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High School Engineering Programs: The Ultimate Guide

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If you have an interest in engineering, you might benefit from (and really enjoy!) attending a high school engineering program. These programs include college engineering camps, research internships, mentoring and exposure programs, and more.

Naturally, most of these programs take place over the summer, when high school students have more time to spare. Many of them are held on college campuses, where you’ll take courses from real college professors. While some of these programs are going virtual for Summer 2021, they’re expected to return to residential formats as soon as possible.

In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of attending a high school engineering program, share a list of excellent program options, and more.

Benefits of Attending a High School Engineering Program

Participating in a high school engineering program benefits you because you will:

  • Expand your knowledge of engineering
  • Gain hands-on, real-world engineering experience
  • Meet other high school students with similar interests
  • Get a “trial run” of the college experience (in some cases)
  • Improve your resume and college applications

If you’re fascinated by engineering, you’ll enjoy the opportunity to build your knowledge and skills in this area. Engineering programs completely immerse you in the field, and you’re surrounded by other people who share your passion. And if your program is at a college, you’ll get a preview of living in dorms, learning in college classrooms, and eating in the dining hall. What’s not to love?

Plus, attending these programs can look good to college admissions officers. Spending part of your summer at an engineering program shows your passion for engineering. It shows you’re committed, motivated, and driven. If the program is selective and merit-based, it’s also an impressive honor that tells colleges you’re one of the top future engineers in the country.

Are High School Engineering Programs Worth the Cost?

High school engineering programs offer many benefits, but most of them are quite pricey. You may wonder: Are high school engineering programs worth the cost?

The answer is subjective—it depends on you and your family. Do you think the overall experience, knowledge gained, and chance to take a deep dive into your future career is worth the price tag?

But here’s a word of caution: Some expensive engineering programs will accept anyone who’s willing to pay. Many students can’t afford these programs, and attending one tells colleges more about your resources than about your skills and abilities.

For this reason, try to find a program that is selective and merit-based. This doesn’t mean the program can’t charge tuition, but look into questions like:

  • Is there an application process?
  • Do they accept a limited number of students?
  • What criteria do they use to choose attendees?

By choosing a more selective program, you’re more likely to stand out to college admissions officers and reap all the benefits of attending a high school engineering program.

8 Excellent High School Engineering Programs

If you’re interested in a high school engineering program, the 8 programs on this list are excellent options for you and your family to consider.

1. Research Science Institute (RSI) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

The Research Science Institute is a six-week program that accepts 80 students each summer. Its website describes the program as “the first cost-free to students, summer science and engineering program to combine on-campus coursework in scientific theory with off-campus work in science and technology research.”

During the first week, RSI students take STEM classes led by accomplished college professors. For the next five weeks, students complete a research internship with the guidance of mentors who are experienced scientists and researchers. Students complete the entire research cycle, drafting and executing a research plan and ultimately presenting both written and oral reports of their results.

Benefits:

  • Living and learning at MIT for six weeks
  • Unique combination of coursework and field experience
  • Hands-on experience with the entire research process
  • Learning from/networking with accomplished professors, researchers, and scientists
  • It’s free! (Even housing and food are included.)

How to Apply:

If you are a high school junior, you can apply for the program through the RSI website (linked above). The application typically opens in late November. Your application must include:

  • Essay detailing your goals in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics
  • Two teacher recommendations
  • Official high school transcript
  • All scores from nationwide standardized tests (including PSAT, ACT, SAT, and AP exams)

The program website states, “It is recommended that PSAT Math Scores be at least 740 or higher and the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Score be 700 or higher. ACT math scores should be at least 33 and verbal scores at least 34. Lower scores must be offset by strong indicators of mathematical, scientific, and academic potential exemplified in recommendations, high school grades, and science activities.”

2. Research in Science and Engineering (RISE) Program at Boston University

For over 40 years, RISE has provided passionate high school students with engaging and enriching research opportunities. The six-week program has helped launched the careers of many researchers, scientists, professors, and more.

The program offers two tracks: Practicum and Internship. Practicum students conduct group research focused on computational neurobiology, while Internship students spend 40 hours a week working on research projects with a distinguished mentor. Engineering-related options for your research include biomedical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering.

At the end of the six weeks, you present your research at the Poster Symposium that concludes the program. One day each week, both Internship and Practicum students come together for workshops designed to build academic and professional skills.

Benefits:

  • Networking in the science and engineering fields
  • Enriching research opportunities guided by expert mentors
  • Learning more about research and the scientific process
  • Workshops to develop both professional and academic skills
  • Participating in recreational and social activities at BU and in the Boston area

How to Apply:

The RISE application is open to high school juniors, and you can apply through the program website. The deadline to submit applications is typically in mid-February. Applications must include:

  • Essays on why you selected your subject of interest, why you want to attend RISE, and your academic achievements
  • List of three faculty members you’re interested in working with and how their research interests align with yours (for Internship applicants only)
  • Two recommendations
  • High school transcript
  • Standardized test scores

The RISE website explains, “Admission decisions take into consideration your high school grades, rigor of courses taken, standardized test scores, essays, and two recommendations.”

3. Carnegie Mellon Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science (SAMS)

SAMS is another six-week STEM program for rising high school seniors. Students engage in both hands-on projects and traditional classroom instruction led by world-renowned Carnegie Mellon faculty. Courses are taught in engineering, physics, mathematics, programming, and personal and career development.

The program is free and aims to promote diversity in STEM. First generation college students, students who speak English as a second language, students who are underrepresented in STEM fields, and those with low socioeconomic status are encouraged to apply.

Benefits:

  • Network with Carnegie Mellon faculty and students, plus other high school students from across the country
  • Take real classes taught by real college professors
  • Collaborate with a diverse group of peers interested in the STEM fields
  • Build the knowledge and skills needed to become a successful STEM scholar
  • It’s free!

How to Apply:

You can apply on the SAMS website with the following:

  • Unofficial high school transcript
  • Standardized test scores (optional)
  • One counselor recommendation
  • One teacher recommendation
  • 1 300-500 word essay (What do you hope to gain from participating in this program?)
  • 1 1000-word essay (Choose from multiple options)
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4. Summer Engineering Exploration (SEE) Camp at University of Michigan

If you’re looking for a shorter, less intensive engineering program, you may enjoy SEE Camp at the University of Michigan. It’s characterized as an immersion program, providing high school students with an introduction to various engineering disciplines.

During the one-week camp, students engage in hands-on engineering activities focused on different disciplines, tour the University of Michigan and talk to current students and admissions officers, and participate in an engineering design challenge. You’ll also enjoy team-building activities ranging from tie-dying to kayaking.

Benefits:

  • Shorter, less intense program. Ideal for students with a developing interest in engineering who want to learn more.
  • Learn about multiple engineering disciplines and discover what interests you the most
  • Enjoy social and team-building activities with other students interested in engineering
  • Meet Michigan students and admissions officers
  • Participate in hands-on activities and challenges related to engineering
  • It’s affordable ($150)

How to Apply:

Students entering grades 10-12 can apply on the SEE Camp’s website. Application requirements include:

  • List of extracurricular activities, honors, and volunteer work or employment
  • Responses to short answer questions (including how you will benefit from SEE Camp and how you responded to a challenge you’ve faced)
  • Letter of recommendation

If you don’t have a lot of engineering experience under your belt yet, SEE Camp may be a good place for you to start. Many of the other applications are looking for students with extensive experience or honors in research and engineering.

5. Girls’ Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (GSTEM) at New York University (NYU)

GSTEM is a summer research program for talented high school girls who want to learn more about STEM in a supportive and inclusive environment. It’s a five-week day camp, meaning it’s ideal for students in close proximity to New York City (or who have someone to stay with in the city).

Over the course of five weeks, students work closely with a STEM mentor on an intensive research project. You’ll also build your STEM skill set, learn about women in STEM, network with peers, and take fun and educational field trips.

Benefits:

  • Network with other young women interested in STEM
  • Build your STEM skills and knowledge
  • Work closely with a mentor as you develop your own research project
  • Take field trips around New York City
  • Experience life on NYU’s campus
  • Learn about the history of women in STEM

How to Apply:

The application for GSTEM typically opens in February and closes in mid-April. It can be found on the program’s website. Young women in their junior year of high school with an interest in and aptitude for STEM are encouraged to apply. Requirements include:

  • NYU Summer Program’s online application
  • Official high school transcript
  • 4 essays
  • Letter of recommendation from a teacher, advisor, or counselor

The website says, “Admission to GSTEM is competitive, and decisions are based on the strength of your high school academic work, your essays, your STEM activities, and your recommendation. We strongly encourage students to apply as early as possible as there is limited space in the program.”

6. Harvard Summer School Pre-College Program

Harvard Summer School is an immersive and relatively intense program for rising juniors and seniors. Depending on student preference, the program can be two, four, or six weeks. Students live and learn on the prestigious Harvard campus, choosing an area or areas of study to focus on.

In small classes of no more than 20 students, you’ll explore your preferred subject in depth under the guidance of Ivy League scholars and faculty. You can also join in on college readiness workshops, social events like talent shows, and a variety of creative activities. You’ll even have the opportunity to visit other campuses nearby, like MIT, Tufts, and Boston University, and meet with admissions advisors.

(If you’re interested, Yale University has a very similar program called Yale Young Global Scholars. It offers some unique engineering programs, such as Applied Science and Engineering, Sustainable Development and Social Entrepreneurship, and Frontiers of Math and Science.)

Benefits:

  • Experience life on an Ivy League campus
  • Mingle with Harvard students and faculty, as well as motivated peers from around the country
  • Study engineering in-depth from noted experts
  • Engage in college readiness workshops, college tours, and meetings with admissions advisors
  • Enjoy creative and social activities with other high school students

How to Apply:

Apply on the Harvard Pre-College Program website, which states that the program is looking for “mature, academically motivated students.” You will need to submit:

  • Counselor report
  • High school transcripts and current grades
  • Short essays
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores (if not a native speaker)

7. Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) at MIT

Note: MITES has been cancelled for Summer 2021, but it is expected to return next year.

MITES is a rigorous six-week program that provides students with the opportunity to take five courses on the MIT campus. The program is designed for rising high school seniors “who have a strong academic record and are interested in exploring careers in engineering and science.” Many MITES students come from underrepresented or underserved communities.

The program is completely free, including food and boarding costs. Students only pay for transportation to and from MIT. Students develop the skills necessary to succeed in the engineering field while learning more about the value of pursuing advanced technical degrees and careers.

Benefits:

  • Take five real courses on MIT’s campus
  • Live on MIT’s campus for five weeks
  • Network with MIT professors, students, and peers
  • It’s all free—including your courses, food, and boarding
  • Build your engineering skills and knowledge in a rigorous, yet supportive setting

How to Apply:

Apply on the MITES website during the fall semester of your junior year in high school. The application generally opens in November. Selected students generally have a demonstrated passion for STEM and a strong academic record.

Requirements include:

  • Transcripts and academic information
  • Optional standardized test scores
  • List of extracurricular activities
  • Three recommendations (math teacher, science teacher, counselor or administrator)
  • 5 short answer questions + 2 optional short answer questions

8. High School Honors Science, Math, and Engineering Program at Michigan State University

Note: Michigan State’s program has been cancelled for Summer 2021, but it is expected to return next year.

The High School Honors Science, Math, and Engineering Program at Michigan State is a seven-week research program for motivated U.S. high school students. It is the oldest continuously running program of its kind in the nation. The goal is to allow young students the opportunity to “live and breathe research” in a real university environment.

Program alumni have won numerous awards and recognition for their research and have gone on to attend college at Yale, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Cornell, and many other esteemed institutions.

Benefits:

  • Enrich your knowledge about intellectual work in STEM
  • Engage deeply in the research process with trusted mentors and guides
  • Potentially produce award-winning research
  • Interact with peers from diverse backgrounds who share your love of STEM
  • Learn, research, and live on the campus of a major research-intensive university

How to Apply:

High school juniors should complete the application on the program website, typically by early March. Application requirements consist of:

  • Completed application form
  • Personal essay of 400-600 words, addressing your interest in scientific research and in this specific program
  • Second personal essay of 400-600 words, describing the impact a book you’ve read has had on your thinking or any aspect of your life
  • Official sealed high school transcript and class rank
  • List of courses you are currently taking (if not included on transcript)
  • List of books/magazines you have read in the past year (not assigned by a teacher)
  • Recommendations from at least two teachers
  • Standardized test scores

Final Thoughts: High School Engineering Programs

High school engineering programs can provide an amazing experience for any student with a passion for engineering and a desire to study engineering in college. Not only will you learn from experts in the field, but you may get the opportunity to live on and explore a real college campus. You may also conduct research with highly accomplished individuals or even college professors, and you’ll build friendships with like-minded peers along the way.

If you’re interested, choose a program that fits your specific interests and goals. For instance, would you rather learn in a classroom or immerse yourself in a research project with a mentor? Do you want a crash course on various disciplines, or a deep dive into something specific?

You can also look at the cost of various programs (some are free, and many offer scholarships or financial aid) and the location. For instance, do you want to attend a program close to home? Does your dream school offer a program that would allow you to live on campus for several weeks?

And finally, remember that if your goal is to impress colleges, you should choose a selective and merit-based program. If finances are a barrier, or if you don’t get accepted into one of these programs, you have other options. For example, you can shadow an engineer, conduct independent research, or even take introductory engineering courses online.

There are many ways to show colleges that you’re passionate, motivated, and serious about engineering—high school engineering programs are just one of them!

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