Are Pre-College Summer Programs Worth It? The Pros and Cons

Learn about the pros and cons of pre-college summer programs and find out about the best summer college programs available.
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  • Pre-college summer programs last 1-7 weeks to support individual scheduling needs.
  • Attending one of these programs does not guarantee admission to specific colleges.
  • These programs tend to be quite expensive, and not all qualify for financial aid.

Students may hear about pre-summer college programs from friends, teachers, or college advertisements. They likely have questions about what these opportunities entail and how they influence the college planning process.

To help students and their families make an informed decision, we examined the pros and cons of these programs and highlight some of the best pre-college summer programs currently available. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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What Is a Pre-College Summer Program?

Pre-college summer programs provide the opportunity for high school students to pack their bags and experience higher education for a few weeks before starting college. These programs vary in length, lasting anywhere from 1-7 weeks.

By participating in a pre-college summer program, you get to take college classes, take part in campus community activities, check out campus-based housing, and generally picture yourself at that institution.

Not every college or university offers summer programs, so research your options based on location, cost, and class availability early in the process.

While some schools offer these programs free of charge, most cost thousands of dollars. What's more, not all are eligible for financial aid.

Popular Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

The Pros and Cons of Pre-College Summer Programs

Before committing to a college summer program for high school students, learners and their families should consider both the pros and cons.

Pro: You Gain Experience (and Maybe College Credit)

By living on campus for a few weeks in the summer, students have the opportunity to gain both social and academic experiences. They can get a better sense of what to expect when they officially start college.

Additionally, some of these programs allow learners to earn college credits that lessen the number they need to complete once fully enrolled.

Con: Most Programs Are Very Expensive

Costs can very substantially based on where you attend. While a five-week program offered by Kentucky State University that includes housing, meals, event and activity access, and tuition costs $1,886, others may cost significantly more.

The pre-college program at Harvard University, for instance, lasts just 12 days and costs $4,950 as a baseline, along with a $75 application fee and $100 health insurance fee.

Pro: You Get to Meet New People

Attending one of the many pre-college summer programs allows prospective students to meet and connect with their peers, potentially even getting to know people who plan to attend the same school.

You can also meet professors and administrative staff. These can be valuable connections to have during the admissions process and once you arrive on campus.

Con: They Don't Boost Your College Application

While attending a summer college program at a particular school can indicate your interest in that institution, most universities make clear that attending these types of programs does not provide guaranteed admission or even preference in the admissions process.

Students and their families should keep this in mind when deciding whether or not to apply.

Pro: You Get to Assess the School Fit

Many students make the decision of where to attend college on relatively little information. While you can review websites, speak to admissions counselors and current students, and even visit campuses, these experiences do not provide the same type of exposure to academic and social life as a pre-college summer program.

Con: You Forgo Time to Work and Save Money

Especially in the case of longer pre-college summer programs, you must decide whether you want to give up the opportunity to get a summer job and save money before heading to college. If you're concerned about this, look for a shorter program or find something with flexible hours.

6 Pre-College Summer Programs for High School Students

While many universities offer summer programs for high school students, the institutions highlighted below are known for offering some of the best in the U.S.

1. Harvard University

The pre-college program offered by the Harvard Summer School includes 100 noncredit courses students can choose from during one of three summer sessions. Each session lasts 12 days and costs $4,950. Applicants must also pay a $75 application fee and $100 health insurance fee.

2. University of Pennsylvania

Penn's pre-college program lasts eight days with both residential and fully online options. Current high school sophomores and juniors can participate and earn undergraduate credit. Financial aid is not available, but international students are welcome to apply.

3. University of Chicago

Students interested in UChicago can choose from among several pre-college programs, including programs focused on biological sciences and language. The school also offers programs of various lengths and online options.

The department provides informational sessions so you can learn more.

4. Cornell University

Cornell offers pre-college summer programs that last three, six, or nine weeks, with both campus-based and online options. High school sophomores, juniors, and seniors may apply. Nearly 2,500 students participated in 2021, and 95% of all courses are taught by Cornell faculty members.

The school awards a limited number of partial scholarships.

5. Duke University

Middle school and high school students can participate in 12-day pre-college programs at Duke. Middle schoolers pay $3,000 for the experience, while high schoolers pay $3,200. In addition to residential options, students can choose from fully online and hybrid options.

Sessions are offered throughout June and July to accommodate scheduling.

6. University of California, Los Angeles

UCLA offers residential and nonresidential pre-college programming ranging from 1-3 weeks. Interested applicants can choose from 11 different areas of study. Pricing and timelines vary based on what students choose, so make contact early to find the program and dates that work best for you.

Are Pre-College Summer Programs Worth It?

Ultimately, you must decide for yourself whether a pre-college summer program is worth it. Learners who feel anxious about college can benefit from these opportunities, as they can meet others and get comfortable on campus before committing to a particular program.

If you have significant financial need, you may find the cost of these programs to be prohibitive, especially considering lost earnings while not working. In addition to speaking with your family, meet with your high school guidance counselor for advice and assistance. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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