Best Summer Art Programs – 2024

April 19, 2024

summer art programs for high school students

Pop quiz: What are the visual arts? (If you said this in a Keanu Reeves voice a la Speed, you win.) In addition to painting, drawing, and sculpture–three of the most time-honored mediums–other creation and design methods include architecture, photography, video, and filmmaking. And new mediums, like AI-generated art, continue to burgeon, raising heated debates about what should and should not be considered art. Regardless, the visual arts are and always have been a crucial way for humans to capture and communicate experiences, emotions, ideas, and concepts. As such, it’s important for aspiring visual artists of any kind to nurture and develop their skills through extensive technical training, hands-on studio experience, and a collaborative atmosphere with fellow artists, all of which can be gained from participating in one of the many excellent summer art programs for high school students around the country. Below, we’ve profiled the best options.

1) Parsons Summer Intensive Studies

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Residential?: Residential and commuter options available
  • Program Length: 3 weeks
  • Cost: $5,145 + housing
  • Eligibility: High school students aged 16-18
  • Application Deadline: May/June; first-come, first-served

Many traditional and modern visual arts mediums are offered at these summer art programs for high school students. Accordingly, students choose one of seventeen options, which include everything from Animation Studio to Painting to Drawing: Figure and Meaning.

Additionally, each course requires students to complete a number of studio projects and reach specific learning objectives. For example, Drawing: Figure and Meaning helps students build skills in line, gesture, and anatomy, among others. They also develop an understanding of wet and dry media. Furthermore, students learn essential editing skills and spend ample time developing portfolios to be used during the college application process. Guest speakers and field trips to significant art & design locations round out the experience. Finally, students spend approximately six hours per day in class and a significant amount of time outside of class working on projects. They’ll earn three college credits after successful completion of the program.

Prefer not to travel? Be sure to check out Online Summer Intensive Studies. Itching to leave the country? Parsons Pre-College China Program may be just your speed.

2) Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Pre-College

  • Location: Providence, RI
  • Residential?: Residential and commuter options available
  • Program Length: 5 weeks
  • Cost: $11,350 (residential); $8,715 (commuter)
  • Eligibility: High school students aged 16-18
  • Application Deadline: Rolling, starting in November and ending in January

Students who attend these summer art programs live like a RISD undergraduate for the better part of the summer. They’ll spend two-and-a-half days per week in Foundations Studies, which include Drawing Foundations, Design Foundations, and Critical Studies in Art. Additionally, students choose a major, which is how they’ll spend the additional two days of the week. There are 22 majors to choose from–everything from Ceramics to Sculpture to Textile Design.

All programs of study include extensive studio time and multiple projects. For example, Sculpture students create “realistic structures based on human, animal, and plant anatomy.” They make important decisions about form and space, and work with materials like wire, paper, and fabric, among others. Receiving constructive criticism from peers and instructors is an important aspect of the program. Furthermore, they gain a sense of sculptural variety, including memorials and public art.

In addition to their time in class, students should expect to commit multiple hours a week to homework and projects. Final projects will be presented during the last week of the program; these are a critical component of final grades. Moreover, program participants may take part in an optional portfolio review conducted by a RISD representative.

To apply to these summer art programs, you’ll need to have summer on your mind early–the application opens in November and closes in January. Interested students must submit three short essays in addition to a completed application.

Summer Art Programs for High School Students – Continued

3) Sotheby’s Summer Institute

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Residential?: Residential and commuter options available
  • Program Length: 2 weeks
  • Cost: $6,845 (residential); $5,560 (commuter)
  • Eligibility: Rising sophomores, juniors, seniors, and college freshmen, aged 15+
  • Application Deadline: April

While Sotheby’s offers a number of two-week summer art programs, aspiring visual artists will likely be most interested in Painting & Drawing, the sole studio art course. Curious about art history or museum curation? There are myriad options, including Art Conservation/Art Appraisal, Art Crime, and Art Business.

Moreover, a course’s structure will reflect its overall goals. For example, Painting & Drawing students–who engage in a more traditional studio art experience–build foundational skills while learning from practicing artists. As such, students might create self-portraits, experiment with color, and develop diverse drawing techniques. They’ll visit museums like the Met and MoMA while enjoying lectures from gallerists and curators. Alternatively, Art Crime teaches students about the history of art theft alongside art law. They’ll also learn how to spot forgeries. During the program, students have the opportunity to participate in a hands-on connoisseurship workshop. Finally, site visits and guest speakers are included in the program’s activities.

Outside of academics, both residential and commuter students have access to a wide variety of evening and weekend programming. They’re also encouraged to explore New York City.

Applying to these summer art programs requires transcripts, a short essay, and a reference. Optionally, students can submit additional writing or artwork alongside their application.

4) Design Camp at NC State

  • Location: Raleigh, NC
  • Residential?: Residential and commuter options available
  • Program Length: 1 week
  • Cost: $825 (Explorations Day); $1,400 (Explorations Residential); $1,500 (Immersions Residential)
  • Eligibility: Explorations Day: rising 9, 10, 11, 12; Explorations Residential: rising 10, 11, 12; Design Immersions Residential: rising 11 and 12
  • Application Deadline: First-come, first-served (registration opens in January and closes in April)

NC State’s summer art programs for high school students offer both day and residential options. No matter the format, all programs aim to equip students with essential design skills and provide an immersive creative experience.

There is one commuter option: Explorations. Explorations offers a glimpse of all four studio art disciplines at NC State: Architecture, Graphic and Experience Design, Industrial Design, and Media Arts, Design and Technology. For each discipline, students complete one studio art project and learn about majors and career paths.

There are also two residential options–Explorations and Immersions. Explorations mirrors the day options in regard to topic and structure. However, residential students spend more time in the studio than day students. Additionally, they’ll develop their creative thinking skills by participating in evening workshops. Alternatively, Immersions students complete a week-long, intensive studio project. They’ll be able to rank available projects in order of preference. By the culmination of the program, Immersions students’ studio projects should be portfolio-ready.

To apply, students will need to complete several short essays.

5) UNCSA Visual Arts Summer Intensive

  • Location: Winston-Salem, NC
  • Residential?: Residential and commuter options available
  • Program Length: 4 weeks
  • Cost: $2,383 (housing is an additional $1,937)
  • Eligibility: High school students aged 14-18
  • Application Deadline: Rolling until May

During the University of North Carolina School of Art’s Summer Intensive, students take two rigorous courses: Design and Drawing. Firstly, Design includes realistic, abstract, and non-objective assignments that encourage students to build their problem-solving and decision-making skills. Moreover, students practice compositional elements like line, proportion, and perspective. Secondly, Drawing provides a foundation in two-dimensional space. Along with learning skills related to gesture, shape, and texture, students increase their understanding of scale and composition. Critiques are an essential component of both courses.

Beyond the above-mentioned hands-on classes, students also learn about art history. Finally, they’ll end these summer art programs with a friends-and-family gallery exhibition.

Final Thoughts – Summer Art Programs

The most valuable summer art programs allow students to build their skills while introducing them to the career possibilities that exist post-college. Outside of traditional art careers, visual art skills can be used across disciplines at advertising agencies, design companies, and architecture or graphic design firms. Additionally, visual artists can pursue entrepreneurial ventures, plan museum exhibits, or even facilitate art therapy. For hard-working, creative thinkers, the possibilities can be absolutely endless.

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