High school students in a classroom learning computer science Studying Computer Science Before College

Computer Science in High School: The Best CS Programs for Grades 9 to 12

Computer science is a rapidly growing industry, and if high salaries and job flexibility sound good to you, you should consider joining the field. However, a high school computer science curriculum can be challenging. To make the process easier, consider summer programs or computer science internships as a high school student.

Extra college credit is essential if you want to start a computer science career after high school. You can start to earn these credits before you even graduate. This article will break down how to study computer science while you’re in high school and why it matters. Read below to learn more about studying computer science before college.

What Is Computer Science?

Computer science is the study of computing systems, software, and computers. Experts in this field handle the theoretical, design, and development aspects of computing systems. This practice also covers hardware development for computers. It can include everything from building computers to developing artificial intelligence.

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A few of the most common computer science fields to study are software engineering, machine learning, programming languages, and web design. To become a computer scientist, you need to know how to analyze algorithms and apply computational functions to help an organization solve its computer-based problems. 

What Is AP Computer Science?

AP computer science is a string of computer science courses for high school students. You can find AP computer science courses at College Board, and they can help you earn college credit. This collection of courses will give you a valuable advantage when you apply to college to study computer science. 

What AP Computer Science Courses Can I Take to Prepare for College? 

  • AP Computer Science Principles
  • AP Computer Science A
  • AP Computer Science AB (Discontinued)

AP Computer Science Principles

This introductory course will help you learn all the basics of computer science. The course content covers basic programming skills, algorithms, code analysis, creative development, and the impact of computing. You will learn about big data and how it is stored on computers. You can also learn a programming language.

AP Computer Science A

For beginners, the AP Computer Science A course includes skills like developing algorithms, writing code, testing programming code, and documenting your process. You’ll learn basic programming concepts, data fundamentals, iteration, writing classes, and 2D array. This course will also cover recursion and how to manipulate code. 

AP Computer Science AB (Discontinued)

Covering all the topics of AP Computer Science A, this collection of courses takes an in-depth approach to computer science concepts. The concepts covered were object-oriented programming, recursive data structures, and binary trees. Unfortunately, AP Computer Science AB is discontinued because not enough students took the exam. 

Computer Science Summer Programs for High School Students

Computer science summer programs for high school students allow tech-savvy students to gain hands-on experience. These programs will help you learn the basics of computer science and decide if you want to start a computer science career. They can also give you college credit.

Once you start applying for jobs, having experience from a computer science summer program will impress employers because it shows you started building your skills early. You’ll be a step ahead of other people who want to enter the field.

Why Take a Computer Science Summer Program in High School?

You should take a computer science summer program in high school because you can earn extra college credit and start learning faster. It will give you a reliable foundation for completing a computer science degree after high school. You will also have the essential technical skills to find a job in this technology-driven world. 

Computer science is at the core of many high-demand careers, like cyber security analysis, game design, and web development. You’ll be able to choose from some of the highest-paying jobs in the world. For example, according to PayScale, a senior software engineer earns about $119,455 per year.

Top 5 Computer Science Summer Programs for High School Students in 2021

CS Summer Program Location Eligibility Program Length Cost
BlueStamp Engineering: Remote Summer Program Online All high school students can apply. 3 weeks $1,800
Carnegie Mellon University: Computer Science Scholars Online Students must be over 16 years old, a sophomore or junior in high school, and a US citizen.
6 weeks
Engineering Summer Academy at Penn: ESAP Computer Science
Online Students must be over 15 years old and a rising senior or sophomore in high school.
3 weeks
Michigan State University: Computer Science and Engineering, DAPCEP Online Students must be high school juniors with a GPA of 3.0 or higher in math, sciences, and technology.
5 days
Office of Engineering Outreach Programs: Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES) Massachusetts
Students must be US citizens and high school juniors.
6 weeks Free

BlueStamp Engineering: Remote Summer Program

In this three-week program, students can participate in instructor-led online classes from Monday to Friday. This summer program focuses on more than just computer science basics like coding skills and tackles engineering principles too. You will learn among other students and have access to weekly career discussions.

This program lets you complete a real-world engineering project, develop circuit building skills, and use popular technology solutions. While this program lacks many computer science classes, it’s a fantastic option for students who want to specialize in the engineering aspect of computer science. 

Carnegie Mellon University: Computer Science Scholars

If you’re ready to join a six-week summer program with daily afternoon sessions, this is an excellent choice. The curriculum includes lectures from Carnegie Mellon professors, trips with computer science industry leaders, and small group mentoring. Your computer science program will also include a hands-on group research project.

This program also exposes you to many networking and career opportunities. Even though the program is online due to COVID-19, it’s still a great choice to get started on computer science early. The best part about this program is that it is completely free. You only have to pay for your books and supplies. 

Engineering Summer Academy at Penn: ESAP Computer Science

This summer bootcamp will teach you everything you need to know about engineering and computer science at the college level. You will uncover the elements of computational thinking, function arguments, and return values. You will also learn Python. The program’s content also includes data structures, video game architecture, and ethics.

You will complete three group projects for this program, which can help you build your computer science portfolio. There is also a strong focus both on self-learning and working within a group. You will attend class Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. Computer science students can learn both advanced and foundational concepts.

Michigan State University: Computer Science and Engineering, DAPCEP

If you’ve started your college planning process and prefer a short summer program, this could be the one for you. Studying online, you will learn about data structures, basic computer science skills, computer engineering concepts, and data analytics. Programs at MSU only last a couple of days.

This program will cover cyber security and hands-on, experimental projects so you can gain practical experience. You will participate in many team problem-solving exercises, which will help you learn how to thrive in a computer science environment. You will learn all these concepts through video lectures and demonstrations. 

Office of Engineering Outreach Programs: Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science (MITES)

Are you looking for an on-campus program that includes intensive learning? This program from MIT, one of the top tech universities in the world, is a great choice. You will learn math, life sciences, physics, humanities, and computer science as an elective. Although the MITES program was suspended in 2021 due to COVID-19, it will return in the coming years.

This summer program doesn’t focus on computer science entirely. However, it’s a great choice if you’re unsure about what you want to specialize in and need to gain college credits. Opting for computer science as an elective, you will learn machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), two in-demand topics in 2021.

Computer Science Internships for High School Students

Computer science internships for high school students are temporary job placements. Internships offer training in a real-world setting, and some of them are paid. Many students end up getting job offers later on from the places they’ve interned.

If you complete a computer science internship in high school, this will drastically increase your chance of getting a good job later on. Employers will notice that you’ve already worked in the required setting and understand what your goals are. 

Why Take a Computer Science Internship in High School?

You should take a computer science internship in high school because it is the best way to gain real-world experience. Knowing what the job is actually like makes it easier for you to be confident about the career you choose. Internships are also fantastic for networking and making a name for yourself in the industry.

By taking a computer science internship in high school, you’ll allow yourself to develop your soft skills and technical skills. Chances are, you will discover new things about yourself while learning more about your own goals. These advantages give you a unique opportunity to gain insight into your future career.

Top 5 Computer Science Internships for High School Students in 2021

CS Internship Program Location Eligibility Internship Length Stipend
Army Educational Outreach Program: High School Apprenticeships California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, South Dakota, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut Students must be permanent US residents or US citizens in high school. Varies Undisclosed
Boston University: RISE Internship Track Massachusetts Students be permanent US residents or US citizens entering their senior year of high school. 6 weeks N/A
Syracuse University: Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) Research Internship Program New York Students must be high school seniors and reside in the US. 6 weeks Undisclosed
Universities Space Research Association: Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Scholars Program Hawaii, Texas, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Florida, Ohio Students must be US citizens with a GPA of 3.0 and senior high school students. 8 weeks $434 to $1,226
USAJobs: The Pathways Program All US States All high school students can apply. 4 weeks N/A

Army Educational Outreach Program: High School Apprenticeships

This research apprenticeship focuses on STEM concepts for high school students of any grade. You will work with high-end equipment and cutting-edge technology solutions to gain a deeper insight into a lab culture. Your research will address real-world challenges at the college level that impact the nation. 

You will join a community of like-minded peers, and you will receive mentorship guidance too. It’s also essential to keep in mind that the eligibility requirements may differ depending on your location. You can also get a stipend for your work, though this program doesn’t make the amount public.

Boston University: RISE Internship Track

You will complete 40 hours of research a week for six weeks in this program. You will be under the guidance of an accomplished faculty member, graduate student mentor, or postdoctoral professional from Boston University. The internship offers university-level research opportunities, which will make college planning much smoother.

Your computer science research will cover machine learning, data mining, data management, information security, vision and graphics, and programming. There are also many other subjects available. Keep in mind that you have to pay tuition for this program, which adds up to about $4,650.

Syracuse University: Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) Research Internship Program

This internship was canceled in 2021 due to COVID-19, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. You can participate in university-level research to learn advanced knowledge of STEM concepts. Students receive mentorship guidance, and they can join other high school research interns for fun activities. 

The internship lets you work in state-of-the-art lab facilities, develop research plans, analyze real data, and display your final analysis. Although it doesn’t disclose the amount, Syracuse University says it offers a generous stipend for those who complete this program. 

Universities Space Research Association: Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Scholars Program

Computer science education is the focus of this internship program. Students receive technical training and mentorship for dynamic research opportunities. You will work beside Air Force Research Laboratory scientists and gain hands-on experience using innovative technology solutions. 

This program also gives you a chance to secure professional connections through several social events. The minimum duration of the internship is eight weeks. You can earn a stipend of over $1,000, but it depends on your location.

USAJobs: The Pathways Program

If working with federal agencies suits you, you should choose this internship program. Depending on where you end up being placed, you can work full-time or part-time. There are 640 hours of work to complete, but the hiring agency can choose to keep you on board for longer.

There are numerous federal agencies in various industries looking for interns. Choosing this program also increases your chances of being hired by a federal agency after school. Although Pathway Programs doesn’t offer a stipend, your hiring agency might. 

Computer Science Project Ideas for High School Students

  • Face detection. Accurate face detection software is always impressive, and you can create your own system as a computer science project. You can use OpenCV library and essential programming languages to develop this project. With this as your project, you’ll amaze your computer science teachers and peers. 
  • Online ebook maker. You can create a simple online ebook maker to develop and design ebooks. Students need Visual Studio to make this project. There are so many ways you can customize this project to make it your own.
  • Academic performance evaluator. This project is complicated to complete and relies on the fuzzy logic method. If you want a challenge that will amaze your friends and teachers, this is the project you should build. It’s the perfect choice for advanced students.
  • Ecommerce app. Attending the average summer computer science program will reveal the skills you need to build an app. You can create a trade or ecommerce app that includes simple navigation and an interactive interface. 
  • Smart scheduler app. Convenience is key, and you could offer it through an automated scheduler app. You can add a ticket system and other custom features. There are lots of simple ways to code an app from scratch, and all you need is basic computer programming.

Why Study Computer Science in High School? 

Three high school students around a desk with a computer Studying Computer Science Before College
Studying computer science in high school will help you land your dream computer science career.

You can study computer science in high school to become a critical thinker who can brainstorm innovative solutions. There are so many computer science jobs out there, which gives you more freedom in your specialization. You can also expect a generous salary and lots of flexibility in the industry.

Become a Critical Thinker

Computer science courses require a lot of critical thinking and problem-solving. This helps students become analytical thinkers that can find solutions to complex challenges. You will find that many careers require this ability, even outside of computer science. 

Access Many Career Paths 

Completing a computer science program during the summer can help you learn just how many of the best tech jobs need computer science skills. You can become a data scientist, a cyber security engineer, or a mobile app developer. If your college plan includes finding a job after graduation, you’ll have loads of options.

Earn a High Salary 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for computer and information technology occupations is $91,250. This salary is over twice the amount of the average salary for all jobs per year. The more experience you have, the more you will be able to earn in the long run. 

Leave a Positive Mark 

Computer science skills give you the ability to empower all sorts of organizations. For example, businesses need information security analysts to protect their data. You could help charities increase brand awareness or help a startup business avoid bankruptcy through data science.

Find Flexible Opportunities

Computer science careers allow you to work remotely, part-time, full-time, or as a freelancer. You don’t have to commit to one organization or be stuck with a nine-to-five working experience. Depending on the computer science career you choose, your scheduling choices are endless.

Studying Computer Science Before College FAQ

Is computer science in high school hard?

Learning computer science in high school is hard, and it requires a lot of work. However, if you’re willing to put in the work, you will have job opportunities offering generous salaries. Computer science also offers high job security, so the time and effort it takes to learn are worth it.

Is AP computer science hard in high school?

AP computer science is tough to learn, but it’s designed for beginners, meaning it’s simpler than most college courses. You will focus on the basics of computer science rather than complicated topics. If you want to specialize in computer science, AP computer science is a great place to start in high school.

What should I do in high school to become a computer scientist?

You should join a computer science summer program or take a computer science internship program. Both options will grant you practical experience in computer science and will add an impressive touch to your resume. If you want to make becoming a computer scientist as easy as possible, choose either of these routes.

Should I take AP computer science with no experience?

Yes, AP computer science is for high school students with no experience. You should take this course if you have no experience because it is made for beginners. Without digging into computer science too deep, AP computer science is a great introductory solution for high schoolers.

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