Best Summer STEM Programs – 2024

January 17, 2024

best stem summer programs

In the early 2000s, the National Science Foundation coined STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math. (It used to be SMET–decidedly less catchy.) Often used to define a curriculum that combines all four disciplines, the term has multiple variations, including STEAM (A=art) and STREAM (art & robotics), among others. STEM curriculums have become a core educational fixture in many US schools, with more and more children being introduced to STEM topics in preschool & kindergarten. Such early contact is meant to build skills and confidence while increasing the likelihood of STEM success & persistence in college and beyond. Likewise, high school summer STEM programs are an excellent way to receive valuable insight into a variety of science, technology, engineering, and math careers, and often provide exposure to multiple topics & disciplines. Interested in a specific STEM field? See our posts on engineering, math, and computer science summer programs.

1) Rice University Precollege Program

  • Location: Virtual
  • Residential?: All courses are fully online
  • Program Length: 1-week intensive, 2-week session, or 4-week session; availability depends on time of year
  • Cost: $1,495 per course
  • Eligibility: High school students aged 13 and older
  • Application Deadline: varies depending on course, but is typically rolling until approximately a week before the course’s start date

On the hunt for a program that you can dive into at any time during the year and complete at your own pace? Rice University’s Precollege Program, available to students aged 13 and up, is an excellent option. Given that Rice’s mission is to improve the world through unconventional thinking and doing, their eight current courses aim to capture that ethos with options in subject areas like medicine, STEM, business, law, government, psychology and even aerospace.

During your course, you’ll learn through a series of dynamic videos recorded by Rice professors, and engage in a variety of different activities along the way. Prepare for approximately 20-30 total hours of instruction, simulations, and assignments. Additionally, you’ll receive support from a mentor, who will provide direction and motivation along the way. All courses wrap with a capstone project, which allows you to demonstrate all that you’ve learned throughout the course.. Even in an online format, the curriculum has been curated to be engaging and hands-on; in Global Affairs: Exploring Changing Political Systems, students not only explore the factors that lead to democratic survival or decline but also complete a comparative project on two countries. In Genome Engineering: Changing the Future of Medicine, students tackle genome editing, study clinical trials, and explore ethical considerations before creating a project that involves identifying a gene-editing strategy for a blood disorder.

There is no limit to how many courses you can take at one time, a feature that allows you to explore your interests in great depth. You’ll receive a Certificate of Completion at the end of each program. Interested in applying? It’s a simple process—you’ll only need to provide basic personal information as well as a personal statement that discusses why you’re interested in your course of choice.

2) California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS)

  • Location: UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, or UC Santa Cruz
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 4 weeks
  • Cost: $4,770
  • Eligibility: Rising freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and college freshmen
  • Application Deadline: February

During these summer STEM programs, students are exposed to advanced topics typically not included in high school curriculums. As such, each student chooses a “cluster” comprising two science and/or math courses as well as a science communication course. Furthermore, each campus offers different clusters, and students can only apply to one campus. For example, clusters at UC Irvine include Stressed Out Bugs: How Bacteria Respond to Changing Environments, Sustainable Aviation Systems, and Computation and Machine Learning. Clusters at UC Santa Cruz include Video Game Design, Nanochemistry and Nanotechnology, and Wonders of the Ocean: From Bioluminescence to Marine Mammals.

Clusters have varying prerequisites and objectives. Sustainable Aviation Systems mandates that students have Algebra II under their belts. Moreover, it covers aerospace and mechanical engineering, fuel performance, fabrication techniques, and environmental impact, to name a few. All courses are led by UC faculty members, and include labs, field trips, discussions, and a research project.

Outside of academics, students live in residence halls and participate in social programming. These include activities like sports games and karaoke nights along with off-campus excursions.

To apply, students must submit at least one teacher recommendation (STEM teacher preferred), a personal statement, and transcripts. It should also be noted that these STEM summer programs are for California high school students only.

3) Michigan Math & Science Scholars

  • Location: Ann Arbor, MI
  • Residential?: Residential and commuter options available
  • Program Length: 2 weeks
  • Cost: $1,300 (residential students also incur a $1,000 room & board fee)
  • Eligibility: Rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors
  • Application Deadline: Rolling

At these summer STEM programs, students participate in a two-week-long experience during which they will undertake one course. There are three summer sessions offered and students can elect to take one, two, or three sessions.

Courses vary by session and are offered in multiple disciplines. For example, Session 1 includes Dissecting Life: Human Anatomy and Physiology, Forensic Physics, and Mathematics and the Internet. Alternatively, Session 2 offers such choices as Surface Chemistry, Mathematics of Decisions, Electrons, and Games, and Brain and Behavior. Courses are interactive and include hands-on projects, lab work, and field work. Furthermore, University of Michigan professors teach all STEM summer programs. Students should expect to spend approximately six hours per day in class.

Beyond academics, students gain valuable career insight that will be highly beneficial should they continue with a STEM career. Additionally, residential students live in dorms and participate in social programming such as outdoor film screenings, swimming, and laser tag.

Admission is competitive; approximately half of all applicants are accepted. Accordingly, students must provide teacher recommendations, a transcript, and a personal statement.

Summer STEM Programs – Continued

4) USNA Summer STEM Programs

  • Location: Annapolis, MD
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 1 week
  • Cost: $800
  • Eligibility: Rising freshmen, sophomores, and juniors
  • Application Deadline: April

The Naval Academy, which has one of the best undergraduate engineering programs in the country, runs a competitive summer program for students considering a career in one of the STEM disciplines. During the week-long experience, students cover topics like Reverse Engineering, Searching for Unobtanium, and Storm Chasing. In each module, they’ll participate in hands-on projects, such as writing code and working in a hydro lab.

USNA isn’t your typical undergraduate experience. As such, these STEM summer programs focus heavily on teamwork and character building. Moreover, participants have a chance to interact with current midshipmen and learn about USNA’s structure and majors. They’ll also receive exposure to important aspects of USNA’s campus life, including intramural sports and presentations by veteran empowerment organizations.

When applying, students should demonstrate strong academic performance, test scores, and extracurricular involvement. It’s also important to communicate a passion for STEM subjects.

5) Smith Science and Engineering Program (SSEP)

  • Location: Northampton, MA
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: 2 weeks
  • Cost: $4,630
  • Eligibility: Rising freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors
  • Application Deadline: May

Fun fact: Smith was the first women’s college to create a program in engineering science. As such, these summer STEM programs are an excellent place for young women to participate in hands-on research experiences.

There are two two-week sessions offered, and students can take one or both. Each session offers six distinct course choices. For example, the first session offers Chemistry of Herbal Medicine, Designing Intelligent Robots, and Where the Body Meets the Mind. Second session courses include Water Matters, Big Data and Social Media, and Microcontrollers and You. Students spend five days a week in class, attending lectures and conducting experiments & field work. Additionally, the program is team-based, allowing students to learn from each other’s ideas and perspectives.

Some courses have prerequisites and age minimums. Global Young Women’s Health is open to rising sophomores and above while Novel Bacteriophage Discovery requires a year of biology. Furthermore, admission is selective. Serious applicants should have a strong academic record, stellar teacher recommendations, and a well-written essay. Given that Smith is a women’s college, only female students are eligible for this program.

6) Secondary Student Training Program

  • Location: Iowa City, IA
  • Residential?: Residential and online programs are available
  • Program Length: 6 weeks
  • Cost: $4,500 (online); $7,500 (residential)
  • Eligibility: Rising juniors and seniors
  • Application Deadline: February

At these research-based summer STEM programs, students have an incredible opportunity to build their academic research skills alongside faculty mentors. There are residential and online programs available, both of which offer three college credits.

No matter the format, students choose from a robust variety of research areas. There are 22 options available for on-campus students that include everything from pathology to business analytics to neurology. Online students have fewer choices–seven, to be exact. Accordingly, students can delve into biomedical engineering, religious studies, or physics & astronomy, among others. All students spend approximately seven hours per day in their research groups and also must attend evening seminars.

To the best of their ability, program coordinators try to pair students and mentors with similar interest areas. Additionally, the program culminates with a poster presentation.

Acceptance into these STEM summer programs is highly competitive. To that end, students must submit essays, transcripts, and recommendations. They should also have strong academic performance as well as solid writing skills.

Final Thoughts – Summer STEM Programs

When evaluating STEM programs, it’s important to decide whether you’d like a more comprehensive overview of multiple topics or whether you’d like to dig into a particular specialty. That preference will not only guide your final summer program choice but also allow you to enter said program with specific goals and learning objectives in mind. Accordingly, the academic enrichment and skills you’ll gain will be sure to benefit you in college as well as your future professional life.

Looking for STEM summer programs in your area? Consider checking out the following: