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Is It Worth Applying to UNC's Summer School as a High School Student

A summer program is a great way for you to transform a few weeks in the summer into a life-changing academic experience. Programs like UNC Chapel Hill's Summer School not only ignite intellectual curiosity but offer opportunities for you to prove your talents and add achievements to your profile. Armed with grades and letters of recommendation from these programs, even your college applications can be enhanced. In this blog, we’ll dive into the program, its format, and the pros and cons to help you determine whether it is the right fit for you.

How is the UNC Summer School structured?

The UNC Summer School is a comprehensive summer program that allows high schoolers, undergraduates, and graduate students to get a head start on their academics by taking on summer courses. For high schoolers, you will get the opportunity to step in the shoes of a college student and take high-level lessons while learning about life at university.

UNC Summer School typically offers two main sessions. You can either choose the Maymester, an intensive session that compresses all learning into three weeks, or one of the summer sessions, each spanning five and a half weeks. In-person and online formats are available, although this can vary with each course. This program is a great opportunity for you to engage in an immersive program that combines theory with hands-on experience through lab work and the like. The program even offers transferable credit!

Here are some important dates you need to keep in mind:

  • Applications open: February 1, 2024 (Decisions are sent out in early March)

  • Maymester: May 15, 2024 – May 31, 2024

  • First session: May 15, 2024 – June 22, 2024

  • Second session: June 24, 2024 – July 30, 2024

What is the curriculum like?

The program has a large offering of courses that range from STEM subjects to those in the humanities, the roster tackles pretty much every major field including physics, chemistry, data science, neuroscience, business, law, film, philosophy, and more. This means that whatever your field of interest is, UNC Summer School is likely to offer a course on it. As a high school student, you can register for a maximum of 4 credit hours per session.   

Is the program prestigious?

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a highly respected institution and among the top public universities in the country — its summer school program is no exception. The program is well-regarded for its academic rigor, faculty expertise, and opportunities for students to engage with peers from around the world. Its prestige also stems from the fact that the program awards transferable credit to its students, which can be a significant addition to your academic profile.

Who can apply?

To apply for UNC Summer School, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Be an honor roll student who has completed junior year of high school or a high school graduate.

  • Meet a minimum grade level (if the specific course requires it).

  • You take up a class that is not offered by your own high school.

  • International students are not allowed.

In addition to the online application, you will need:

  • An up-to-date transcript

  • A personal statement

  • A letter of recommendation from a teacher/counselor

  • A statement that you will be living with parents or legal guardians through the course of the program (this is only for those who are 16 years old or younger)


How much does UNC Summer School cost?

The tuition fee for UNC Summer School is as follows:

Residents of North Carolina: $367.46 per credit hour

Non-residents of North Carolina: $1,631.67 per credit hour

High school students can register for up to four credit hours per session. These rates may change based on the academic program, you can go through a full list here. The program does not offer financial aid for high school students.  

What are the pros and cons of the program?  


  • Engage in advanced academics: The high level of academics offered by the summer school exposes you to university education, enhancing your knowledge at an early age. It also fosters curiosity and a better understanding of complex subjects, which is a valuable asset for your future college life.

  • Get a taste of college life: As a high school student attending this summer program, the experience of college life will be a key takeaway. At an early age, you will know what it’s like to be an undergraduate student taking lessons from experienced faculty at a prestigious university.

  • Flexible format options: By offering in-person and remote course options, the UNC Summer School allows you to take part in a pre-college program regardless of your geographical limitations.

  • Wide range of courses: Since the UNC Summer School offers a diverse curriculum with many STEM and humanities courses, you will likely find a course that aligns with your specific academic goals and allows you to study your field of interest in depth.

  • Earn college credit: Earning credit at an early stage proves your ability to handle university-level work and will strengthen your college applications. It also offers a significant head start to your higher education journey in general.

  • Prestige: As mentioned before, UNC Chapel Hill is a prestigious and well-respected higher education institution. Having the university’s summer program on your profile could make college administrators look more favorably on you.



  • It is competitive: Since the UNC Summer School is also open to both undergraduate and graduate students, it can be quite difficult for high schoolers to get accepted. In comparison, summer programs specifically meant for high school students could be a more attractive option.

  • It can be challenging: Since this program is also meant for undergraduate and graduate students, you cannot expect a curriculum tailored to high schoolers. For some, engaging in such advanced academics could be too challenging.

  • No financial aid: The UNC Summer School program has a high cost and offers no scholarships or financial aid to help ease the financial burden. This kind of investment isn’t feasible for everyone and you might want to consider other programs, which offer more financial aid along with similar levels of academic rigor.

  • Limited credit hours: While the program offers a large variety of courses, high school students are ultimately limited to taking up a maximum of 4 credit hours. Compared to other summer programs, this is a reduced amount of time spent in lessons.  


What do we think of UNC Summer School?  

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Summer School can be a highly rewarding experience for high school students who wish to take part in university-level lessons and experience life on a college campus. The program offers an enriching academic environment which would be most fruitful in the fields where UNC has established its excellence — such as public health, business, law, medicine, journalism, and biology, all of which are popular majors at the university. If you’re interested in one of these fields and are looking to get a taste of college life, then the UNC Summer School could be an ideal program for you.

However, the program’s high cost, lack of financial aid, and competitiveness can be a considerable deterrent. Particularly with other summer programs out there that are specifically for high school students, you can find an option that matches your interests while also offering scholarships and aid. Ultimately, you need to consider your goals and resources and pick the program that meets both criteria.  


Another option — Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re interested in doing a research project in various subject areas, 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: UNC Summer School


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