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Harvard Summer School: Our Review

Harvard University offers high school students an opportunity to glimpse into the college experience at a prestigious and academically rigorous institution through Harvard Summer School. With reputed and accomplished faculty teaching the courses and access to the well-known campus’s library and resources, it is an opportunity to explore interests, meet new people, and challenge yourself. Harvard’s summer school offers two programs to high school students – the pre-college program and the Secondary School Program.

How are the Harvard Summer School Programs Structured?

The pre-college program is a two-week intensive program.

  • The courses that can be taken are non-credit courses, i.e. you don’t receive credit so they cannot fulfill any credit requirements you may have in college.

  • The program runs in three sessions.

- Session one runs from June 25th through July 7th

- Session two runs from July 9th through 21st

- Session three runs from July 23rd to August 4th.

  • This program runs exclusively on campus. Class sizes are usually topped off at around 15 students.

The Secondary School Program (SSP), on the other hand, runs for seven weeks.

  • It offers college credit, i.e. on completion you do receive a credit that you can transfer to fulfill credit requirements at whatever university you attend.

  • The program runs from June 17th to August 5th.

  • You can choose to attend SSP either in person (living on campus), commuting (if you live close by), or online.

  • You can choose from over 200 courses and will earn up to 8 credit hours.

Both programs are fairly academically rigorous. But the programs are also structured to allow for social events and cocurricular activities that allow you to connect with your peers.

Who is eligible for its programs?

The pre-college program is open to rising juniors and seniors in high school. The Secondary School Program is open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors in high school – but you have to be at least 16 years old/turning 16 by July of the year you are applying.

How much do they cost?

The pre-college program costs $5,300, in addition to a $75 application fee.

The Secondary School Program can be between $3,600 – $13,750 depending on which of its modes (i.e. remote, online, or commuting) you choose. This also has a $75 application fee.

You can apply for financial aid if you’re a US resident/citizen.

What is the acceptance rate? Is it prestigious?

While there is no official information regarding the acceptance rate of Harvard’s summer offerings for high schoolers, you can safely assume that the program is fairly welcoming and not that prestigious. Participants need to pay a hefty amount to participate, and thus the program’s prestige is lower than fully-funded research opportunities or paid summer internships. You should note that if you are looking for a pre-college program that is prestigious, you may want to apply to research fellowships, fully-funded immersion programs, or government-funded mentorship programs.

How does the application process work?

You can find all the important application dates for the pre-college program here and the Secondary School Program here.

To apply, you would have to submit your transcripts from 9th grade through the Fall of the previous year’s grades, as well as a counselor’s report. This is true for both programs. There may be short essay sections as well.

Note that if you are not a native English speaker, you must also submit a TOEFL or IELTS score. This is also true for both programs.

For the secondary school program, note that you can supplement your application with a writing sample and an interview from InitialView.

Will going to Harvard Summer School help me get into Harvard?

While Harvard Summer School’s programs are academically rigorous, doing the program is not a guarantee that you will get into Harvard. In fact, you can find this information mentioned on the program website - while participating in the Harvard SSP or pre-college program may strengthen your profile, it does not guarantee a definite acceptance to the university.

Pros (SSP and the Pre-college Program)

1. Exposure to different fields: The pre-college program offers over 100 courses and the Secondary School Program offers more than 200 courses. Some courses in the pre-college program include The Transition to Capitalism in the United States of America and an Introduction to Relativity: from Cosmic rays to Black Holes, and some in the Secondary School Program range from Character Design in Animation and Games to Game theory and Strategic Decisions. These vast numbers of options and the programs’ commitment to quality curriculum can make for a unique opportunity to learn and explore new interests in an intellectually stimulating environment.

2. Access to highly qualified faculty and Harvard’s resources: Another pro that is exclusive to the Harvard Summer School is that participants get to learn from faculty who are highly qualified in their field, in addition to having access to all of the campus’s resources. While the faculty rotate from year to year, some faculty have included Ezra Klein – the cofounder and editor-at-large of Vox, Michael Sandel– professor of philosophy and law who taught Justice in the pre-college program, and Diane Ravitch – educational historian and former U.S. assistant secretary of education.

3. Connect with a diverse group of peers: The programs present the chance to connect and form bonds with a group of people with very diverse interests and backgrounds. With participants from various locations around the United States and the world, it is an opportunity to expose yourself to new world-views and form friendships.

4. Enhance your college applications: Attending Harvard Summer School can demonstrate your commitment to academic excellence, showcases your willingness to challenge yourself, and highlights your ability to thrive in a competitive academic environment.

Another Pro to the SSP!

College credit and academic advancement (the Secondary School Program): Completing credit-bearing courses can provide a head start in your academic journey, allowing you to fulfill prerequisites, explore advanced topics, or even accelerate your degree progress when you go to university. Getting transferable credits is an extremely valuable opportunity, and getting transferable credits from Harvard is all the more so. You can get transferable credits through the Secondary School Program – not the pre-college program.

Cons (SSP and the Pre-college Program)

1. Inaccessibility for International Students: If you live outside the United States and are not an American Citizen, then attending the program might pose some challenges since Harvard does not support the visa application process for the Summer School. You would have to independently apply for the Tourist Visa, instead of a student one.

2. Costs and prestige: The associated costs of attending Harvard Summer School can bring down the prestige normally associated with such programs – since typically, admissions officers favor programs that pay you to participate, not vice versa. If the selectivity and prestige of a program is something you care about – especially in your college application – then it is important to be aware of this.

3. No guarantees: Participating in this program is in no way any kind of guarantee of college admission. This doesn’t mean it is futile – ultimately if you can utilize this experience to definitively demonstrate what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown from it, it will be productive for your application.

Should you do it? – Our Review

The Harvard Summer School is an interesting opportunity to learn and connect with your peers. But should you do it? On the one hand, it is an amazing opportunity to get exposure to different fields. The sheer number and diversity of courses available for both programs are astounding, and it’s also a unique chance to learn from highly qualified faculty who are pros in their field. At the very least, participating in the camp can supplement your learning journey, and demonstrate your commitment to your education.

Furthermore, there is a plus side to staying on the well-known campus. You get to experience access to Harvard University’s resources – which can broaden your horizons in terms of how you use the resources available to you in university, as well as your passions and interests. The programs also offer a chance to connect and interact with a very vast and diverse crowd of peers, which can expose you to new worldviews, new friendships, and a host of other ideas. It can facilitate a collaborative learning experience.

On the other hand, there can be some cons to the experience as well. If you aren’t an American Citizen or U.S. Resident – Harvard doesn’t support your visa application process, which is something you’ll have to handle by yourself. Secondly, the associated costs with attending Summer School can bring down the prestige normally associated with such programs. Lastly, there’s also the fact that ultimately this experience doesn’t necessarily benefit your college application process and your pursuit of higher studies unless you can definitively demonstrate what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown from the experience.

In conclusion, there are a lot of potential benefits to Harvard Summer School – even though there are some cons as well. On the question of whether you should do it, it ultimately boils down to your position in accessing it, and whether you’ll be able to share your experience and find valuable insights from it. If you’re looking for smaller learning environments and the experience of campus lifethe pre-college program might be a good fit. If you’re looking to focus more heavily on the academic side of things, then the secondary school program might be a good fit.

We've also covered a host of other opportunities at Harvard for high school students - read about them here!

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


  • $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. 

If you are interested in doing university-level research, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 2100 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: Harvard University logo


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