Best Summer Programs in Chicago – 2024

April 11, 2024

chicago summer programs

Although Chicago is located in the middle of the country, thousands of miles away from both the Pacific and Atlantic, its twenty-plus miles of Lake Michigan shoreline make one feel otherwise. It’s also the third-largest city in the country, boasting amazing architecture–such as Willis Tower, The Rookery, and the Wrigley Building–as well as a thriving jazz, blues, and hip-hop scene. Furthermore, Chicago is highly regarded for its art offerings, including Cloud Gate, one of the largest outdoor art installations in the world, and the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the oldest and largest art museums. If you find yourself leaning toward one of the many excellent Chicago summer programs, rest assured that an abundance of culture and entertainment awaits. Most importantly, you’ll be able to throw down a vote in the age-old deep dish pizza debate: Lou Malnoti’s or Giordano’s?

Heart set on Chicago? Read on to view our list of the best Chicago summer programs for high school students.

1) University of Chicago Summer Programs

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Residential?: Residential or online options available.
  • Program Length: Immersion: 3 weeks; Pre-College Connect: 3 weeks; Pre-College Summer Language Institute: 6-8 weeks; RIBS: 4 weeks; Stones and Bones: 4 weeks; Summer College: 3-5 weeks; Summer Online: 5 weeks.
  • Cost: Immersion: $8,600; Pre-College Connect: $6,350; Pre-College Summer Language Institute: $7,960; RIBS: $14,000; Stones and Bones: $14,000; Summer College: $4,635; Summer Online: $4,790.
  • Eligibility: Rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors.
  • Application Deadline: Between January to May, depending on program.

High schoolers have access to a treasure trove of outstanding offerings at the University of Chicago summer programs. Namely, if you’d like to stay 100% online, you certainly can. Summer College and Summer Online offer students the ability to take a UChicago class in a fully remote setting. Likewise, the Pre-College Summer Language Institute condenses an entire year of modern or ancient language into one summer. Hoping for a hybrid option? UChicago’s newest program, Pre-College Connect, is a three-week intensive hybrid course offered in biology, psychology, or art. After attending online classes for two weeks, students will head to campus for a one-week capstone experience.

Hoping for a fully in-person experience? Those are available, too. For example, Immersion, a three-week on-campus experience, gives students the opportunity to live like an undergraduate. While doing so, they’ll choose from courses like Physics of Stars, Biotechnology for the 21st Century, or Introduction to the Philosophy of Love. Alternatively, RIBS–Research in the Biological Sciences–is a four-week hands-on intensive that introduces students to various laboratory techniques. The program culminates with a poster presentation.

Finally, Stones and Bones is a unique four-week paleontology practicum in two locations. In Chicago, students familiarize themselves with fundamental concepts and techniques before traveling to Wyoming. There, they’ll join a field expedition in the Green River Formation.

Application requirements for these Chicago summer programs vary, but all require a writing sample, transcripts, and recommendations.

2) Medill Cherubs at Northwestern University

  • Location: Evanston, IL
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: Five weeks
  • Cost: $5,000
  • Eligibility: Rising seniors
  • Application Deadline: March

One of the most respected Northwestern summer programs, the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute is also known as the cherub program. It’s geared toward students interested in a journalism career who possess experience in digital journalism, newspaper, TV, radio, or yearbook. Taught by professors as well as professional journalists, the Institute familiarizes participants with print, video, audio, photojournalism, and digital storytelling. In addition, students learn how to write all types of pieces, from feature to opinion.

Furthermore, all students are paired with a mentor who will offer feedback on their assignments during weekly meetings. Students also live in Northwestern residence halls, dine on campus, and explore Chicago in their free time.

To apply to these Chicago summer programs, applicants must write an essay response and provide transcripts and teacher recommendations. One must be from a journalism or English teacher.

3) Northwestern University National High School Institute

  • Location: Evanston, IL
  • Residential?: Yes
  • Program Length: Theatre Arts: 5 weeks with an optional two-week musical theater extension; Film and Video: 5 weeks; Policy Debate: 4 or 6 weeks; Playwriting: 3 weeks.
  • Cost: Theatre Arts: $7,200 (five weeks), $9,200 (seven weeks); Film and Video: $7,200; Policy Debate: $3,850 (4 weeks), $5,350 (6 weeks); Playwriting: $4,000.
  • Eligibility: Theatre Arts: rising seniors; Film and Video: rising juniors and seniors; Policy Debate: rising freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors; Playwriting: rising sophomores or juniors.
  • Application Deadline: Theatre Arts and Film and Video have a March deadline. Policy Debate and Playwriting are rolling.

Known as “Cherubs,” students accepted to these Northwestern summer programs will participate in an incredibly immersive experience. Applicants to Theatre Arts can choose from concentrations in Performance or Stage Management/Design Tech while Film and Video students can choose from Acting on Camera, Screenwriting, or Production. Then, within their tracks, students take an intensive schedule of core and elective classes. Accepted students are typically in the top 30% of their class and have demonstrated ability in the arts.

In addition, students interested in Policy Debate can apply to four- or six-week hybrid institutes. (Two weeks of the program will be spent on campus.) The four-week program is geared toward debate beginners and focuses more heavily on fundamentals and research. Conversely, the six-week program is for advanced students and includes a culminating tournament.

Finally, the Playwriting program allows participants to work with a professional playwright in daily writing master classes. They’ll also participate in field trips and attend film screenings and theater performances. At the end of the program, their staged script will be read by professional actors. To be accepted, students must submit a sample of a draft of a 10-minute play.

4) Early College Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Residential?: Residential and commuter options available
  • Program Length: One, two, or four weeks
  • Cost: One week: $1,785; Two weeks: $3,570; Four weeks: $7,140. Students do not have to live on campus, but residential fees are as follows: One week: $500; Two weeks: $1,000; Four weeks: $2,000.
  • Eligibility: High school students aged 15-18
  • Application Deadline: First come, first served until spots are filled; apply by April for priority merit scholarship consideration.

What sets SAIC’s program apart from other Chicago summer programs is that they allow students to work in multiple media and explore different disciplines within their chosen tracks. Consequently, participants can choose from offerings like Oil Painting, Alternative Comics and Graphic Novels, and Fashion Construction. A typical track will develop both foundational and advanced skills.

During the program, you’ll operate like an undergraduate student and work in the studio all day. You’ll also attend evening workshops twice a week that could include field trips, tutorials, and collaborative projects. Moreover, all courses are taught by SAIC’s highly accomplished faculty and practicing artists.

Finally, one of the most exciting features of SAIC’s summer program is the ability to earn college credit. One-week students can earn one credit, two-week students can earn two, and so on. In addition, students will prepare a competitive portfolio for college admission and receive a leg-up if applying to SAIC’s undergraduate program. For example, summer program students will have their admission portfolio requirements waived, and many receive merit scholarships.

5) Game, Cinema, and Animation Summer Academy at DePaul University

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Residential?: No. Students attending from outside the area will need to secure their own housing.
  • Program Length: One week
  • Cost: $850
  • Eligibility: Rising sophomores, juniors, seniors, and college freshmen.
  • Application Deadline: May

Held for one week in July, these Chicago summer programs introduce students to the film, television, and game industries. Moreover, the program is taught by full-time faculty from the School of Cinematic Arts and the School of Design. Participants choose from six tracks: Film and TV Production, Game Development, Hand-Drawn Character Animation, 3D Modeling and Animation, Screenwriting, and Sound Design.

Within each track, students receive hands-on instruction and may work in small groups to complete projects. For example, within the Game Development track, students collaborate to produce a 3D computer game while exploring essential production roles. In the Screenwriting track, students engage in writing assignments designed to familiarize them with story structure and character development. Finally, on the last day of the session, students typically present their projects.

When applying, students need to provide a list of their related classes and extracurricular activities as well as their GPA. In addition, full and partial scholarships are available.

Final Thoughts – Chicago Summer Programs

Aspiring journalist? Look no further than the Northwestern summer programs. Want to explore character animation? DePaul might be your best fit. Dreaming about unearthing fossils? Take yourself straight to the University of Chicago summer programs. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying your best summer yet.

On the hunt for more summer program resources? Be sure to check out the following: