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Northwestern University’s Summer Programs You Should Check Out

Summer courses hosted by colleges and universities can be exciting opportunities, whether you’re looking to “try out” being a student at your dream school, study with university professors, try out coursework in your potential major or even get a headstart on college by earning course credits.

While you might be certain you want to take up a pre-college course over the summer, it can be hard to decide which one to choose.

There are multiple summer programs offered by universities across the country, and in this blog, we’ll be covering summer programs offered at Northwestern University.

What are Northwestern's Summer Programs?

Northwestern offers a diverse array of pre-college programs that can allow you to pursue all of these goals. But before you apply, it’s essential to know if their offerings will meet your needs — depending on the course topics, program length, costs, and prestige.

In this article, we’ll cover a range of opportunities available at Northwestern offered to high schoolers during the summer, including their eligibility, costs, and overall structure.

Northwestern University has two broad pre-college summer programs to choose from: College Prep, a paid program that gives you the option to earn college credit or take a two-week college-level seminar covering multiple subjects, and College Bridge, a fairly competitive, free program that only admits 25 students from Chicago Public Schools every year.

These programs are mostly held on campus for both residential and commuter students. Both College Prep and College Bride have online offerings for students unable to make it to campus or who prefer virtual study.

We’ve gone into the details of both programs in this article and answered a few key questions that might help you decide if Northwestern pre-college programs are right for you, and which course might suit you best.

How do you pick the right summer program in high school?

When you start planning how you’ll spend your summer, there’s a certain amount of goal-setting you’ll need to do in order to get the most out of your time, energy, and efforts. So, here are a few questions that might get you thinking along those lines, and help you narrow down your choice.

  1. Are you looking to earn college credit? If you’re fairly certain about the subjects you’ll be choosing in college, you might want to make a little headway and take a few courses while still in high school that earn you college credit.

  2. Do you want to experience life on a college campus? Or more specifically, on the Northwestern University campus? If you’ve been wondering what the college experience feels like, a residential course would give you a taste of campus life — you’ll live in Northwestern dorms.

  3. Do you know which fields interest you, that you might want to pursue in the future? If you do have a fair idea, then you could dive deeper into your fields of interest by taking a specific, focused course that builds your knowledge and skill in those subjects. Not only that, you could earn credit for the course you take, which you can use when you’re pursuing that field in college.

  4. Do you wish to take certain college-level courses and experiment with subjects before applying to college? Let’s say you have a broad idea of what you might want to pursue in college, but aren’t ready to commit yet. A smart way to learn a little more about the subjects you might be considering is by taking a college-level course that gives you solid insights and helps you make decisions about your future academics. Or even if you’re more than a little unsure, you could choose to do a program with a pre-decided set of topics, thus getting a glimpse into a variety of fields over the summer.

  5. How much of your summer do you want to commit to a pre-college program? If there’s a lot on your plate during the school year, and you’re committed to doing a bunch of things over the summer too, you might want to consider taking a shorter course. If your goal over the summer is to augment your academic path, then you might take a longer course that offers a deeper dive into your chosen subjects.

  6. Are there cost-based constraints? Programs under College Prep have significant tuition and fees. While College Bridge has no tuition cost, its admissions process is highly competitive. So, cost is a factor you should discuss with your guardians and guidance counselor before deciding on a program.

Once you’ve got most of the answers to these questions, and a brief idea of your academic goals over the summer, you can take a look at the program breakdowns for the two pre-college summer programs available at Northwestern.

Program #1: College Prep

The College Prep program at Northwestern is open to rising high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. College Prep offers two paths of study — all students are eligible to participate in a two-week interdisciplinary seminar covering subjects such as engineering psychology, quantum mechanics, and ethics. Once you’re a rising junior or senior, you’ll also have the option to enroll in one or more college-level courses for credit.

All the options under the College Prep program are paid, and we’ve detailed the different costs in each section below.

The application deadline for this program is typically in early April.

Who can apply?

Students aged 14-17 (15-17 for Credit Courses), with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale can apply. Students applying must complete their freshmen, sophomore, or junior year by the time the program commences.

Do look through the admission requirements before applying. Here are a few basic requirements:

  • Personal statement

  • List of extracurricular activities

  • High school transcripts

Credit Courses:

For rising juniors and seniors who want to get ahead on college requirements, Northwestern’s summer for-credit courses may be the best fit for you.

The range of subjects to choose from is wide – programs cover fields spanning social sciences, humanities, and STEM — with offerings including anthropology, psychology, political science, foreign language, media, and statistics.

Though both residential and commuter students are eligible to enroll in for-credit courses, there are more structured requirements for residential students.

Let’s break down the differences in requirements:

Northwestern’s Pre-College programs run for either three or six weeks, depending on the program. If you’re a residential student, you’ll be required to take a minimum of two courses — note that if you attend the six-week session, all courses you enroll in must run for five or six weeks.

Commuter students have the freedom to select classes at their convenience and are not bound by minimum enrollment requirements.

Another option you can consider, if experiencing campus life isn’t what you’re looking for, is enrolling in online for-credit courses. The majority of subjects are offered both in-person and virtually, and virtual offerings come with a lesser cost attached to them.

Each credit course is worth one credit unit unless otherwise specified. One credit unit is typically equivalent to four quarter hours or two and two-thirds semester credit hours at other colleges. This information may be useful when you are an undergraduate student looking to transfer your Northwestern college credit unit(s) toward your undergraduate degree.

Costs and schedule:

Online | Tuition $5199 per class (incl. $1000 non-refundable deposit) | 3-10 weeks, depending on the classes you select

Commuter | Tuition $5,199 per class + $900 program fee (incl. $1,000 non-refundable deposit) | 3-10 weeks, depending on the classes you select

Residential | Tuition $10,398 (2 classes) + $900 program fee + $3100 6 weeks housing cost (incl. $1000 non-refundable deposit) | 3 or 6 weeks

Northwestern does offer certain tuition scholarships and application fee waivers. Make sure you apply before the deadline to be eligible for either.

The dates for the program will vary with the classes you choose to take but typically fall sometime from mid-June to mid-August.

IN FOCUS Seminars:

While taking a credit course gives you complete freedom over the topics you study during the summer, you might be more inclined to attend a program with a pre-established interdisciplinary set of subjects you’ll engage with. The IN FOCUS seminars are two-week certificate seminars held on campus and are structured like a college seminar course. You can opt to live on campus during the seminar, choosing the residential option, or you can choose to commute to campus. These seminars are open to rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

You’ll study and engage with top faculty at Northwestern during these discussion and reading-based seminars. Once you successfully complete your seminar you’ll receive an official Northwestern University transcript.

You’ll get to choose from four different seminars held in separate sessions over the summer, each with a different subject range. To give you a sense of what to expect, let’s look at the most recent course offerings.

Schedule and subjects:

Session 1: June 19-30, 2023

Subjects in this session include ethics, aerospace engineering, the study of democracy, quantum mechanics, and public speaking.

Session 2: July 3-14, 2023

Subjects in this session include bioethical decision making, feminism through art, culture and politics, psychology and an introduction to medicine.

Session 3: July 17-28, 2023 Subjects in this session include college writing, game theory, forensic chemistry, biomedical engineering, and a chapter on ethics.

Session 4: July 31, 2023 - August 11, 2023

Subjects in this session include anthropology, an introduction to law, and mechatronics and electromechanical design.


Commuter | Tuition $2500 (incl. $1000 non-refundable deposit) + $600 program fee | 2 weeks Residential | Tuition $2500 (incl. $1000 non-refundable deposit) + $600 program fee + $1200 housing cost | 2 weeks

Northwestern does offer certain tuition scholarships and application fee waivers. Make sure you apply before the deadline to be eligible for either.

If what you’re looking for in your pre-college summer program are insights into some subjects that you could see yourself majoring in, then these seminars might be a good choice for you.

e-FOCUS Seminars:

e-Focus Seminars are the virtual equivalent of the IN FOCUS program. These engaging and interactive courses are two weeks long and share the undergraduate seminar structure. After completing your virtual coursework, you’ll receive an official Northwestern University transcript and certificate.

The e-FOCUS seminars are hosted over two sessions.

Schedule and subjects:

July 17-28, 2023 (for both sessions)

Session 1 subjects include communication, politics and action, and a study of infectious diseases.

Session 2 subjects include practical applications of math, information literacy, and an introduction to business and leadership.


Virtual | Tuition $1850 (incl. $900 non-refundable deposit) | 2 weeks

Northwestern does offer certain tuition scholarships and application fee waivers. Make sure you apply before the deadline to be eligible for either.

If you don’t feel the need to be on campus right away but still want to get a glimpse of college-level academics, choosing an e-FOCUS seminar might be a good place to start.

Both the IN FOCUS and e-FOCUS seminars include access to Northwestern University’s Wildcat Connect: Get Ready Series. This can add a co-curricular component to your schedule outside of the classroom, with interactive workshops that will prepare you for college and integrate you into the Wildcat community at the university. This community-building resource gives you access to certain sports facilities and provides a platform for you to start creating your network.

Please note: You can only take part in one College Prep program — you’re ineligible for participating in both Credit Courses and FOCUS courses, as well as enrolling in both an in-person and virtual offering.

Program #2: College Bridge

Interested in seeing what else Northwestern has to offer? Let’s take a look at Northwestern’s other pre-college summer program, College Bridge. This program is open to high school juniors from Chicago public schools only. The College Bridge program, in partnership with Chicago Public Schools, accepts only 25 students every year. There is no tuition or textbook costs.

In this program, you will enroll in one undergraduate course as part of the Northwestern Summer Session and earn college credit if you complete it satisfactorily. Courses vary from three to ten weeks in length and are offered online or on campus. The dates for your program will vary based on the course you select.

By taking college courses with Northwestern undergraduates, you'll have the opportunity to experience academic and social life on campus or online. These courses are structured exactly like college-level courses, in terms of study, discourse, and how you’ll learn. You’ll collaborate with your peers and interact with top Northwestern faculty – a well-rounded college learning experience.

The application deadline for this program is typically in early April.

Who can apply?

Current high school juniors enrolled in Chicago Public Schools, with a cumulative GPA of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale can apply.

Do look through the admission requirements before applying. Here are a few basic requirements:

  • Personal statement

  • List of extracurricular activities

  • Official High School Transcript

After going through these programs in detail, you might have a fair idea of what each entails, what works for you and what doesn’t, and what might be the best option suited to your goals. Here’s our opinion, which could hopefully help you fortify your decision.

Pros, Cons & Final Thoughts:

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you want to make the most out of your summer by learning new skills, honing the ones you have, deepening your knowledge, and strengthening your college application.

Admitting only 25 students a year, the College Bridge program is highly selective. And, keep in mind that only juniors at Chicago public schools may apply.

So, while it is a strong and rewarding program, restricted eligibility and competitive admissions mean it might not be for you. If you do meet admissions criteria, College Bridge is an incredible opportunity to study an undergraduate course of your choosing alongside current students with fully-funded attendance. If you’re a Chicago-area student hoping to attend Northwestern — or another top college — but find most Pre-College programs financially inaccessible, College Bridge is a strong option you should consider.

As for the College Prep program’s Credit Courses – if cost is not a major factor for you, and you have fairly developed academic interests, you could take up a college-level course under this program, and earn credit while you’re at it! We would suggest taking a credit course only if you’re fairly certain about the path your future academics will take, or if they meet typical gen-ed or course distribution requirements.

Now, if you’re hoping to delve into interdisciplinary work over the summer, you should consider taking one of the FOCUS seminars. If you want to learn about a new subject, learn a few new skills, and augment your college application, these seminars offer a chance to do all of the above – with several different sets of subjects to choose from.

If experiencing campus life is not a priority or a possibility for you this summer, consider opting for an online option. This way, you get to experience college-level coursework — and save a little money!

A few other summer programs at Northwestern University you could consider:

Leadership Certificate Program

This program is focused on helping you hone your leadership, business management, and strategy skills. You will be required to take four courses on topics such as decision-making, team leadership, leadership principles, organizational change, and so on. You can choose to do this program in person or online. You will receive a certificate for successfully completing the program.

Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute

This is an in-depth, 5-week program for rising seniors who want to work on their writing and editorial skills for print, online, and broadcast. The program accepts 84 students every year.

Civic Leadership Institute

This three-week in-person program is an opportunity for you to explore current social and political issues through service-learning experiences, exchanges with community leaders, and academic study.

Programs at the National High School Institute (NHSI)

NHSI has five divisions: Debate, Speech, Film and Video Production, and Theater Arts, each with its own summer program. In this program, you will gain practical college-level experience in your chosen field; interact closely with faculty; tackle new social and intellectual challenges; and experience campus life with other exceptional high school students.

One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are passionate about research, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program 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: Northwestern University's logo

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