Tips for High School Students to Make the Summer Productive

By Kristen Moon

Summer might seem far away, but many of the most competitive summer camps and programs have already opened their applications. For students planning on applying to top universities, filling their summers with productive activities is a great way to stand out. Some programs accept just a handful of students a year, so to get in you have to have a stellar transcript, extracurricular activities that display leadership and growth, and an excellent essay.

Tips on Applying to Summer Programs

1. Do Your Research

If you haven't figured out what you are going to do this summer, now is the time to get started. Many of the summer camps have applications that opened in early winter. Find a program that fits your future career goals and make sure that you fit the minimum requirements.

2. Choose Your References Carefully and Early

You often will need a letter of recommendation from one or two people. Consider who you can choose and ask them early, well in advance of the application deadline. You want them to be able to write a personalized letter that helps to recommend you to the program.

3. Tell A Compelling Story

You can use your essay as a chance to come alive and bring your entire application together. Try to brainstorm a personal experience that frames your perspective and relates to your chosen discipline. Include personal examples to help the committee get to know you better.

Summer Camps and Programs Local To North Carolina

Pre-College Programs at NC State University

NC State offers summer programs for 9th-12th graders. Students can choose from many different camps including Chinese language and culture, communication, design, engineering, livestock science, writing, pre-veterinary, and more. The deadlines range from April through August, depending on the program.

College of Engineering at NC State University

NC State hosts week-long day camps in Raleigh each summer to give students the opportunity to experience engineering. Through their multidisciplinary camps, rising 9th and 10th-grade students work together on team-oriented challenge projects to learn more about computer sciences. The application closes on April 5, 2019.

Summer Academy at Duke University

Eligible to students currently in grades 9-12, the three-week camps bring together innovators from around the world. Courses students can take include business, cybersecurity, human right, research, diplomacy, and more. You can also attend a one-week hands-on research experience through their Accelerated STEM Academy. The deadline to apply is April 15.

Summer College at Duke University

Duke University offers students currently in grades 10-12 the chance to earn college credits during the four-week long program. They provide an extensive list of courses including biology, economics, education, English, philosophy, physics, political science, theater studies, and more. Applications are due on April 15.

UNC Charlotte Summer Camps

UNC Charlotte offers students in grades 1-12 numerous camp options. Niner Academy is the camp for rising 9-12th grade. The goal is to introduce disciplines and careers that high school curricula may not offer, preparing them college, career, and beyond.


Kristen Moon is an independent college counselor and founder of She specializes in Ivy League, BS/MD Programs, and International Students. She works with students 9-12th grade.