Summer Programs for “Undecided” College-bound Teens

It’s perfectly OK if a high school student doesn’t know what they want to major in during college! The most popular major for college freshmen is “Undecided”. In fact, when a high school student is so fixated on a particular major, that’s when I start to worry.


Anyone who has researched summer programs knows there are plenty of options for students interested in medicine, pre-engineering students, and those interested in business majors. Well, if you’re not so sure about which major interests you or just plain want to explore different fields, there are many summer programs that cover a range of topic areas through courses, cultural immersion, and community service.


For my high school students who are unsure of a major for college, I recommend that they try something totally new to get an idea of what they like or don’t like. We set basic program criteria, like the length of program, location, or extracurricular activities to focus our search for summer programs. Whether we focus on academic courses or community service depends on whether there are gaps to fill on their activities resume. The key is finding a summer program that’s a good match for exploring and discovering new interests.


Here are several summer programs that have different program options to choose:


Wake Forest Summer Immersion Institute – while Wake Forest offers many programs focused on specific future majors, there are also ones that are more general, such as health & well-being, leadership, technology and writing for life.

Putney Student Travel – whether a student wants to study abroad or do community service, this program has a range of options. Students may choose to do community service, or language learning, in addition to studying on a college campus.

Northwestern College Prep Program – available in two formats (IN FOCUS for in-person and E FOCUS for virtual) participants get access to professors during a variety of 2-week programs. 

LEAD Global Summer Institute – in this 3-week hybrid program (one week online and two weeks in person) participants will end the program equipped to “think differently” about how they learn and how to apply it. 


What general summer programs have you found to spark new interests?


How to find the right summer programs for your college-bound teen in 4 easy steps

The summer is a special time to continue learning and growing and college-bound teens can take advantage of numerous summer programs. The activities resume for college-bound teens who get into their top choice colleges often include meaningful summer experiences. 

In addition to internships, creative projects, and reading in the summer, there are a number of summer programs for students whether they are in grade 9, 10 or 11. However, the right summer program can take time to research and apply.

Here are 4 easy steps to get started with finding the right summer program!

1. Set a Goal

A good way to start with thinking about how to find the best summer program for your college bound teen is starting with a goal. Your teen should set 1-2 goals for the summer, as it will help them to be intentional in considering the best use of their talents and time. Examples of summer goals may include:

  • Meet new friends from around the world
  • Read 5 new books on topics that interest me
  • Take a course not offered at school
  • Learn more about a career in ___?___
  • Get more community service hours
  • Experience living away from home (when and where residential programs are available)
  • . . . . (you name it)

2. Use this guide for summer program criteria

Each year, I encourage my students to apply to 1-2 summer programs. The past couple years, there have been many great virtual summer programs available. This is the guide that I use to recommend programs that can help teens consider the many options available to them once they have a goal in mind:

  • Rising 10th – Explore a new topic
  • Rising 11th – Discover more about a field of study or career interest
  • Rising 12th – Connect with colleges (perhaps consider a summer campus visit as well, where available)

3. Do a narrow Google search

There is no shortage of things to do and programs to pursue. Searching online for a summer program can feel overwhelming and tedious. I suggest that your teen’s internet search for summer programs is very specific. For example, if your teen is interested in pre-engineering and enjoys math, I would suggest using these terms and clicking the search button

“engineering math summer high school programs”

Within seconds, I got over 19,000 results using these search terms term and even better, at the bottom of the first page there are more related search terms to refine the list.

One thing I will add about the summer after 11th grade is that it is not necessary to attend a summer program at a college of interest. Some summer programs may be held on a college campus but are not affiliated with the university, especially not the admissions offices!

4. Determine if the program is worth applying

If the summer program does not require any documents from the student, then I would caution you against applying. The summer programs that I recommend for my students typically require transcript, teacher recommendations, test scores, and essays. The summer program application is, in effect, a mini-college application, which is good experience for your teen and their recommenders.

What is your teen doing this summer? Which summer programs did you find? Please post in comments below.

How juniors can get best teacher recommendations before their first college application

One of the qualities that every junior should develop is networking/building relationships with peers and adults. Teachers are important adults both inside and outside the classroom. Junior year is an important time for students to continue developing relationships with teachers. Teacher relationships are important because it is highly likely that the teachers from junior year will be writing recommendation letters for college.

Here are my top 3 tips for how juniors can build good relationship with their teachers:

  1. Meet after school to ask questions and discuss lessons from class. These meetings should be sincere in that students are making an effort to meet with those teachers that they want to get to know or have an interest in their subject area.
  2. Review graded exams or assignments with teachers. This extra action will help not only with building a relationship with you teachers but also help with learning the content better. I especially encourage students who may need extra help with written assignments to meet with the teacher afterwards to understand how to improve their writing.
  3. Request a recommendation for summer program. Applying to a summer program is a low risk way to find out if a teacher can write a strong letter of recommendation for a student. In the past, I have actually had students request a recommendation for a summer program and they were denied acceptance because the teacher didn’t submit the recommendation letter. That was a good lesson for the college applications. The student learned that they should perhaps allow more lead time and/or ask a different teacher!

The wonderful thing about high school teacher relationships is that they often last for years. It’s common for students to go away to college but still return to visit their high school teachers during breaks. I recently had dinner with a high school chemistry teacher and was impressed that two former students stopped by our table to say hello and thanks. The teacher remarked that many former students even from her earliest years of teaching still stay in touch.

Even when meeting after school with a teacher may seem like an extra assignment, it will begin a lifelong relationship.

What other steps can students take to build relationships with teachers?

Summer Programs for High School Students Interested in Business

Students Interested in Business

Just as there are a number of business opportunities in college for students, there are just as many pre-business opportunities for high school students in the summers. As early as the summer after 9th grade, students interested in business can explore this field. In my research, I have found that there are a few programs for rising sophomores, even more programs available to rising juniors, then rising seniors have the most opportunities for summer pre-business programs.

The selection process for these pre-business summer programs vary. Some programs only require interest and a tuition deposit. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, because student participants can still learn a lot during the program. The more selective pre-business summer programs may require:

  • Transcripts
  • Teacher Recommendations
  • Test scores
  • Essays

The deadlines for these programs are typically in February/March.

USC Marshall School has a top international business experience for undergrads.
USC Marshall School has a top international business experience for undergrads.

Here are several programs where high school students can explore whether a business career is a match for them:

Stevens Institute of Technology Business Program – students are exposed to marketing, finance (including Quantitative Finance), management, and business law in this one-week intensive experience.

University of Southern California Exploring Entrepreneurship – students earn 3 USC college credits in this 4-week course, which blends business theory and the practice of being an entrepreneur.

Business Week (Throughout the USA) – Several states across the country offer “Business Week” programs, which are one-week business intensives that integrate business concepts, mentoring, and team projects with local leaders. There are Business Week programs in the following states:

  • Alaska
  • Colorado
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Washington

If your state is not listed here, you may want to search online with “(your state) Business Week high school students” and see what comes up.

What pre-business summer programs have you found for high school students?


Engineering summer programs for high school students

With the rising importance of STEM fields, there are even more summer programs in engineering for high school students to explore. These programs can range from offering general to specific engineering introductions, project-based learning, or research opportunities. Several programs are focused on introducing teen girls or minority students to engineering since these groups are largely under-represented in engineering careers.

Applicants should expect these programs to be very selective (just as it is in applying to college engineering programs). Selection for these programs may include:

  • Transcripts
  • Test scores
  • Recommendations
  • Essays

Students must pay close attention to deadlines. If a program offers “rolling” admission, then it’s best to apply sooner, since the slots fill quickly once the application opens. For example, your more selective programs may open their applications in January with a rolling admissions and by March all the spaces are filled . . . even though applications will be accepted through May.

Here are a few summer programs for high school students to explore engineering:

Summer Honors Engineering Camp (University of Dayton) – students participating in this camp can learn about chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering through hands-on activities.

Summer at WPI – there are programs for middle and high school students. The upper level program, Frontiers, focuses on lab techniques and solving programs across engineering, math, science and robotics.

Santa Clara University Summer Engineering Seminar – students in this program can discover environmental engineering, robotics, nanotechnology or bioengineering through seminars presented by faculty.

If a student doesn’t have the opportunity to participate in a formal summer program, then I encourage them to consider job shadows and internships in their local community. The experience will be invaluable to learning whether you want to invest the resources and effort to pursue engineering as a major in college.

What summer programs in engineering have you found?


Summer programs for Pre-med high school students

High school students interested in pre-medicine have a variety of options to explore the healthcare field during the summer. What I generally recommend is that students consider a broader exploratory interest after 9th grade, then apply to those programs in specific healthcare fields after 10th and 11th grades. One of the reasons that I suggest doing it this way is because I want students to realize early on that they do not have to major in a science in order to attend medical school. Yes, you should be comfortable with the sciences, but your major can be as far-ranging as philosophy or music, as long as you meet the course requirements to apply to medical school.

stethoscopeStudents must know that these pre-medical summer programs tend to be very selective, with rigorous application processes. The applications are typically due during the winter and often include submitting transcript, test scores, essays, and teacher recommendations. The application process itself is worth the effort, whether or not you’re admitted. It’s good experience.

Here are several programs that high school students with pre-medical interests may want to explore:

Boston University Research Internship in Science and Engineering – students participating in this program get a rare opportunity to conduct research with university professors. Perhaps there is even an opportunity to publish as well.

Drexel Mini-Med Summer Camp – This summer opportunity allows students to observe surgical procedures, shadow physicians during clinical office hours, and participate in medical simulations.

University of Florida Student Science Training Program – The emphasis of this program is on research with a faculty team for students not only interested in healthcare, but also math, computer science, or engineering. This could be a good opportunity to learn about other fields that may inform trends in healthcare.

These are examples which I hope will encourage you to research other programs or, better yet, create a similar program in your own community that would be a good match for next summer! Please let us know what you discover in the comments below.


How to answer “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Case studies of 4 college-bound teens

Do teenagers really know what they want to do in life? In short, some of them do and some of them definitely don’t. When I’m guiding my college-bound high school students, it doesn’t matter if they know what they want to be when they grow up. I encourage all my students to consider exploring their interests in the summer.

Case Study 1: “I want to be a medical doctor.”

Becoming a medical doctor is more than just majoring in biology. There are different types of doctors. There are many summer options where high school students can learn more about the medical field:

  • Do research at a university
  • Participate in clinical rounds through a shadowing program
  • Volunteer in a hospital, or
  • Travel on a cultural exchange that supports healthworkers.

Each summer when my students spend time in one of these activities, it always changes their perspective on the health field . . . either confirming their interest, finding a new sub-specialty interest, meeting a new mentor or deciding that they have a totally different interest.

Case Study 2: “I don’t know what I want to do in college or after.”

The most popular major for incoming college freshmen is “Undecided.” That may work well for a campus that offers the flexibility for students to explore different majors and still graduate in four years. If a college doesn’t offer that flexibility, then students can waste a lot of time and money “figuring out” what they want to do. I encourage my high school students to participate in an activity of interest during the summer. In the summers after 9th, 10th, and 11th grade, students can

  • Participate in an academic program on any topic, from history to psychology to physics
  • Volunteer in local community
  • Be creative through the fine or performing arts
  • Get a job or any other purposeful pursuit.

Either way, there is no reason that any college-bound teen should say . . .”I just hung out for the summer” especially if you’re “undecided”.

Case Study 3: “I want to be an engineer.”

This is probably the second most common interest I hear from high school students. I hate to say it but I don’t think that most high school students really know what an engineer does. There are countless summer engineering programs for high school students, especially for girls. Students can learn about the specific fields of engineering as well as meet engineers. Some programs even incorporate a hands-on problem for students to solve. These programs go a long way in helping students to not only learn about the various fields but determine if they like it enough to pursue as a major in college. (The engineering majors are one of the more intensive and time-demanding majors to pursue.) The cool thing about the summer engineering programs is that you can even find programs that are free to attend.

Case Study 4: “I think I want to do business.”

Business is a popular field of interest, yet very broad. When I ask my students which area of business interests them, they often say “management” or “general”. Still . . . very broad. That response tells me that a student has several options for the summer:

  • Attend a summer business program across topics
  • Collaborate on a business project
  • Participate in a job shadowing/internship, or
  • Get a job.

There has been a lot of interest lately in starting a business. For my students interested in entrepreneurship, I encourage them to

  • Check out summer entrepreneurship programs
  • Attend local, small business resource events, or
  • Write a business plan.

Again, with all the different options for high school students interested in any area of business, every teen can find out if this area interests them or not, before going to college.

In our upcoming blog posts, we will highlight specific summer programs for high school students to explore career interests.

Where to find summer coding camps for Teens

compass college advisory

I am particularly concerned about girls in STEM. Over the years, there’s been a significant drop in females graduates in computer science for example. According to the website, women represent only 12% of computer science graduates versus 37% in 1984. What happened??

For me personally, I started out in the STEM area as a college freshman. The large, lecture-style STEM freshman year courses were clearly designed to weed out the ill-prepared students. My high school AP Physics course did not prepare me for the rigors of introductory physics at Stanford. Even with a “curve”, my test grades in this course discouraged me from continuing in the department.

In my consulting practice, I have had several female clients who are excited about the STEM areas earlier in high school. As the senior year draws near, however, their interest wanes. One of the ways that I try to keep their interests high or sometimes pique their interest is to introduce STEM summer camps.

Here is a list of camps that offers a great starting point for finding camps for all teens, especially girls: Summer Coding Camps for Kids – CodeHS Blog.

My hope is that the summer camps will stimulate their creativity and show them practical applications for STEM.

Another telling statistic today is that only .4% of female freshmen plan to major in computer science, whereas 74% of middle-school girls are interested in STEM. What’s happening in middle and high school for these girls??

It’s not too late to keep students sharp through this summer

It’s already July, about the half-way mark for summer break. (Yes, I’m counting down for my 3 to go back to school…the sooner, the better!) There’s still time for students to make the most of their summer with learning. I like these 4 tips from a CNN blog because they are easy to incorporate into current summer plans:

Learn something new . . .  It doesn’t have to be out of a textbook. Swimming or SCUBA or horseback riding lessons, practicing a language while driving to your vacation destination – it all counts.

Leverage learning on vacation . . .And while the theme park is fine, consider visiting a national park as well.  Why?  Because people have to learn something about it to get the most out of the visit.

Read . . . [See our July newsletter for suggestions]

Up your game(s) . . . .It’s ironic that many of the games that are lower-tech are often better for learning.

via Keeping students sharp through summer – Schools of Thought – Blogs.

So, tell the truth . . . how are you progressing on your summer goals?



Teen traveling for summer camps?

Charlottesville Summer Camp

As a parent of 1 pre-teen and 2 teenagers, I sometimes feel like my entire spring is spent planning their summer camps. Finding a camp that fits well with our summer goals is actually not so hard. The most time-consuming aspect is figuring out all the travel arrangements for residential programs. It is not always possible for my husband or me to travel with them. So figuring out the Unaccompanied Minor policies can take the better part of several weeks. For example, my younger son is participating in a program in Virginia. I was so excited to find a ticket into Charlottesville for about $150. I was ready to book the ticket when I realized that their age minimum to fly as an adult is 15. For my well-traveled 13-year-old, there would be an additional fee of $100 and the flight must be non-stop!! Yikes! Where can you fly non-stop on US Airways? Certainly not to Charlottesville, VA, unless it’s already in driving distance.

To save families some time on figuring out the unaccompanied minor airline policies, here is a summary:

American Airlines:

Children 8 through 11 years of age must travel with another passenger at least 16 years of age or they will be considered Unaccompanied Minors. For travel on American Airlines, American Eagle, and AmericanConnection unaccompanied children may travel on nonstop, direct and connecting flights. If the itinerary includes a connection to/from another airline, including codeshare and oneworld partners, the unaccompanied children will not be accepted.

Children 12 through 17 years of age – Use of the Unaccompanied Minor service is not required, but is available upon request.

via American Airlines Offers Information For Traveling With Children And Infants On


The Unaccompanied Minor Program ($100 fee) is required for all children 5-14 years old when traveling alone. Ages 5-7  can only travel on nonstop flights. Ages 8-14 can travel on nonstop and connecting flights. The program is optional for children age 15 – 17.

via Children Traveling Alone


Children ages five through 11 traveling without an accompanying Passenger age 12 or older must travel as an Unaccompanied Minor (UM) on Southwest Airlines. Southwest will charge $50 each way ($100 roundtrip) in addition to the air fare per child for UMs to travel.

via Unaccompanied Minor


Children 5 to 11 years of age who are not accompanied by  someone who is at least 18 years of age on the same aircraft are considered unaccompanied minors. Ages 5 to 7 may only travel on nonstop flights. Ages 8 to 11 may travel on any flight (nonstop or connecting) operated by United or United Express. However, travel will not be allowed on the last connecting flight of the day — unless the connecting flight is the only published service to that destination. Unaccompanied minors are not accepted on flights which require an overnight stay in order to make a connection.

via United Airlines – Children traveling alone

Virgin America:

Children 5-14 may travel unaccompanied on non-stop flights only. Virgin America assistance is required. Young adults 15 through 17 are considered adults unless the parents or guardians wish unaccompanied minor services to be provided by Virgin America. The charge for Unaccompanied Minor service is $75 for short-haul flights (flights less than 2 hours in duration), $100 for long-haul and medium-haul flights (flights more than 2 hours in duration), or $125 for International flights on Virgin America (arriving or departing from Mexico).  Unaccompanied Minor reservations cannot be made online.

via How can my child travel unaccompanied?

Where is your student going this summer?


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