Best Game Design Summer Programs for High School Students – 2023

July 3, 2023

Digital video games began to emerge in the 1950s and 60s, with the first at-home video game console–the Magnavox Odyssey–appearing on shelves in 1972. That same year, Atari released Pong, which induced the arcade craze of the 1980s; subsequently, Nintendo, Sega, and PlayStation released more sophisticated home consoles along with still-popular games like Super Mario Bros., Sonic, and Final Fantasy. Since then, the industry has exploded, with virtual reality, augmented reality, and metaverse games currently in vogue. Although sometimes maligned for being brain drains, video games can strengthen neural circuits, promote teamwork, and develop problem-solving skills in addition to creating vibrant communities of dedicated players. The best game designers are often avid gamers themselves, so if you’d describe yourself as such and are interested in pursuing a major in game development, scroll down for our list of top game design summer programs for high school students.

1) Tisch Summer High School Game Design Program

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 4 weeks
  • Cost: $13,204 (including housing)
  • Eligibility: Rising juniors and seniors aged 15+
  • Application Deadline: January

Digital game development requires a number of different skills, and NYU’s Game Design Program aims to build them all. As a result, students enrolled in these game design summer programs for high school students can expect to receive exposure to game design, programming, visual art, animation, sound design, and writing.

All students are enrolled in four courses: Game Literacy, Game Design Workshop, and Game Development Workshop. In Game Literacy, students explore games from a formal, cultural, and social perspective. Game Design Workshop focuses on how to create an interactive experience; students create non-digital games to practice these concepts. Finally, Game Development Workshop is where students learn programming basics and technical tools while working in groups to create projects. Upon successful completion of the program, students earn six college credits.

You’ll be busy–students are in class or the studio approximately eight hours a day, five days a week. Moreover, the evenings and weekends are dedicated to additional group projects and curricular programming. Field trips and studio visits will be included as part of the experience.

As with other selective summer programs, you’ll need to have your materials ready early–applications are due in January. Additionally, you must have at least a 3.0 unweighted GPA to apply and will need to submit a personal statement, creative resume, transcript, and two recommendation letters.

2) Intro to Video Game Design at the University of Rochester

  • Location: Online
  • Residential?: No
  • Program Length: 2 weeks
  • Cost: $995
  • Eligibility: High school students aged 13+
  • Application Deadline: Rolling

If you’re looking for online game design summer programs for high school students, look no further than the University of Rochester’s Intro to Video Game Design course. Over the course of two weeks, you’ll begin to develop the technical and design skills necessary to create customized games.

Before students dive into game creation, they’ll learn about digital gaming history as well as game design theory and storytelling. From there, they build the skills necessary to embed elements like puzzles and drama before customizing a templated game as their final project. Along the way, all students receive guided mentorship. Moreover, the program is set up to be flexible and much of the course instruction will take place asynchronously. That said, they should plan on approximately 30 hours total of instruction and assignments.

Alongside academics, students also have access to interviews with game designers as well as information about future career opportunities. For those seriously thinking about working in game design or digital media, Rochester’s program will be an excellent litmus test.

To apply, students need to submit a personal statement alongside a general application. In the personal statement, they’ll need to explain why they wish to take the course via writing, video, or photos.

Game Design Summer Programs for High School Students – Continued

3) Champlain Game Academy

  • Location: Burlington, VT
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 2 weeks
  • Cost: $4,500
  • Eligibility: Rising sophomores, juniors, seniors, and college freshmen
  • Application Deadline: First-come, first-served

Champlain offers two types of game design summer programs for high school students, both of which are modeled after their acclaimed Game Studio curriculum. Accordingly, Level 1 Game Academy builds foundational competencies while Level 2 hones advanced skills.

Level 1 Game Academy is highly collaborative, and students learn about the diverse roles they could hold on a professional game development team. As such, they’ll receive exposure to game art and animation, business, design, programming, and sound, among others, and will also work with their teams to build functional prototypes that can be submitted as part of their college applications. Moreover, all students receive mentorship from professors and industry professionals while understanding what it would be like to major in game design. Alternatively, Level 2 Game Academy is for students who have successfully completed Level 1 Game Academy and hope to develop more sophisticated development skills.

Outside of class, students take part in both curricular and social programming in the evenings and on weekends. They’ll also live in residence halls, eat on campus, and experience a true taste of college life.

4) Summer Game Studio at Clark University

  • Location: Worcester, MA
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 2 weeks
  • Cost: $4,200
  • Eligibility: Rising freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors aged 14-18
  • Application Deadline: First-come, first-served

Hosted by Clark’s Becker School of Design and Technology, the Summer Game Studio is geared toward students who hope to pursue game design in college. As such, these game design summer programs for high school students aim to introduce participants to myriad topics within game development, including game art and animation, motion capture, testing, and production.

Students engage in structured lectures and discussions alongside plenty of independent studio time. Each morning, they spend several hours learning about various roles within game development from Clark’s full-time game design faculty. Then, in the afternoons, they collaborate closely with their teams to develop an original game, which they’ll also have a chance to work on during supervised open lab time in the evenings. At the end of the program, students present their games to faculty, industry professionals, and family members at a final showcase. They can also use their games as part of their college applications if so desired.

To promote community and collaboration, students live in residence halls and eat at Clark’s dining complex. They’ll also have the opportunity to engage in social programming in the evenings and on weekends.

5) USC Cinematic Arts Summer Program

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 6 weeks
  • Cost: $4,274 + housing ($2,100-2,600)
  • Eligibility: High school students aged 16+
  • Application Deadline: Rolling; the application opens in November and closes in June

Through USC’s Cinematic Arts Summer Program, students have access to Foundations of Game Design, a course that centers on “play-centric design.” Over the course of six weeks, students receive a mix of lecture and studio instruction on topics such as game design theory, ideation development, and prototyping. Accordingly, they’ll create two games–one tabletop and one digital. For those hoping to pursue game design in college, this course will provide them with foundational skills and language as well as a portfolio-ready digital game to use on college applications. Additionally, students receive two college credits upon successful completion.

Although USC hosts some special events and seminars, there is no social programming included as students are expected to focus heavily on academics. Outside of class, students should plan to spend the majority of their time working on projects.

To apply to these game design summer programs for high school students, you’ll need to submit a thirty-second video introduction, a personal statement, and transcripts.

Final Thoughts –Game Design Summer Programs for High School Students

If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that game design and development will continue evolving alongside user gameplay, meaning that a career in this field will be dynamic and creatively rewarding. As such, the best game design summer programs for high school students teach essential programming, technical, problem-solving, and storytelling skills that can be applied to a number of careers in the tech & design world. If you’re interested in the professional world of game development, a summer program could be exactly what you need to kickstart your journey.

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