The Center for Talent Development
Center for Talent Development
Summer Programs

Finding a Summer Program for Your Gifted Student

Busy families often depend on summer vacation to fit in classes and experiences that school-year schedules won’t accommodate. Summer programs for academically talented students have proliferated in the past decade. As well as encouraging social interaction with true intellectual peers, summer programs can provide a wide range of other benefits for the gifted student. Depending on the program’s emphasis, students can often explore areas of study, research or work (through apprenticeship programs) usually reserved for college students. Finally, because many summer programs for gifted students are held on college campuses, students as young as grade 4 get a taste for campus life and the opportunity to experience living away from home.

Summer programs vary widely in design, quality, entry criteria and cost

Summer programs vary widely in design, quality, entry criteria and cost. Some provide general enrichment while others provide accelerated courses that may carry high school or even college credit. No program will be right for every student, and careful research may be necessary to determine a good match.

Students who want to earn school credit should consider whether the program is accredited. The Center for Talent Development (CTD) Summer Program, accredited by North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, grants high school credit and issues transcripts for its programs for students in grades 7 through 12. (Programs for students in PreK through grade 6 do not carry credit). Many talented students can cover a year’s worth of curriculum in three weeks of intensive learning at CTD or similar academic programs. According to CTD physics teacher Dr. Mark Vondracek, “Gifted students thrive on the brisk pace and cathartic environment of accelerated summer classes. I enjoy watching my students blossom into young scholars and watching their confidence grow from the support of their classmates and the positive learning community.”

Resources for summer opportunities abound. In addition to the Center for Talent Development’s own Educational Program Guide provided to Northwestern University's Midwest Academic Talent Search participants, there are many others to help families locate quality programs. Each of the other university-based talent searches (e.g., John Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth, University of Denver's Rocky Mountain Academic Talent Search and Duke University's Talent Identification Program) also publishes an educational program guide.

The National Association for Gifted Children web site features two useful articles -- “How to Choose a Summer Program” and “Questions to Ask When Researching a Summer Camp” -- and also maintains listings and links to many summer programs across the country.

Peterson’s, too, provides an extensive, searchable database of summer programs, although programs listed are not necessarily for gifted students. Peterson’s annually publishes Summer Opportunties for Kids and Teenagers, an enormous volume of program listings, available at most local bookstores and libraries. Finally, CTD’s publication Designs for Excellence, a resource on a range of programs for talented middle and high school programs, includes additional information on selecting summer programs for gifted students.

What To Consider Before Selecting a Summer Program
  • Goals and structure of the program. Is the student interested in enrichment or accelerated classes, research experiences, travel or the chance to work with adult professionals?
  • Challenge level of the course content. Determine whether the learning pace will be sufficiently challenging for a particular gifted student.
  • Length of the program. Younger students might need a shorter program, but longer programs generally can provide a higher level of social benefits, including networking, camaraderie and social support.
  • Whether the program is residential. Residential programs cost more, but can facilitate growth in non-academic areas, including the acquisition of independence, social skills and social relationships.
  • How the course will fit in with the student’s regular curriculum. Is this a course that can be substituted for a required high school course? Does the summer program offer high school or college credit for the course?