommendation that speak to your academic abilities.

  5. A $75 application fee ($250 for international students).

  6. Program-specific documents, such as a writing sample or a portfolio. This may be required for some specific programs.

While applications for the 2024 program are currently closed, the following dates from the current program may be indicative of the 2025 iteration:

  • December 15, 2023 - Application opens

  • February 5, 2024 - 1st round application deadline

  • March 11, 2024 - 2nd (final) round application deadline

How much does SLAI cost?

The all-inclusive fee for SLAI is $4,500, covering all costs including housing, meals, and activities. There are need-based scholarships available for low and middle-income, DACA, first-generation, and underrepresented demographic groups.

What are the pros and cons of the program?


  1. In-depth education from top-ranked faculty: All the courses are taught by reputable Carleton faculty and the curriculum is designed to be highly immersive, comprehensive, and in-depth. Regardless of which course you choose, you’ll get plenty of exposure to real-world experiences taught by experts at one of the country’s leading institutions for the liberal arts.

  2. It is a solid opportunity to experience college life: You’ll be living on campus — meaning you get to use college facilities, socialize with like-minded faculty and peers, and overall get a good glimpse of college life.

  3. You will engage in a holistic learning experience: All of SLAI’s courses are taught from a unique, liberal arts perspective that positions you at a crossroads between STEM and humanities. This can provide you with a broader and more global perspective on the subject than you’d commonly find in other programs.


  1. It’s expensive and scholarships are need-based: $4,500 is quite pricey, even if it's inclusive of tuition, accommodation, and meals. While this is not strictly a con, you will have to decide if it’s something for you to consider.

  2. The program is residential only: While the program is open to international students, the residential requirement makes participation more difficult — especially compared to other similar programs that are offered virtually.

  3. The program offers limited prestige: Though the program offers a solid learning experience, it is not as prestigious as some other dedicated summer programs from more renowned universities.

What do we think of the Carleton Summer Liberal Arts Institute?

SLAI offers a unique opportunity to deepen your academic knowledge and gain a new perspective on the subjects of your choice. If integrating humanities with STEM disciplines is something that excites you, SLAI is definitely a program worth considering. While the program’s high cost and residential-only restriction might be problematic, it still provides many opportunities for learning and growth. Participating in SLAI will not only enrich your high school experience with valuable skills from top-notch faculty at a great liberal arts college but also unlock more opportunities for your college education.

Another option — Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re looking for the opportunity to do in-depth research on topics in the humanities or related subjects, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students I 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.

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: Carleton Summer Liberal Arts Institute logo


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