After most college students have packed up and moved out of their dorms for the summer, many campuses and research centers across the country stay open, making their dorms and other facilities available to kids eager for academic summer adventure.
Campuses are home to a wide range of summer camp programs, some run by private groups that lease the college facilities, and others run by the colleges or research centers themselves.
"Summer is a great time for kids to learn about what we do, and spend 20 to 30 hours a week getting hands-on lab experience and doing experiments," says Amanda McBrien, assistant director of DNA Learning Center in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. It's a branch of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, famous for groundbreaking genetics research.
"We now offer a suite of weeklong day camps, starting the summer after fifth grade and running through senior year in high school," she says. "If a student is interested, they could come here for a week every summer starting in middle school and do something new and exciting each time, and by the end of high school they would have done more hands-on biology labs than they'll probably do as undergraduates, if they're even in a molecular biology program. It's cool."
She said many of the kids who sign up for Cold Spring Harbor's program do a variety of short, focused camps for the summer. "They'll spend a week here getting deep into science, then they'll leave here and do something completely different, like a week of robotics or space camp at NASA," she says.
For the musically inclined, the Berklee College of Music, in Boston, opens its doors in summer for intensive camps for kids as young as 12 who have a minimum of six months of musical training. Campers can spend their days doing a mix of small group lessons, music theory and ear training.
Finding oneself part of a small group with a specific and shared passion can be transformative for children and teenagers, parents say.
"Our son thrived at the Berklee summer program, which helps students find their musical and creative voice by enabling them to play with musicians from all over the world and varying degrees of experience and training," said Carol Rose of Boston. "The investment paid off: He's a successful professional bassist."
The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, meanwhile, offers day camps and residential programs at campuses across the country in a range of subjects for kids in grades two through 12. Students can explore everything from anatomy to zoology. Stephanie Stiker of Greenwich, Connecticut, said her 11-year-old enjoyed the CTY camp on the campus of Washington College, in Chestertown, Maryland, and the experience of staying in the dorms.
"CTY gave our son the chance to do a deep dive into robotics, where they programmed actual robots to make decisions and try to outwit each other.. He also did his own laundry and managed his free time, all while making friends with whom he shared the same interests," she said. This summer, her son is returning to the camp, this time to study forensics.
For students 14 and up who are interested in English as a second language, Concordia College in Minnesota offers a chance to get a feel for American life; summer campers stay in the dorms, study English on campus and, off campus, visit farms, attend barbecues and baseball games, and more.
On the West Coast, The Lawrence Hall of Science, part of the University of California Berkeley campus, offers summer camps for kids age 4 through high school.
For those who want to emphasize sports instead of academics, the campus of the State University of New York at Purchase might be just the thing. A private group called Future Stars runs day camps at Purchase and three college campuses on Long Island, focusing on everything from tennis and soccer to circus arts and even magic 101 for kids ranging from preschool to 12th grade.