It is easy to find a terrific summer program for thousands of dollars. The trick is finding fun/meaningful opportunities for your kids that don’t cost a mint. Free programs are great not only because they are free (!) but they tend also to be much more impressive to colleges (because they tend to be selective). The catch is, the best free or low-cost opportunities are selective and most have deadlines starting now through maybe January.
My rule of thumb for what constitutes a good value is a sleepaway/residential program that is FREE or less than $750/week… so I have about 30 here that are FREE and then some that cost a few hundred dollars. The sheer volume of ideas here is daunting, so I apologize if any of these have deadlines that have passed or are not being offered this year. Please let me know what success you have with any of these and add any that I have missed into the comment box.
Culturalvistas.org — The American Youth Leadership Program with Singapore and Malaysia is a FREE international exchange experience for ages 15-17 supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The goal is to expose high school students and educators to U.S. – Singapore and U.S. – Malaysia relations through the lens of the effect of sustainable development on urban planning. A pre-departure orientation that prepares participants for a three-week experience in Singapore and Malaysia (June 28 – July 24, 2014) Post-program implementation of education and service projects which highlight the learning that took place during the program. Teachers can also apply to travel with the group.
nsliforyouth.org — The National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program was launched in 2006 to promote critical language learning among American youth. The U.S. Department of State, in cooperation with American Councils for International Education, awards merit-based scholarships to high school students for summer and academic year immersion programs in locations where the seven NSLI-Y languages are spoken. NSLI-Y immerses participants in the cultural life of the host country, giving them invaluable formal and informal language practice — Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Korean, Persian (Tajiki), Russian, and Turkish. Students ages 15-18 can apply for this FREE U.S. State Dept. program which is either a full summer or a school year overseas. Students do not need any previous language study. My daughter did this program in Chengdu, China… comment to me for more information.
Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program (RLASP) — American Councils’ longest-running FREE study abroad program provides intensive Russian-language immersion for US undergraduate and graduate students in Russia.
Critical Language Scholarship Program (CLS) — The CLS Program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand dramatically the number of Americans studying and mastering critical need foreign languages. Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) institutes provide fully-funded (FREE) group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences for seven to ten weeks for U.S. citizen undergraduate and graduate students.
Energy in Central Asia Program (ECAP) — A four-week Central Asian business culture studies program in Kazakhstan for undergraduate and graduate students as well as working professionals at all levels of Russian-language proficiency. FREE
Eurasian Regional Language Program (ERLP) — The American Councils Eurasian Regional Language program provides graduate students, advanced undergraduates, scholars, and working professionals with intensive individualized instruction in the languages of Eurasia. Participants may in enroll in semester, academic year, or summer programs. All courses are conducted by expert faculty from leading local universities and educational institutions. FREE
Youth Leadership Program with Azerbaijan (YLP) — Students, teachers, and community leaders can apply for the Youth Leadership Program with Azerbaijan (YLP). YLP is a FREE short-term cultural and educational exchange program, the Youth Leadership Program with Azerbaijan is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and administered by American Councils. The program focuses on expanding relationships between the people of the U.S. and Azerbaijan and aims at strengthening ties between the two countries.
American Youth Leadership Program with Cambodia — The American Youth Leadership Program (AYLP) with Cambodia is a FREE four-week cross-cultural exchange program that is open to American high school students and teachers (who will serve as program leaders and chaperones) Must be between 15 and 17, have at least one semester of high school remaining, and be US citizens.
Bronfman Youth Fellowship in Israel — The Bronfman Youth Fellowship offers a 5-week summer program in Israel that educates and inspires exceptional young Jews from diverse backgrounds to become active participants in Jewish culture throughout their lives, and to contribute their talents and vision to the Jewish community and to the world at large. High School Juniors from the United States and Canada who will be at least sixteen by July of 2012 are eligible for the FREE Fellowship.
CIEE South Korea — This FREE two-week program includes scheduled excursions, including a day visit to the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea, visits to ancient palaces, a home visit with a Korean family, a trip to the National Museum of Korea. Students must not have visited South Korea in recent years or had much exposure to Korean culture, customs, and/or daily life; be a U.S. citizen; be entering 10th, 11th, 12th grade or have just graduated from high school; have a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
STARTALK — FREE government sponsored day camps and residential sleep-away language camp programs across the United State where students ages 12-18 can learn Arabic, Chinese, Dari, Hindi, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Swahili, Turkish, and Urdu. The choices for 2014 won’t be available until late winter but it is worth visiting the web site to get a sense of the many options that existed in 2013 like this one, 2 weeks learning Russia on a college campus, for free, for grades 9-12. Teachers can also apply.
The Federal Service Language Academy is a great, low-cost idea for rising sophomores, juniors and seniors who want to pursue language studies and possibly a career in the foreign service. The program runs June 8-27 or July 6-25 for 2014. For twenty-one days, students are immersed in a foreign language and culture in an academic environment hosted by the University of North Georgia in partnership with the Georgia Department of Education. You live in a residence hall in the same vicinity as your fellow students who are learning the same language and are asked to communicate in your language as much as possible. For career exploration purposes, guest speakers from federal agencies like the US Department of State, FBI, CIA, Army or Homeland Security will present information on careers in their specialties. Students may also be awarded one high school unit of academic credit for successful achievement of first or second-year Arabic, Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, or Portuguese proficiency levels. The cost is $1895 for three weeks.
Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation Art Seminar — This prestigious two-week FREE seminar allows students to gain a stronger foundation of skills and understanding in the visual arts through experiencing college-level drawing and painting classes in a group setting. Open to high school juniors, transportation NOT included. At Colorado College.
The California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA) is a rigorous pre-professional training program in the visual and performing arts, creative writing, animation, and film for talented artists in grades 9 – 12. Its purpose is to provide a training ground for future artists who wish to pursue careers in the arts and entertainment industries in California. The California State Summer School for the Arts is a state agency funded through a unique public-private partnership. Students apply for the opportunity to study in one of the School’s seven departments. They may receive 3 units of California State University elective credit for successful participation. The cost is $1550 for 4 weeks, and students live in a dorm at Cal Arts.
High School Great Books Program at Thomas Aquinas College. Each summer for two weeks, high school students from around the country join members of the teaching faculty on the campus of Thomas Aquinas College for spirited conversation, engaging firsthand some of the best works of the past 2,500 years. They read and discuss works selected from the masters of the Western intellectual tradition, including Plato, Euclid, Sophocles, Shakespeare, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, and Boethius. In addition to daily sports, occasional movies, and hiking in the hills surrounding the campus, the program includes trips to the Getty Museum, a concert in Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara for volleyball on the beach and exploration of the historic city. Open to students who have completed three years of high school by summer 2014. Cost is $975 for tuition, housing, meals, books, and organized activities off campus.
Thomas Moore College in New Hampshire has a very similar Great Books summer residential program for $895 for two weeks.
Princeton Summer Journalism Program. SJP welcomes about 20 high school students from low-income backgrounds every summer to Princeton’s campus for a FREE intensive, 10-day seminar on journalism. Low-income high school juniors living in the continental US with at least a 3.5 GPA and an interest in journalism.
TASP A Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP) is a FREE six-week humanities and social sciences educational experience for high school juniors that offers challenges and rewards rarely encountered in secondary school or even college.
TASS A Telluride Association Sophomore Seminar (TASS) is a FREE six-week educational experience for high school sophomore that focuses African-American studies and related fields. High school sophomores from around the world.
Carleton College Liberal Arts Experience is a summer program designed for the best and brightest college-bound students representing high schools across the country. The Carleton Liberal Arts Experience (CLAE) will select 50 high school students who have just completed their sophomore year and bring them to Carleton for a FREE one-week summer program. The CLAE program introduces the strengths of a liberal arts education through an array of courses in science, art, social sciences, and technology. In addition, workshops are offered to assist participants with their high school and college careers.
Princeton University offers a Summer Journalism Program for low-income sophomores or juniors with at least a 3.5 GPA. Cost is FREE including travel.
Girls State & Boys State — American Legion Boys State and American Legion Auxiliary Girls State are the premier programs for teaching how government works while developing leadership skills & an appreciation for your rights as a citizen. 2-3 rising senior boys and 1 rising senior girl from each high school in America is eligible to participate. Ask your school for details. As a participant in the program you, will run for office, learn public speaking, create and enforce laws and actively participate in all phases of creating and running a working government in this exciting and fun week-long FREE summer program.
Thomas Moore College in New Hampshire has a residential Catholic Leadership Institute summer program for high school students that is $895 for two weeks.
Pepperdine University Youth Citizenship Seminar The Southern California Youth Citizenship Seminar at Pepperdine University is a five-day, FREE program designed to provide a creative opportunity for 250 outstanding high school juniors to interact with today’s leaders, explore current national and world topics, discuss constructive solutions to critical issues, and share memorable interaction with your peers.
MATH, SCIENCE, ENGINEERING
Chapman University Economic Summer Institute for High School Students. The objective of these FREE summer workshops on campus at Chapman is to expose students to and get them interested in the foundations of economic analysis using experimental economics.. Students must be high school juniors and seniors.
FEE Summer Economics Seminars for high school and college students are totally FREE and some travel scholarships are available. My daughter did one in 2013 and it was incredible. They take place at college campuses in various cities and are just a few days long. For the last 50 years, FEE’s goal in hosting introductory economics seminars has been to give students the tools needed to answer or find answers to some of the most difficult economic questions. Students with an interest in economics, history, politics, social science, philosophy, education, business, or current events are all encouraged to apply.
Stanford Medical Youth Science Program The SMYSP Summer Residential Program (SRP) is an annual five-week science- and medicine-based enrichment program that takes place from mid-June to late July, and is held on the campus of Stanford University. Students live in dorms. Students must be sophomores or juniors from northern or central California and be low-income or a first-generation college student. FREE
Texas Tech Clark Scholars The Clark Scholar Program is an intensive seven week summer research program for highly qualified high school juniors and seniors. The Program at Texas Tech University helps the Scholars to have a hands-on practical research experience with outstanding and experienced faculty. The program is FREE and Scholars will receive a $750 tax-free stipend as well as room and board. Program duration is from June 23 to August 7, 2014. Applications must be received by February 7.
Summer Math and Science Honors Academy. SMASH scholars spend five weeks each summer at a SMASH site on a college campus (currently at UC Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA and USC) immersed in rigorous STEM classes. SMASH Scholars live on campus for five weeks each of three summers (after their 9th, 10th and 11th grade years) with other high potential Black, Latino/a, Native American, Southeast Asian or Pacific Islander high school students. FREE
Summer Program for Mathematics and Science — The Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science is a FREE rigorous residential six-week summer experience at Carnegie-Mellon for good students who have a strong interest in math and science and want to become excellent students. SAMS applicants must be at least 15 years old and have completed their sophomore year of high school to participate in this program.
Cornell Curie Program Summer residential FREE program for rising junior or senior girls who excel in math and science and want to learn more about careers in engineering.
More math ideas, some free, some not.
Engineering for middle and high school students. The University of Texas at Arlington offers a series of one-week residential engineering camps for students in middle school and high school. The camps are $375 for a week camp. My son did one after 7th grade and I highly recommend them. They live in the dorms and learn about all the different fields within engineering.
NC State University offers rising 11th and 12th grade students the opportunity to explore engineering and college life at NC State through our residential HS programs. Students spend a week on campus, live in the dorms, eat in the dining halls, meet like-minded students from all over the globe and immerse themselves in a specific engineering workshop of their choosing. The cost is $675/week.
Auburn University has a series of very cool one-week residential camps in every possible topic including:
- Architecture Camp
- Art: Summer Art Studio Intensive
- Building Construction Camp
- Civil Air Patrol Engineering Technologies Academy
- College of Architecture Academic Success Action Program (ASAP)
- Creative Writing Studio
- Design Workshop (Industrial Design)
- Digital Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Camp
- Engineering Camps: JR and SR TIGERS
- Engineering Camps: Women in Engineering
- Fish (and Aquaculture) Camp
- KEMET(Knowledge, Excellence, Mathematics, Equilibrium, Technology) Academy
- Musical Theatre Camp
- Project Design Week (Fashion and Interior Design)
- REAL Cents REAL Change℠ Summer Camp (Financial Management and Philanthropic Impact)
- Robo Camp
- Science Matters Summer Academy (For Elementary Students)
- Summer Youth Experiences in Science (YES) Camp
- Vet Camp
- World Affairs Youth Seminar
Costs range from $500-$700 for the week.
Clemson University offers a Summer Scholars program of one-week camps for rising 7th – 12th graders at very reasonable prices. Course choices include:
- Animal & Medical Science
- Automotive Engineering w/ CU-ICAR
- Beyond ER
- Civil Engineering
- Computer Science and Engineering
- Explorations in Architecture
- Exploring the Nano World Through the Electron Microscope
- Multi Media Journalism
- The PandA (Physics and Astronomy) Experience!
U.C. Berkeley offers a FREE “experience Cal” program each June for rising seniors. This two-day residential program on the UC Berkeley campus is for university-bound high school and community college students. The program is offered at no cost; however, all of our students are expected to provide their own transportation to the Berkeley campus and back.
SCIENCE RESEARCH – RESIDENTIAL
MITES is a FREE six-week residential summer program at MIT (for rising seniors) during which students have the opportunity to experience a demanding academic atmosphere and to begin building the self-confidence necessary for success at America’s top universities. This program also stresses the value and reward of pursuing advanced technical degrees and careers while developing the skills necessary to achieve success in science and engineering.
Research Science Institute The RSI academic program is a FREE intensive, six-week introduction to scientific research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). High school juniors from around the world
National Conservation Crews. National Conservation Crews help protect America’s national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. Students must be 15-19 years old FREE. 15-35 days. Various locations across the US and Canada
The Appalachian Mountain Club offers 1-4 week trail crews for teens ages 15-18. These programs cost around $240 a week, which is a donation to the non-profit. My son did one for two weeks in the Berkshire Mountains in 2013 and absolutely loved it.
The least expensive outdoorsy sleepaway summer camps for ages 10-15 are almost certainly 4-H camps (less than $500 week). The cool thing is, you can pick a location you (as parents) might want to vacation, and you could always have your child attend camp there. Three years ago our son did a week at Camp Farley on Cape Cod and had a ball. His new friends couldn’t believe he was from CA.
WOOFING — Students 18 and up can work on an organic farm anywhere in the world and have room and board covered so that they are just responsible for their travel there. They can stay a few weeks or a few months. FREE
OTHER LINKS with more ideas
Cogito has a great search function for a wide range of summer programs.
UC Berkeley offers a host of ideas beyond the university
More ideas off the Stanford University website HERE
Check out this resource of ideas: http://studenteducationprograms.com/
Here are more ideas for high school students.
More math ideas here.
More engineering options here.
A ton more general ideas here and here.
Know of any other free summer programs? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the comment box below.
My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find most of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for.
Does one offer guest writers to write content available for
you? I wouldn’t mind writing a post or elaborating on some
of the subjects you write concerning here.
Again, awesome site!
Well hello dear Lorna, got any advice about what Fiona (15), my 9th-grader should do next summer? Happy to have a chat if that’s easier. IN the good news category, Elliot is going to Princeton next year (as is Andrew Kaneb). We are all very happy. Xo lee