Have you heard about the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies programs (formerly called Stanford EPGY), a group of summer and after-school programs primarily for high school students? Curious about what it would be like to spend a summer on Stanford's campus or take online classes taught by Stanford professors? Will participating in one of these programs give you a leg up in college admissions (including applying to Stanford)?
In this guide, we break down what the different programs are, outline the benefits and costs, and go over the pros and cons of attending.
Feature image via Wikimedia
What Exactly Are the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies Programs?
The Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies programs have gone through various names and iterations over the years, including Stanford EPGY and Gifted and Talented. Currently, there are six programs. Check out the table for an overview, and keep reading for a more in-depth look at each of the programs.
Also note that all programs are currently online and are expected to continue to be through at least part of 2022. However, the four summer programs will eventually be in-person and taught at Stanford, with students staying in dorms.
|Course Name||Participant Grades||Online or In Person?||Length||Summer or School Year?|
|Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes||8-11||Online||2 weeks||Summer|
|Stanford Summer Humanities Institute||10-11||Online||2 weeks||Summer|
|Stanford Medical Youth Science Program||11||Online||5 weeks||Summer|
|Stanford Math Circle||1-12||Online||10 weeks||School year|
|Stanford Pre-Collegiate University-Level Online Math & Physics||9-12||Online||1 semester||Both|
|Stanford University Mathematics Camp||10-11||Online||3 weeks||Summer|
Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes
Student Grades: 8-11 (some courses open only to more specific grades)
Length: 2 weeks
The Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes (SPCS) offers the widest variety of courses of all the Stanford Pre-Collegiate programs. Participants can choose from one of thirty summer courses in fields such as creative writing, engineering, and philosophy. You'll focus on one subject area for the entire two week program, getting in-depth knowledge of it. The course options have been expanded recently so there are more options to choose from than in the past.
Courses meet for two hours each day, Monday through Friday (with additional time needed to complete assignments). Class size is small (an average of 15 students), and you and your classmates will interact frequently through seminars, workshops, and other activities. Even though the courses are online, Stanford has been clear about its commitment to making these programs interactive and a great way to meet new people.
Stanford describes admissions for SPCS as "selective." Each applicant will need to submit their high school transcript, student work sample, and at least one letter of recommendation from a teacher.
Stanford Summer Humanities Institute
Student Grades: 10-11
Length: 2 weeks
The Stanford Summer Humanities Institute is similar in length and format to the SPCS except that its courses focus only on the humanities. Currently there are six courses:
- Ancient Rome
- Racial Identity in the American Imagination
- The Greeks and Beyond
- The Age of Jefferson
- Magical Realism
Classes are taught by Stanford graduate teaching assistants (with the syllabi designed by Stanford professors), and you can choose to attend class in the morning or early evening. Like SPCS, the courses will emphasize collaboration with the other students in the class.
Also like SPCS, the program is selective, and all applicants must submit transcripts, work samples, and at least one letter of recommendation from a teacher of English, history, or social science.
Full disclosure: I worked at the Summer Humanities Institute in 2013 as a Residential Counselor. To be honest, I was jealous this program wasn't around when I was in high school! The courses were definitely rigorous, on par with typical Stanford courses. The students also got the chance to write long research papers while working with the counselors, teaching assistants, and professors.
Stanford Medical Youth Science Program
Student Grades: 11
Length: 5 weeks
Admission: Selective; only open to low-income, underrepresented high school juniors who live in Northern and Central California.
To start, SMYSP has some pretty extensive admissions requirements. Only high school juniors who are from a low-income family with little history of attending college, who live in one of 20 Northern or Central California counties, and have shown an interest and aptitude for science are eligible. You can read the full eligibility requirements here.
However, if you're lucky enough to be one of the 30 people each year selected for the program, it can be a great experience. For five weeks you'll participate in lectures, networking events, and professional workshops, all designed to help prepare you for a career in medicine and to be a future leader in the health field. Mentorship is also a major component of the program, and you'll be mentored by faculty, health professionals, and college students. Additionally, all program participants take part in public health research focusing on reducing health disparities. And it costs nothing! Program costs are covered by donations.
Stanford's Green Library. Image via Stanford University Libraries.
Stanford Math Circle
Student Grades: 1-12
Length: 10 weeks
Admission: Open to all, but spots are limited
The Stanford Math Circle is a bit different from the other SPCS programs. It's basically an after-school program, offered during the school year, for students who enjoy math and want more practice answering math questions alongside other students who share their interests.
The Stanford Math Circle meets once a week, on Wednesdays or Thursdays. An instructor presents the problems, and students will work together to solve them during the circle. Cooperation and discussion are highly emphasized, so this isn't a program where you work individually on solving tricky math problems.
Anyone in grades 1-12 can sign up to join the Stanford Math Circle; however, places are limited and demand is high, so sign up early to ensure you get a spot. You can participate in multiple sessions; each lasts one academic quarter.
Stanford Pre-Collegiate University-Level Online Math & Physics
Student Grades: 9-12
Length: 1 semester
These two programs, in math and physics, are designed for advanced high school students. There are nine math courses offered, ranging from pre-calculus to differential equations, and four physics courses.
The major thing that sets these programs apart from other Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies programs is that they are self-paced. While the other programs emphasize group work and discussion, once you enroll in a course, you proceed through it at your own pace (although there are regular times for class discussion). Expect to spend 8-12 hours per week on the class.
There's an option to get credit (3 units per class) through the Stanford Continuing Studies Program if they pass the class; however, to do this, your exams will need to be independently proctored at your school/local library/test center (i.e. not taken at home). Note that these credits aren't particularly valuable as they aren't college credits and can't be put on a college transcript or replace college classes.
Stanford University Mathematics Camp
Student Grades: 10-11
Length: 3 weeks
The Stanford Mathematics Camp (SuMaC) is for 10th and 11th graders with "an exceptional interest and ability in mathematics." The program focuses on math beyond a typical high school curriculum and is on-par with college math classes in terms of difficulty. There are two tracks; one in Abstract Algebra and Number Theory and one in Algebraic Topology.
Courses meet two hours a day, Monday through Friday, for live classroom instruction. Stanford mentions repeatedly that this is an "intensive" camp and there will be a "heavy" workload, so expect to work hard if you join SuMaC.
SuMaC is more competitive than most of the other SPCS programs and the website refers to participants as an "elite group." To apply, students need to submit transcripts, work examples, and a (math) teacher recommendation, like most other SPCS programs, but, in addition, they must also take a SuMac admissions test, and submitting scores from other standardized math tests is also recommended.
Image via SLAC.
Will Doing an SPCS Program Get Me Into Stanford?
The short answer is no. Each of the SPCS programs is much less competitive than getting into Stanford for real, which means many students who do these programs end up getting rejected from Stanford.
In other words, these programs are definitely NOT a guarantee of admission to Stanford. Don’t go to one of these just because you think it’s a free ticket to Stanford.
That said, doing an academic summer program is one way to show your intellectual interests to college admissions officers, and also to demonstrate your academic strengths. This is true of programs at Stanford as well as programs at other universities.
It’s important to use your time at these programs wisely. Do well in the classes, get to know the instructors/professors, and get the most out of the experience as possible. Don’t get caught up in the social experience and neglect the academics.
Doing well and/or getting an extra letter of recommendation from a professor or instructor could increase your chances of getting into Stanford, but you should make sure the other parts of your application are strong as well – including your GPA, SAT/ACT scores, etc. Unfortunately, doing really well in a summer program won’t make up for a low GPA or a less-than-average SAT/ACT score.
The bottom line is that academic programs at Stanford are a great way to challenge yourself, meet other like-minded high school students, and add something extra to your college application. Just don’t expect them to guarantee your admission to Stanford, and be aware there are likely other, cheaper options to enrich your studies close to home.
Should I Attend a Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies Program?
Now that you know about each of the six SPCS programs, should you apply to one? That depends on your answers to two key questions:
- Do you have the time/money to participate?
- What are you hoping to get out of the program?
Before you begin working on your application strategy, think carefully about whether it's logical or even possible for you to attend an SPCS program. Many of these programs cost several thousand dollars, which is quite a bit for most families, especially for online classes. (When some of the programs return to being on campus, expect costs to total over $10,000 for tuition, room and board.)
You can apply for financial aid, but you shouldn't count on receiving a scholarship, and, if you do, you'll likely still have to cover some of the costs yourself. Additionally, you might have time constraints that make it difficult to attend an SPCS program. Maybe you work over the summer or need to watch your siblings after school. If the logistics of attending an SPCS program feel overwhelming, it may not be a good idea to attend.
Second, it's important to know ahead of time what you want from an SPCS program. If you want to attend to get college credit, know this isn't a possibility from any of the courses. From the above section, you also know that attending one of these programs in no way guarantees you admission into a top college (including Stanford). At best, it's a small boost to your application. There are many cheaper and more effective ways to create a great college application.
What are good reasons to attend an SPCS program? If you're not feeling challenged in your high school classes and/or you're looking to take classes at a higher level than what your high school offers, these programs can be a great way to do that. If you want to do a deep dive into a particular subject, there are dozens of options here for that too. Additionally, when some of the programs return to being in person, many participants enroll for the experience of living on Stanford's campus and getting a better idea of what college life will be like and if Stanford is a good choice for them to apply to.
Basically, you should attend a Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies program for the experience itself, not some benefit you think it will give you in the future.
Also studying for the SAT/ACT? Want a score good enough for Stanford or Ivy League schools? Learn how to come up with a target SAT or ACT score based on your dream schools, and also read about ACT and SAT scores for the Ivy League.
Have you already taken the SAT/ACT? Thinking about retaking it but not sure if it will be worth it? Learn for sure if you should take the test again.
Considering the AP or IB program? Learn the differences between the two and which program you should do.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.