Best Environmental Science Summer Programs for High School Students – 2024

April 18, 2024

environmental science summer programs for high school students

Grim climate change statistics and predictions often leave us with pressing questions: how should we deal with–and prepare for–rising global and ocean temperatures? How do we support the planet, its people, and its ecosystems through the coming changes? And what can be mitigated or avoided? Environmental scientists, who specialize in areas that include marine science, conservation, and atmospheric science, seek to compile and analyze data, propose solutions, and educate others on current research. Given the number of career possibilities and opportunities in this field, it’s important to receive exposure to a diverse range of topics, which is why environmental science summer programs for high school students can be tremendously valuable–the best ones seek to introduce the social, political, environmental, and/or economic issues currently at play while immersing students in the field (literally–expect to spend ample time outdoors). We’ve compiled a list of stand-out options below.

1) Washington Youth Summit on the Environment

  • Location: Fairfax, VA
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 1 week
  • Cost: $2,500
  • Eligibility: Rising juniors and seniors
  • Application Deadline: December

Hosted by George Mason University and Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment (WYSE) is an intensive, hands-on program. Accordingly, the curriculum changes each year to reflect current environmental issues.

Through lectures and guest speakers, students are introduced to pressing conservation and sustainability-related topics. As such, they’ll have the opportunity to learn from experts who hail from organizations like National Geographic, the US Department of Energy, and the National Marine Fisheries Services. Moreover, they’ll conduct numerous field visits, which include collecting samples from the Rappahannock River, visiting Skyline Caverns, and studying macroinvertebrates at Mason Neck State Park. Potomac Vegetable Farms and Great Country Farms are other site visits on deck. Furthermore, after successfully completing the program, students earn one college credit.

All students live in on-campus housing at George Mason. Although the majority of students are nominated by an educator or invited by the university, it’s possible to nominate yourself. To create the strongest application for these environmental science summer programs for high school students, you should be quite strong academically. You should also have leadership experience as well as a demonstrated passion for environmental science. The admission process is competitive; only 300 participants are selected. Finally, you’ll need to be on the ball early–applications typically close in December.

2) Environmental Studies Summer Youth Institute

  • Location: Geneva, NY
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 2 weeks
  • Cost: $3,900
  • Eligibility: Rising juniors and seniors
  • Application Deadline: Rolling

At the Environmental Studies Summer Youth Institute (ESSYI), which is held on-campus at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, students are introduced to current issues while developing environmental problem-solving and collaboration skills. Additionally, students who are eager to plan for the future will find this program to be an excellent fit, as they will be introduced to a number of different major and career possibilities.

One of ESSYI’s major strengths is its faculty; it’s led by eighteen instructors with diverse areas of expertise. These specialties include theater and performance for social change, lake studies, indigenous studies, and philosophy, among many others. Accordingly, students will find themselves in sessions like Geography of Garbage, Aquatic Biology of Seneca Lake, and Climate Change Law and Policy. Along the way, they’ll spend plenty of time in the Adirondacks’ natural spaces, and also earn one college credit at the culmination of the program.

To apply to these environmental science summer programs for high school students, you’ll need to submit a transcript, teacher recommendation, and essay. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, but interested students should apply early as there is a fifty-student limit.

Environmental Science Summer Programs for High School Students – Continued

3) Brown Environmental Leadership Labs (BELL)

  • Location: Providence, RI; Mammoth Lakes, CA; or Anchorage & Peterson Bay Field Station, AK
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: Eastern Sierras: 11 days; Alaska and Rhode Island: 2 weeks
  • Cost: Eastern Sierras: $6,958; Alaska: $6,958; Rhode Island: $5,716
  • Eligibility: Rising juniors, seniors, and college freshmen aged 16-18
  • Application Deadline: Rolling

Brown offers exciting environmental science summer programs for high school students in several stunning locations: Rhode Island, California, and Alaska.

All BELL programs stress social responsibility and leadership alongside an exploration of environmental studies and ecology, which is accomplished via group work, readings, discussions, and workshops. That said, each program has its own focus and associated activities.

For example, BELL: Rhode Island focuses on climate change, environmental justice & advocacy, and environmental resilience in an urban setting. Furthermore, students embark on multiple site visits around the state as well as an overnight camping retreat. At BELL: Alaska, students learn about Alaska’s indigenous history and culture as well as arctic, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems. Climate change impacts will be fully explored. In addition to visits to the Matanuska Glacier and Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, among others, students spend three off-the-grid nights in a yurt. Finally, BELL: Eastern Sierras participants study climate change and environmental resilience at the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory. Field visits and outdoor lab experiences at locations like Mono Lake and Tuolumne Meadows are an integral part of the experience.

It’s best to apply to these programs as soon as possible. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and will close when capacity is reached.

4) Teen Research and Education in Environmental Science (TREES)

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Residential?: No
  • Program Length: 4 weeks
  • Cost: Free
  • Eligibility: Rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors
  • Application Deadline: February

Offered through UPenn’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, TREES is a rigorous academic experience. For the first two weeks of the program, students develop skills in basic laboratory techniques. Then, for the final two weeks, they undertake independent research projects. For their projects, students choose an environmental problem and engage in academic and hands-on research & fieldwork. The program then culminates with a formal public presentation and research report.

In addition to their projects, students can expect to attend lectures on environmental health, visit local sites, engage in career exploration, build presentation skills, and participate in social activities. Most importantly, this program continues long after it finishes, as all participating students will continue to be actively mentored throughout the following year by a Perelman School of Medicine faculty member or professional scientist.

Although these environmental science summer programs for high school students are amazingly free, competition is steep: only eight students are accepted. To be a serious contender, students will need to have at least a 3.0 GPA and strong teacher recommendations. They also must submit an extracurricular resume. Moreover, housing is not part of the package; students must hail from the Philadelphia area in order to be considered.

Environmental Summer Programs for High School Students — Continued

5) SEA Pre-College: Ocean Sciences in Woods Hole

  • Location: Woods Hole, MA
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 3 weeks
  • Cost: $5,750
  • Eligibility: Rising juniors, seniors, and college freshmen
  • Application Deadline: January (first deadline), March (final deadline)

Passionate about our planet’s oceans? The Sea Education Association’s environmental science summer programs may be the perfect fit. At the SEA campus in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, students study college-level topics in oceanography, marine biology, and environmental science while being mentored by professional scientists.

The program is rigorous and students can expect to attend classes on a daily basis. Through lab activities, lectures, and research projects, they’ll learn about everything from seawater chemistry to plate tectonics to ocean policy. Moreover, they’ll become familiar with oceanographic research techniques, build their communication and critical thinking skills, and become more adept leaders. Field trips to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Marine Biological Lab, and Woodwell Climate Research Center round out the experience.

Outside of class, students participate in evening and weekend activities, which include sports, hiking, beach visits, and music.

To be eligible for these environmental science summer programs for high school students, you must have completed at least one science and one math course. Additionally, you’ll need to submit a transcript and academic reference as well as several short essays. Although the program has a spring deadline, be sure to apply as soon as the application opens—materials are reviewed on a rolling basis.

Final Thoughts – Environmental Science Summer Programs for High School Students

Our planet and climate are changing, and environmental scientists–of all disciplines–will serve as essential leaders in the years to come as they facilitate conversations on pressing issues and develop action plans. As such, environmental studies summer programs for high school students enable aspiring scientists to build technical skills and acquire knowledge that will serve them well in this extremely important and ever-developing field.

Looking for environmental science summer programs for high school students in your area? Consider checking out the following:

You may also be interested in our 50 Best Environmental Science Research Topics.