What are your plans for the summer? Ten years ago, you may not have answered, “Going to a summer art program.” This response would’ve been pretty unusual. There weren’t many pre-college summer programs for high school art students, so most young artists spent time at home preparing for college life in other ways. But that’s not the reality anymore. Things have changed significantly. 

Summer art programs have become the rule, not the exception—and maybe that’s why you’re reading this blog post. Perhaps you’ve thought about attending a summer program at an art school, art institute, or university but are wondering which one to choose and what to expect. The good news is that you’ve come to the right place! This article provides a deep dive into the most important things to know about summer art intensives and recommends ten to consider. 

What is a Summer Arts Program?

Let’s start with the basics. Summer arts programs for high school students are intensive courses that help young artists discover new disciplines, hone their craft, and cultivate wells of creativity. They’re an enriching opportunity to experience college life and college-level coursework. They’re also full of art students from around the world with unique perspectives, opening the door to collaboration, fun friendships, and new ideas.

One thing to keep in mind, though, about summer art programs is that they’re sometimes called “summer art intensives” or “pre-college programs.” All of these terms mean the same thing, so don’t worry if you see them used interchangeably in the art field. Also, there’s a summer art program for every grade level in high school. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman, sophomore, or entering the 12th grade. You can find a great intensive for you. 

Types of Summer Art Programs for High School Students 

Most colleges, universities, and art schools have summer art programs. Even some art institutes have intensives available. However, not every pre-college summer program for high school students is the same. Various factors differentiate some from others, including the ones below. 

1. Duration 

Some summer art intensives are a week-long session. Others are two-week, three-week, or four-week programs. It’s also possible to find ones that last longer than a month, so the options are honestly abundant. 

2. Location

There are pre-college programs all over the world, but it’s important to know that some are on-campus and want high school students to live in residence halls. Others are in-person but allow you to be a commuter, and some have online sessions in case you’d prefer to take art classes at home. It’s even possible to find programs that offer all or a combination of these options. 

3. Content 

Certain programs walk through material you’d get in a first-year foundation art class. For example, topics like 2D and 3D painting, digital art, and lens-based art are covered. There’s also a big emphasis on drawing, especially observational and figure drawing. 

Other programs, on the other hand, are very specific and let you select a major, whether that’s interior design, architecture, fine art, fashion design, graphic design, painting, character animation, or experimental animation.  

4. Costs

Depending on the program, you can pay hundreds or thousands of dollars. Some will be more expensive than others based on their location, duration, and housing options. Awarding college credits can also increase the price of certain programs. But in some cases, financial aid is available. One example is the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It offers need-based financial aid and merit scholarships. 

5. Eligibility 

Qualifications vary across summer art programs. Some intensives will immediately accept you if there’s still room in their art course—all you have to do is fill out a short application, select a session, and pay the enrollment fee. 

Other programs, like at California College of the Arts, require an essay and a selection of portfolio pieces. A process like this is similar to a college application but shorter and less complicated. The main goals are to make sure you can express yourself in writing and have a certain skill level so that you benefit from what the program offers. 

How to Choose a Pre-College Summer Art Program

Because there are many factors that differentiate pre-college summer programs, it’s important to choose the best one for you. We believe you should do what makes sense for you and your needs. 

how to choose between summer art programs for high school studentsA few general things that can help guide your decision include looking at the program’s faculty, resources, and coursework. Outside of those foundational tips, here are three other strategies that can help you make an exciting decision:

  • Find a program that offers what you want to study. If you want to learn about industrial design, for example, finding a summer intensive at a college or university that specializes in that discipline will have strong faculty, up-to-date equipment, great resources, and connections. 
  • Go to a summer art program at the school you want to attend. There’s a big difference between walking the halls of your dream school and reading about it online or doing a virtual tour. Going in person will give you a realistic idea about the school’s art classes, workload, college students, faculty, and more. 
  • Consider logistics to find the best fit for your schedule. Summer is filled with family vacations and other commitments, so selecting a program that lasts for your preferred amount of time and happens in the right location can be helpful. 

An important thing to keep in mind during your decision-making process is that some programs can be very competitive. Some fill up quickly and have waiting lists, just like colleges. The Rhode Island School of Design’s summer program is a good example. 

So, if you want to attend a summer art intensive, don’t wait until April or May to start researching and applying for programs. Application deadlines are usually between January and March. The sooner you can make a decision and apply, the better your chances will be at securing a spot in a competitive intensive. 

Benefits of a Summer Art Program 

Once you’ve been admitted to your summer art program, get ready to experience a myriad of benefits. Pre-college art intensives offer a variety of advantages for high school students, whether you’re a freshman, sophomore, or junior. Don’t believe us? Check out the nine benefits that’ll come from immersing yourself in such a unique art experience: 

  1. You may earn college credits. Usually, it’s no more than three credits, but these can still be helpful. When you’re applying for college, some schools will accept the credits in place of a prerequisite. 
  2. You’ll get a glimpse into college life. If you do a program at your dream school or another institute, you’ll get insider knowledge about what to expect from college-level art classes and life on campus. You’ll also enjoy hours of studio time and gain hands-on experience navigating design processes and workflows only college students get to experience. 
  3. You may get a letter of recommendation. Some faculty members will write a letter of recommendation for strong students in the program, which can be very helpful in your college admissions process. 
  4. You’ll explore a new city. Whether you’re doing a program in New York City, Atlanta, Chicago, or Los Angeles, you’ll get a peek into college life in the area. You’ll discover creative places and popular hangout spots and meet college students who can tell you about the city. 
  5. Your confidence will increase. Many high students leave summer programs energized and confident that they’ll be successful art students and that their work is good. Some also know the exact discipline they want to pursue and the school they want to attend. 
  6. You’ll make great friendships. No matter the program, you’ll meet people with the same interests and love for creativity. These connections can lead to life-long friendships where you collaborate, talk about colleges, and visit schools together. 
  7. You may go on field trips and meet professional artists. Many pre-college summer programs take students on field trips. In NYC, some art intensives bring high school students to the Met, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim. Some programs also have professional guest artists drop by to make presentations to enhance students’ art experience. 
  8. You may discover different art forms. Since foundational summer intensives cover a broad range of disciplines, you may take classes in photography, motion arts, and figure drawing. With the exposure to different forms, you could leave interested in incorporating something new into your creativity.
  9. You may build portfolio pieces. Depending on the summer art program, you could leave with a couple of finished projects or a few in-progress pieces that received helpful critiques. At a bare minimum, you’ll at least leave with a bunch of ideas to flesh out at home and a new way of approaching art-making. 

The last benefit is particularly important to remember. Many high school students believe they’ll leave their summer program with a finalized art portfolio, but this is absolutely not true. Students do not complete their programs with 15-20 finished portfolio pieces. They usually leave with three to four and many ideas to explore—and this is true whether they attend a week session, a months-long intensive, or a portfolio development program. Summer art sessions are simply the first steps in creating an entire body of work. 

10 Pre-College Programs for High School Art Students 

It’s time for the fun part: a list of summer art programs for high school students. Below are ten options to choose from, but please know this is not an exhaustive list. It’s simply a springboard to get you thinking.

learn about 10 summer art programs for high school studentsThere are dozens of programs available, so doing some independent research may be beneficial. Also, this list is not meant to favor some programs over others. A few options are merely programs students gravitate towards the quickest, while others are more cost-effective. Keeping all that in mind, here are ten pre-college programs for high school students.

1. California State Summer School for the Arts

Description: The California State Summer School for the Arts is a pre-professional, month-long training program for high school students. It focuses on performing arts, visual arts, animation, creative writing, and film. It’s primarily for California residents, but out–of–state students can apply as well.  However, only 20 artists out of California are admitted each year. The program is highly competitive and wants students with a high level of talent and creativity, demonstrated through teacher recommendations and assignments. 

Where: Sacramento, California

Application Deadline: February 29, 2024

Duration: July 6, 2024 – August 2, 2024


  • CA State Residents: $4,600
  • Out-of-State and International Students: $7,000

2. Pratt Institute 

Description: At the Pratt Institute Pre-College Program, students experience rigorous college-level courses and have an opportunity to earn college credits accepted at Pratt Institute and other universities. This program is modeled after the institute’s undergraduate courses in design, writing, art, and architecture. Pratt faculty teach all the classes, helping high school students immerse themselves in the creative process and a like-minded community of young artists. 

Where: Brooklyn, NY

Application Deadline: priority applications are due March 1, 2024

Duration: July 8, 2024 – August 2, 2024


  • Tuition: $4,613
  • Housing: $1,390
  • Meals: $693

3. Creative Writing Institute at Georgetown University

Description: Georgetown University’s Creative Writing Institute is a one-week summer intensive for high school students. The program focuses on publishing, writing styles, jobs, and various markets to sell and publish creative work. Students will have their content critiqued by Georgetown faculty and professional writers. The program also includes field trips to the most famous literary spaces in D.C. 

Where: Washington, D.C.

Application Deadline: 

  • Early Bird Deadline:  January 31, 2024
  • Final Deadline: May 15, 2024 (you can submit an application after this date, but it’ll be reviewed on a case-by-case basis)

Duration: July 14, 2024 – July, 20, 2024

Costs: $3,389 (this includes tuition, housing, and meals)

4. School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Description: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago believes meaning and making are inseparable and thinks artists should begin with an idea and choose the media that best helps them realize their vision. This approach means high school students in the program can combine materials and disciplines or focus on a single medium. Students will study with faculty and reputable practicing artists, designers, and scholars. Most of these professionals teach in the undergraduate program, so young artists can make great connections. Students can also enjoy the program’s state-of-the-art facilities and resources, including the Art Institute of Chicago, which has the third-largest art collection in the world.

Where: Chicago, IL

Application Deadline: Priority deadline is March 1, 2024


  • Session 1: two-weeks, June 17–28
  • Session 2: two-weeks, July 1–12
  • Session 3: two-weeks, July 15–26
  • Session 4: four-weeks, July 1–26
  • Session 5: one-week, July 29–August 2


  • 1-week Session:
    • Tuition: $1,785
    • Housing and Meal Plan: $600
    • Supplies: approximately $150
    • Incidentals/Personal Spending: approximately $100
  • 2-week Sessions:
    • Tuition: $3,570
    • Housing and Meal Plan: $1,200
    • Supplies: approximately $300
    • Incidentals/Personal Spending: approximately $200
  • 4-week Session:
    • Tuition: $7,140
    • Housing and Meal Plan: $2,400
    • Supplies: approximately $450
    • Incidentals/Personal Spending: approximately $350

5. NYU Steinhardt: Summer Arts Intensive 

Description: The Steinhardt: Summer Arts Intensive at NYU allows high school students to enjoy a four-week art experience. Students will have access to state-of-the-art facilities and learn many art forms, including painting, 3D printing, laser engraving, printmaking, sculpting, and so much more. The program includes field trips to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and The Whitney Museum of Art. 

Where: New York University, New York, New York

Application Deadline: March 1, 2024

Duration:  July 7, 2024 – August 3, 2024

Costs: $7,172 (this includes tuition, activities, and room and board)

6. Rhode Island School of Design

Description: The Rhode Island School of Design provides a pre-college summer program for high school students to immerse themselves in advanced curriculum with day-long studio classes. The summer intensive includes field trips to the Nature Lab and RISD Museum. Students will also receive critiques and projects that will forever change the way they approach art and design. 

Where: Providence, RI

Application Deadline: N/A

Duration: June 29, 2024 – August 3, 2024


  • Residential Program: $11,350
  • Commuter Program: $8,715

7. Savannah College of Art and Design 

Description: The Savannah College of Art and Design offers a great opportunity for high school students to explore new avenues of artistic development. The program empowers students to dive into various art and design disciplines while working alongside other artists from all over the world. With this program, students at all levels can immerse themselves in an environment to create, learn, and grow.

Where: Savannah GA

Application Deadline: N/A but payment is due May 31, 2024 

Duration: June 16, 2024 – July 19, 2024

Costs: $6,334 (this includes tuition, program fee, room & board, and application fee)

8. UCLA Sci|Art Studio + Lab

Description: The Sci|Art Studio + Lab is a highly competitive program where high school students dive into science and art practices to hone their analytics and creative skills. This two-week program empowers and prepares young artists for interdisciplinary thinking before they begin college. Students learn many things, including how to make connections between popular culture, scientific research, and contemporary arts.

Where: Los Angeles, CA

Application Deadline: 

  • Application Deadline: June 1, 2024. 
  • Enrollment Deadline: June 15, 2024


  • Session A: June 23, 2024 – July 6, 2024 (mandatory housing)
  • Session B: July 8, 2024 – July 19, 2024 (virtual)
  • Session C: July 21, 2024 – August 3, 2024 (mandatory housing)

Costs: $3,980.00

9. Maine College of Art and Design

Description: At the Maine College of Art & Design, students get a three-week art experience designed to help them learn what college life is like as an undergraduate at the school. During the program, students earn college credits, work on their portfolios, make friends with artists from around the country, and learn from professional artists and designers. Some art forms that students dive into include painting, comics and graphic novels, ceramics, printmaking, fashion and textile design, metalsmithing, jewelry design, and more. 

Where: Portland, ME

Application Deadline: 

  • Priority Deadline: February 1, 2024
  • Final Deadline: April 15, 2024 

Duration: July 6, 2024 – July 27, 2024


  • Single Room: $4,900 (this includes tuition, room & board, activities, and most studio supplies)
  • Shared Room: $4,400 (this includes tuition, room & board, activities, and most studio supplies)

10. California College of the Arts

Description: At the California College of the Arts Pre-College Program, students create portfolio-ready pieces while joining a diverse group of creatives who love art and design. This program offers college credits and caters to those with little and advanced art skills, creating space for all interested participants. There are online and on-campus programs, so high school students can choose what works best for them. The in-person programs offered are comics, interior design, architecture, artists as activists, creative writing, illustration, painting, drawing, and industrial design.


  • On campus in San Francisco, CA 
  • Online 

Application Deadline: 

  • Priority Deadline: February 19, 2024
  • Applications Close: June 10, 2024


  • In-person: July 8, 2024 – August 2, 2024 (4 weeks) 
  • Online: June 24, 2024 – July 26, 2024 (5 weeks)


  • Online Tuition: $3,955
  • In-person Tuition: $4,200 (all art supplies and lab fees are included in the tuition cost. Room and board prices vary based on room choice.)

Experience Success in Your Summer Art Intensive 

No matter what summer art program for high school students you choose, there are two things that’ll help you be successful: keep an open mind and have fun. You’ll be exposed to many different people, perspectives, ideas, and approaches to creativity—instead of shrinking back, use this time to learn and discover new ways of thinking. Be flexible and open to the experience and enjoy every moment. 

Your summer art intensive will likely challenge you more than your high school program but try to have a good time. After all, you can’t be a successful artist long-term without loving creativity and feeling a sense of ecstasy when you’re immersed in art, so have fun and be open minded. 

If you need help getting into a summer arts program, contact our CEO, Lorraine Serra, at lorraine@portfoliocc.com for a consultation. We’ll help you find and apply for different intensives to meet your creative goals.