The Ultimate Guide to Summer Schools

19 Dec, 2023

When you think of summer vacation, you’re probably looking forward to getting away from classrooms, textbooks, and teachers. Summer schools might change your mind! 

Summer schools are a great way to get ahead in your studies, prepare for university applications, and impress future employers, all while exploring the subjects you enjoy. They can offer opportunities to travel, meet like-minded people, and to learn skills beyond your school curriculum. Whatever your circumstances, preferences and goals, there is a summer school to suit you!  

This handy guide tells you everything you need to know about summer schools, what options there are, and what they can offer you.

Summer schools are educational programmes that take place during the summer months and are designed to help students enhance their academic knowledge and skills, explore new subjects, and prepare for their future studies. 

There are a large variety of summer schools. They can be classes run by schools, colleges, or universities, or independent programmes, and some include classes alongside other activities, like an outdoor summer camp. 

Online summer schools are also becoming increasingly popular, allowing students to study from home with online teaching and digital learning platforms. Many of these are completely online, but some may offer the opportunity to attend a few in-person classes as well. They can be provided by a school, college, or university, as well as independent programmes.

Why should students attend a summer school?

Attending a summer school programme comes with a number of amazing benefits. Here are just a few:

Academic Growth

Taking summer courses helps you to develop academic skills and gain knowledge in a supportive and enjoyment-focused environment. This could mean going beyond the course content of your high school curriculum and getting a taste of university-style teaching, working on areas you want some extra support in, or both!

Getting Ahead

Some summer courses will allow students to get ahead by improving their GPA, granting college credits, or enabling them to graduate early. Not only is this valuable in practical terms, but it also shows universities and employers that you have highly desirable qualities as a student or employee. Summer programmes often have smaller classes, more one-on-one time with the teachers, and fewer distractions than term time teaching, so they can be a great way of catching up on work or laying good foundations for the coming year.

Building Confidence

Summer schools can help you build confidence both inside and outside the classroom. Closely supervised, in-depth learning with expert teachers will help you feel well-prepared to use your knowledge and skills. It can also give you a boost in your university applications or CV – not many people will be able to say they pursued their studies and interests like this!

Social Confidence and Independence

Beyond the classroom, summer schools can also help you to build social skills and gain confidence in unfamiliar situations. There are often organised activities to help you get to know people in a relaxed environment. If you’re going on a residential course, living away from home at summer school might help you feel more prepared for going away to university by yourself.

Making New Friends

Summer schools are a great place to meet like-minded people. After all, you’re studying alongside others who are interested in similar subjects or who have similar goals. Summer schools often have a large body of international attendees and offer a unique opportunity to meet people from around the world and build an invaluable network of friends all over the globe.

Having Fun

This is your summer vacation, so have fun while learning! Summer schools are all about enjoying yourself while studying. The teaching is usually a little more creative than what you’ve experienced at school and allows more scope for pursuing what interests you most. Organised social and enrichment activities will give you time to relax with your new friends. In residential courses, you’ll be able to explore your location and experience new cultures, too. 


Students study outside during a summer school session

Types of Summer Schools

There is a summer school for all needs and preferences. Choosing can seem a little overwhelming, so we’ve put together a quick summary of the main types to help you decide which would be the best fit for you:


Academic vs. Enrichment Programmes

Academic programmes focus on specific academic subjects and help students build knowledge and skills in those areas. They could be focused on high school courses or provide tasters of university or vocational education to help you get ahead and explore your options. Enrichment programmes, on the other hand, offer a broader range of activities, such as sports, arts, and language classes, in addition to academic subjects.

Residential vs. Day Programmes

Residential programmes involve staying away from home in order to study at an exciting new destination. You’ll have your accommodation and meals alongside the other students on the summer school. These might be in your home country or abroad and offer exciting opportunities for living away from home and exploring new places.

On day programmes, students go home at the end of the day. They are often a less expensive option and can be easier to fit alongside other summer commitments while still getting the same value from the experience.

International vs. Local Programmes

International summer schools offer the opportunity to explore new cultures, learn about global issues, and make friends from around the world. They are a great way to combine summer travel with getting ahead academically. They are also a stress-free way to travel abroad by yourself for the first time, as accommodation, transport and food are usually taken care of.

Local programmes allow students to stay close to home, offering the option of saving on travel expenses and fit your studying around other activities and commitments.

School-Organised vs. Super-Curricular

Some education systems (like North America) have school-provided summer programmes which allow students to gain extra credits, boost their GPA, or retake exams for a failed class. Other programmes, like the Oxford Scholastica Academy, are ‘super-curricular’. This means that they go beyond the school curriculum, allowing you to explore new areas of study or get a taste of university and vocational courses.

How Long Are Summer Schools?

The duration of summer schools varies widely depending on location, course, and student goals. Outdoor activity programmes can be as short as a weekend, while programmes aiming to give a taste of university life can be 4-5 weeks long.

Summer schools providing academic courses to enhance learning are usually last 1-2 weeks, depending on location, curriculum, and type of teaching. Programmes which provide formal accreditation usually vary from 3-6 weeks depending on the course, level of study, and intensity of teaching hours. If the programme is aimed at an international audience, it will likely be longer to give students time to explore and experience the culture alongside their classes.

Student in graduation cap stands in Oxford during summer school

Choosing the Right Summer School

With so many different types of summer school there will certainly be something to suit your needs. Here are some factors to consider when choosing your summer school:

Programme length

Programme length is important for practical reasons, but also for enjoyment. Perhaps you have other commitments or plans for the summer, or you find socialising tiring, in which case a shorter programme might suit you best. If you’re using a summer school to immerse yourself in a new culture or language, then perhaps a longer stay would be better. 


Before you start planning your summer school experience, you need to work out your budget and talk it through with a responsible adult. Once you know what you’re working with, there is a summer school to suit every budget! You may not be able to afford travelling abroad for an international residential school, but an online summer programme could be a more affordable option for making international friends. 


Perhaps you’re attending a summer school as part of a longer summer travel adventure, in which case choosing a location you’d like to visit is key! If you’re planning to travel onwards from the summer school location, a programme in a city with good transport links would be useful. Alternatively, you might need to be closer to home for other plans and commitments, in which case local or online schools would be perfect for you. 


There are a huge range of courses available through summer schools. Since you’ll spend much of your time studying, you need to make sure it’s the right course for you. If you’re hoping gain extra credits or boost your academic profile for university applications, then you’ll need to find courses that serve those purposes.

For example, if you’re hoping to study Modern Languages at university, a summer language course will boost your skills and demonstrate your dedication. On the other hand, you might like to try something completely new, like architecture or creative writing, or even want to give a research-based course a go. There are so many options out there, you’ll be sure to find one for you! Summer schools usually offer course curriculum summaries online.


You might want to use your summer to secure course accreditations from a particular school, university, or organisation, in which case you’ll need to find a programme offering this option. If you’re not certain which programmes offer the appropriate recognised accreditations, make sure to check with your high school or reach out to the summer school so that you know you’re on the right curriculum. 

Extracurricular activities

As this is your summer vacation, you probably don’t want to be spending all of it in a classroom. Many summer schools offer extracurricular activities so that you can relax and make friends outside of your studies. If you enjoy outdoor activities, find a summer school with recreational sports, or perhaps you’re into history and would like to study in a historic location so you can visit sites of cultural interest. There’s sure to be a summer school that can offer you opportunities to pursue your hobbies and interests with like-minded people. 


So, there are quite a few things to consider when it comes to choosing a summer school! We’ve put together some tips to help make the decision making process a little bit more manageable: 


Research different summer programmes 

There’s a lot out there, so the best place to start is to have a look at plenty of different programmes so that you can get a clear sense of what you do and don’t want. Most summer schools have detailed websites with plenty of information to help you decide.

Read reviews from past students 

It’s important to have a sense of what experience the summer school offers. Reading reviews from past students is one of the quickest ways to find out if a particular programme has what you’re looking for. They can offer insight on many small details, from curriculum and teaching staff to food and accommodation. There might be something you hadn’t even thought of which makes you fall in love with a particular programme. 

Contact programme staff for more information 

Summer schools want to make sure they can offer you the best experience possible and are very willing to provide additional information. Don’t be afraid to contact them, they’ll be happy to hear from you!

Top Summer Schools for High School Students

The Sutton Trust – Best for accessibility 

The Sutton Trust hosts summer schools at thirteen of the UK’s top universities, including Cambridge and Durham. They also offer a week-long trip to the US, stopping off at several top American universities.

The Trust focuses on widening participation, offering places to UK state school students on a means-tested basis. They cover all expenses, including travel, meals, and accommodation during the programmes. 


The Oxford Scholastica Academy – Best to experience university life 

Whether you’re aiming to apply for universities in the UK or abroad, the Oxford Scholastica Academy’s summer courses are a great way to try out some advanced study in your chosen subject and boost your future applications. Although we aren’t affiliated with Oxford University, our style of teaching is modelled on Oxbridge undergraduate study, and many of the tutors and staff are past or present Oxford students. The programmes also offer the change to stay in Oxford University accommodation, learn in their world-class facilities, and even have meals in the famous college dining halls! 


Doon Leadership Academy – Best for Humanities 

The Doon School is India’s most famous boys’ boarding school. During the summer they host boys and girls aged 14-18 for their leadership programme. The application requires a personal statement to ensure that prospective students are suited to their intensive programme. This includes studying History, Economics, Philosophy, Rhetoric and Performing Arts – everything a young global leader might need!

The two-week course includes compulsory outdoor activities like hiking and camping, and the use of electronics is heavily restricted to optimise focus. The programme is extremely rigorous but very rewarding, and looks impressive on future applications. 


PGL – Best for outdoor activities 

PGL holidays are activity-focused adventure programmes located across the UK and France. The camps centre around taking on new challenges and making friends, offering everything from abseiling and kayaking to surf school.

PGL operate a range of locations and for various durations, with 3, 4 and 7-night trips as well as non-residential camps. The programmes are designed to be inclusive and fun for everyone, offering different focuses for different ages. 


Interlochen High School Summer Programme – Best for the Arts  

Interlochen is an American high school in Michigan. It specialises in the arts and preparing students for conservatoire study after high school. They run a range of specialised summer courses, including the Harp and Motion Picture Arts. The programmes require video and/or audio audition tapes to ensure that everyone is of a suitable level.

This is a great opportunity for high school students hoping to transfer to the Interlochen Centre for the Arts full-time in the future, and particularly for those who are aiming to pursue higher-level musical or artistic study. 


Camp Chinqueka – Best single-gender programme

Based in Connecticut, USA, Camp Chinqueka offers two to eight-week-long adventure programmes for girls aged 6-15 years old. The facilities are located along the banks of Mt. Tom Pond, perfect for boating and swimming. They provide a range of activities, including water skiing, yoga, and ceramics, with well-qualified staff guiding each one. Camp Chinqueka has a brother camp, Camp Awosting, which offers a similar experience for boys. They organise some joint activities, which are always well-supervised. 


King’s Academy Summer Programmes – Best for Arabic and STEM 

The King’s Academy is an elite boarding and day school in Jordan for male and female students aged 12-18. During the summer they run a renowned Arabic programme for students aged 12-16, as well as English and Maths courses. They provide advanced STEM courses for 11 to 15-year-olds, covering things like 3D printing and building off-planet colonies. For younger students, they also offer sports and activity camps for ages  six to 13.


Why Oxford Scholastica Academy is a Great Option for a Summer School 


Attending the Oxford Scholastica Academy is a life-changing opportunity to experience Oxbridge-style teaching in a historic location with like-minded individuals from around the world. It provides world-class academic programmes with a broad range of subjects, from Law and Engineering to Creative Writing and International Relations. All courses are taught by expert tutors, many of whom study at or graduated from Oxford and Cambridge, and some now teach there during term time too!

Oxford Scholastica offers immersive cultural experiences to make sure that you get the most out of your stay, such as visiting Blenheim Palace and Windsor Castle or taking part in some Scottish dancing at a Ceilidh. There are a range of fun extracurricular activities to help you relax and build friendships, like trying your hand at punting or joining the inclusive running club. 

Our summer programmes offer a unique chance to experience a taste of university life and prepare for your future. Past students have credited OSA with helping them take the next steps in life, writing that the Medicine course ‘helped me in deciding what I wanted to major in as I was not sure before’ (Aisha, Oman) and that ‘the Law course was challenging but extremely rewarding, as it assured me that it was the path I wanted to choose at university’ (Lena, Finland). These programmes forge long-lasting, world-wide friendships for the students, with many reporting that they have remained in touch with their course-mates years later. Importantly, parents are confident in OSA to take care of the academic development and personal welfare of all students, with a 4.7/5 satisfaction rating and 99% saying they would recommend Oxford Scholastica. 

Here at Oxford Scholastica, we also offer online academic courses, providing the opportunity to experience the same top-tier teaching and curriculum from anywhere in the world. Small classes sizes and project, research, and debate-based learning will ensure that you get the most out of your online experience.

Summer schools are life-changing opportunities to prepare for future studies and succeed academically, while building new friendships and making the most of your summer. 

Hopefully we’ve piqued your interest, and you’ll be ready to start looking for the right programme and course for you! If you’d like to hear more about the Oxford Scholastica Academy’s programmes, please do get in touch with Stephanie, who’d be more than happy to answer any questions you might have.


By Alice Spiers

Alice is an historian at St Anne’s College, Oxford, where she teaches undergraduate history (predominantly medieval history and historiographical theory). She is also a freelance writer and editor, and a research assistant at the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Studies.

Ready for the best summer of your life?

Recommended articles

How to Secure Strong References for Your UCAS Applications

How to Secure Strong References for Your UCAS Applications

References are a crucial component of your UCAS application, offering a holistic view of your potential as an applicant.  Your application will ask for references who can testify to your potential as a student and what you have to offer the university or college...

read more
A Day in the Life of a History Student

A Day in the Life of a History Student

It’s been over three years since I first sent my UCAS application off to Oxford University, meeting the early submission deadline by a slither and breathing a sigh of relief. Now, as a third-year History finalist on the cusp of exams, I can safely say that these...

read more