50 Best Colleges for Summer School

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Black’s Beach, three minutes from the University of California, San Diego

Students looking to boost their academic credentials over the summer needn’t give up their precious vacation time completely. Some university campuses are naturally conducive to a healthy work-life balance; some are set in cool college towns replete with outdoor restaurants and cafés, happening music scenes, and interesting cultural activities; and yet other campuses are ideally placed for major music festivals. What’s more, many U.S. universities accept visiting and even international students, so as well as staying put, there’s also the option of heading somewhere new and exciting.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the 50 most desirable U.S. colleges at which to attend summer school. The following institutions were selected based on their academic reputation and proximity to hip summer festivals, surf-ready beaches, majestic mountain scenery, hiking and cycling hotspots, water sports-friendly lakes and rivers, and action-packed towns where there’s always something going on.

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University of Minnesota Duluth – Duluth, Minnesota

50. University of Minnesota Duluth – Duluth, Minnesota

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Duluth North Pier Light, about ten minutes from the University of Minnesota Duluth

Duluth, Minnesota offers the ideal blend of natural and urban attractions. Perched on Lake Superior’s southern side, Duluth unsurprisingly holds appeal for water sports enthusiasts, but it’s also full of hiking and bicycle trails and features almost two-dozen lush parks. More city-centric options include the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge, Park Point beach, Canal Park, and the Bayfront Reggae & World Music Festival, which takes place on July 19, 2014. Alluding to Duluth’s hidden-gem appeal, University of Minnesota Duluth’s (UMD) executive vice-chancellor for academic affairs, Andrea Schokker, has said, “What I find when interviewing faculty or when students come in is that they [always say], ‘Oh, wow, Duluth is a really nice place. I had no idea.’” UMD’s summer program runs from May 19 to August 1.

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Florida Institute of Technology – Melbourne, Florida

49. Florida Institute of Technology – Melbourne, Florida

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Indialantic, four-and-a-half miles from the Florida Institute of Technology

Surfing website REVOLT lists the Florida Institute of Technology as one of America’s Top 10 Universities for Surfers, and with summer courses on offer from May 5 to July 25, it’s an ideal school for those who love the water. Besides being close to the beach, the Melbourne-based university comes with outdoor attractions aplenty – from parks, golf courses and a scenic inlet to botanic gardens and even a treetop trek. There are many eclectic restaurants and cafés, while a nearby region is known as the Space Coast, as tourist draws like Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are just up the Atlantic coastline. Events-wise, the Vans Warped Tour features three Florida dates in July 2014, and the Sunset Music Festival in Tampa – happening on May 24 and 25, 2014 – is just over two hours away.

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas – Paradise, Nevada

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Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, just over 19 miles from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

If you have to spend summer studying, not many places sound as instantly appealing as Paradise, Nevada, which is home to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Paradise is surrounded by a wide selection of exciting attractions, from Las Vegas’ world-famous nightlife to Nevada’s historic Valley of Fire State Park. From June 20 to 22, 2014 the nearby Las Vegas Motor Speedway also hosts the popular international festival Electric Daisy Carnival. And for those who feel like getting away from it all, taking a kayak along the Colorado River, exploring Bootleg Canyon, journeying along Lake Mead and riding off-road vehicles around the desert are all within reach. UNLV’s summer program, which includes three terms, runs from May 19 to August 15 and is open to graduate, undergraduate and high school students.

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University of Hawai’i Maui College – Kahului, Hawaii

47. University of Hawaii Maui College – Kahului, Maui

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The University of Hawai’i Maui College in Kahului is an idyllic place to spend a working summer. Nearby Kanaha Beach Park is ideal for windsurfers and picnickers, while other attractions include the Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary, the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, the Maui Nui Botanical Gardens and Mt. Haleakalā. Local company Mountain Riders offers visitors the chance to “bike down the volcano,” and the region is peppered with scenic hiking trails. “Swim beneath waterfalls, hike through rain forests and Haleakalā Crater… Kayak and snorkel on colorful reefs,” boasts Hike Maui. Meanwhile: “Why wouldn’t you want to fast-track your education on one of the most naturally beautiful islands in the world?” asks the university’s website. Summer courses run from May 19 to August 8.

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Northwestern Michigan College – Traverse City, Michigan

46. Northwestern Michigan College – Grand Traverse County, Michigan

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Traverse City Waterfront, less than a mile from Northwestern Michigan College

Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) in Michigan’s Traverse City offers summer students a water-hemmed wonderland, with website Pure Michigan describing the place as a “four-season playground for anyone who loves the Great Outdoors.” Whether it’s hiking, sailing or fishing, there’s something for everyone in this city jam-packed with beaches, lakes, wooded areas, golf courses, wineries and eating spots. There are even two peninsulas to the north. Plus, from June 26 to June 29, 2014, the ultra-cool Electric Forest music festival takes over Rothbury, Michigan, just over two hours away, while the acclaimed Traverse City Film Festival runs from July 29 to August 3, 2014. NMC’s website calls its summer program a “great way to earn some credits and still have plenty of time to enjoy… summer.”

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University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, Michigan

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Huron River in Ann Arbor, seven-and-a-half miles from the University of Michigan

TripAdvisor tells us that “backpack-wearing students permeate the streets of Ann Arbor,” which is no surprise, considering the fact that over 27,000 undergrads are currently enrolled at the University of Michigan (U-M). However, “there’s more to the city than academia,” the travel website adds. Nichols Arboretum showcases abundant flora, and Matthaei Botanical Gardens near the Huron River contains a number of trails and displays, making it another nice outdoor escape. The Huron River itself is a popular canoeing, kayaking and fishing spot, while Ann Arbor is filled with museums, bookstores, diverse eateries and shopping options. The Ann Arbor Summer Festival runs from June 13 to July 6, 2014, while the Vans Warped Tour hits nearby Auburn Hills on July 18. U-M offers summer programs in subjects such as epidemiology and quantitative methods of social research.

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University of Alaska Fairbanks – Fairbanks, Alaska

44. University of Alaska Fairbanks – Fairbanks, Alaska

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Denali National Park, 118 miles from the University of Alaska Fairbanks

For college students seeking to get away from it all and have a mind-, body-, and spirit-boosting summer school experience, the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) might be the answer. The second biggest city in the state, Fairbanks offers the perfect combination of modern urban attractions and rugged outdoor adventure. Looking further afield, for instance, students could plan a day trip to the Arctic Circle, which is fewer than 120 miles from Fairbanks. Meanwhile, the Denali National Park and the city of Anchorage can be reached by train. UAF’s summer program runs from May 12 to August 15 – so students may even stick around to catch a glimpse of the mesmerizing Northern Lights, which resurface in late August.

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University of Kansas – Lawrence, Kansas

The University of Kansas' limestone buildings overlook Lawrence.

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Set on lofty Mount Oread, the main University of Kansas campus in rugged Lawrence is the perfect place to spend a relaxing college summer session from June 3 to July 26. According to Livability.com, “Many locals enjoy swimming and fishing in Clinton Lake or hiking in nearby forests.” Lawrence is situated close to the Wakarusa River and is peppered with pleasant creeks and lakes. Local attractions include the Haskell-Baker Wetlands – a Natural and Scientific area since 1989 and home to at least 269 different species of birds. Lawrence is also known for its abundant parks and the mighty Kansas River, which flows right through it; just a couple of reasons why it is often described as one of America’s top college towns.

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Endicott College – Beverly, Massachusetts

42. Endicott College – Beverly, Massachusetts

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The close-knit Endicott College is situated on the Gold Coast along Massachusetts Bay’s North Shore. Endicott’s summer school attendees can take solace in the Atlantic Ocean views, an assortment of happening outdoor eating spots, and local activities like whale watching. Meanwhile, those looking for a little more peace and quiet are able to head to one of three secluded campus beaches that are only available to students. On top of the area’s majestic natural surroundings, the international Vans Warped Tour rolls through Massachusetts on July 10, 2014, featuring BMX and skateboarding demos and some of the coolest rock, pop, punk, indie and metal bands. The summer school offers “an array of undergraduate and graduate courses,” which run from June 2 until August 22.

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Texas A&M University – College Station, Texas

41. Texas A&M University – College Station, Texas

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Lake Bryan, eight-and-a-half miles from Texas A&M University

In 2012 Livability.com ranked College Station, Texas, home to Texas A&M University, as the top college town in America. College Station is jammed with hip, eclectic eating spots – from “Italian bistros” to “Asian fusion food trucks” – and boasts more than 50 parks, over 60 miles of cycling trails, a lively music scene, and a sprawling network of hiking trails to explore. Nearby Lake Bryan is a well-known fishing hotspot and is extremely popular with aquatic types; in fact, several of the university’s water sports teams use the lake for their activities. Beautiful Lake Livingston is also just under an hour and a half away. And on another note, the Vans Warped Tour features three Texas dates, the closest being Houston on June 13, 2014. Texas A&M summer courses run from June 2 to August 11.

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Northern Arizona University – Flagstaff, Arizona

40. Northern Arizona University – Flagstaff, Arizona

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Flagstaff, AZ, home to Northern Arizona University

Northern Arizona University (NAU) offers summer students a revitalizing taste of the great outdoors. Moreover, as the university’s website reminds everyone, “summer courses are a great way to earn extra units to graduate early.” Tucked beneath the imposing San Francisco Peaks and bordered by the sprawling ponderosa pines of the Coconino National Forest – which also features deserts and volcanic terrain – the whole area is understandably popular with walkers and cyclists. And on top of its striking natural beauty, Flagstaff boasts attractions like the acclaimed Museum of Northern Arizona and the Lowell Observatory. TripAdvisor describes Flagstaff as a “living anthropology and geology lesson, with ancient Native American ruins… just waiting to be explored.” NAU offers undergraduate and graduate options that run throughout May to August.

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Montana State University – Bozeman, Montana

39. Montana State University – Bozeman, Montana

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Hyalite Reservoir, 17 miles south from Bozeman, which is home to Montana State University

Montana State University (MSU) is situated in beautiful Bozeman, a city described by TripAdvisor as “the gem of Big Sky Country” and by Mother Nature Network as “a prized secret of outdoors enthusiasts nationwide.” There are highlights all round: the Bridger Mountains, the Tobacco Root Mountains, the Big Belt Mountains and the Horseshoe Hills are all nearby. Small wonder that Bozeman is a popular fishing, canoeing, hiking and mountain climbing destination. And if that weren’t enough, Yellowstone National Park is fewer than 100 miles away. Back in the city, summer students can also enjoy numerous amenities, among them coffee shops, museums and art exhibitions. MSU’s summer session, which is split into separate programs, runs from May 1 to August 1 and is open to current, former, international and non-degree students.

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Dartmouth College – Hanover, New Hampshire

38. Dartmouth College – Hanover, New Hampshire

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Situated in Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth College is a great place for outdoorsy, adventure-loving college students to spend a summer session. “The Appalachian Trail runs right through the middle of town, and on the west end, the wide and lazy Connecticut River is perfect for kayakers, rowers and swimmers,” writes Outside magazine. Moosilauke Mountain, which climbs to 2,300 feet, is ideal for hiking. Meanwhile, further afield, discover the glorious White Mountains, approximately 40 miles northeast of Hanover, or venture across the water to the lush, pine-rich Green Mountains. Summer classes at Dartmouth run from June 19 to August 20.

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Brown University – Providence, Rhode Island

37. Brown University – Providence, Rhode Island

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Waterplace Park, featuring award-winning sculpture WaterFire, is less than a mile from Brown University

Home to Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island is a beautiful place to spend the summer, with Brown’s seasonal undergraduate program running from June 23 to August 8. The city has a bit of everything on its doorstep, from hiking and cycling trails to rivers and parks. Providence River and Blackstone River are great for kayakers, canoeists and boaters, while further outdoor attractions include Roger Williams Park, Lincoln’s Lime Rock Preserve, Exeter’s Queen’s River Preserve and Richmond’s Beaver River Preserve. Newport is less than an hour away, and besides its various beach options, this coastal city is crammed with interesting stores and restaurants and – from July 25 to 27, 2014 – stages the popular Newport Folk Festival. Then from August 5 to 10, 2014 both Providence and Newport are hosts of the annual Rhode Island International Film Festival.

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Delaware State University – Dover, Delaware

36. Delaware State University – Dover, Delaware

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NASCAR at the Dover International Speedway, less than half a mile from Delaware State University

Delaware State University (DSU) in Dover, Delaware operates two summer programs for DSU students and non-degree learners between May 13 and August 7. Dover’s Firefly Music Festival – which runs from June 19 to 22, 2014, featuring artists like Foo Fighters, Jack Johnson and Outkast – is therefore an ideal pre-school celebration or an enjoyable way to spend the wait for final grades. Another local gem is the Dover International Speedway’s three-day NASCAR event, from May 30 to June 1, 2014. The city also features a host of well-known museums and historic sites – like those of the First State Heritage Park – and don’t miss the chance to spot horseshoe crabs along Pickering Beach. Furthermore, Delaware’s beach and park haven, Sussex County, is only around 45 minutes away.

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Flagler College – St. Augustine, Florida

35. Flagler College – St. Augustine, Florida

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Flagler College in St. Augustine, northern Florida is one of the “Top 10 Surf Colleges in America,” according to TransWorld SURF. The Atlantic Ocean is only four miles away from the campus, with TransWorld adding that “surfers have quick access to everything from Jacksonville in the north to New Smyrna in the south and tolerable water year-round.” U.S. News & World Report reckons that Flagler is also among the top complete liberal arts colleges in the southeast. The institution’s campus is built around the beautiful Ponce de Leon Hall – which was constructed in 1888, was originally used as an extravagant hotel, and later got listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are definitely worse places to spend a summer term.

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Indiana University Bloomington – Bloomington, Indiana

stock for KSB use unlimited non-exclusive use

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Brimming with beautiful historic buildings and surrounded by a wash of green and a host of cultural attractions, Indiana University Bloomington (IU) is the perfect place to earn some additional credit this summer. Depicting Bloomington, Livability.com writes, “Three lakes provide chances to fish, canoe and water ski, and there are more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails.” TripAdvisor describes the city as having both “sophistication” and “all-American charm.” And elsewhere, Yahoo! Voices cites its “big town” amenities and “small town feel,” while VisitBloomington.com calls it a “live music Mecca.” IU’s summer program runs from May 13 to August 9 – and its extravagant Summer Festival of the Arts conveniently begins on May 12, lasting for 113 days.

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Portland State University – Portland, Oregon

33. Portland State University – Portland, Oregon

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“Just a short distance from the snow-capped Cascades, the Columbia River Gorge and the sparkling Oregon Coast, Portland might have more diversity to offer the adventurer than any other city in the country,” writes Mother Nature Network. The city affords pristine parks and the opportunity to hike, surf and camp, providing a relaxed yet stimulating environment in which to study. Portland also has great nightlife and on August 16 and 17, 2014 hosts the annual MusicFestNW event, featuring acts like Haim and Future Islands. Portland State University’s summer program offers over 1,500 options and runs from June 23 until September 12. It’s open to current and non-degree students alike.

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Point Loma Nazarene University – San Diego, California

32. Point Loma Nazarene University – San Diego, California

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According to Surfer magazine, “Point Loma Nazarene overlooks some of the best surf in San Diego.” Set by the city’s idyllic-sounding Sunset Cliffs, with majestic views of the surrounding Pacific Ocean, Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) is the perfect place to attend summer classes with a glass-half-full mentality. The university offers two summer sessions for PLNU and non-PLNU students: the first takes place between May 12 and June 13, while session two runs from June 16 to July 18. Moreover, the city’s eclectic summer vacation calendar includes the world famous Comic-Con International: San Diego, which in 2014 kicks off on July 24. Comic-Con attracts major celebrities and up to 130,000 visitors, so the city’s bound to be buzzing in July.

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – Blacksburg, Virginia

31. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – Blacksburg, Virginia

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New River Gorge Bridge, under two hours from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Blacksburg, Virginia, home to Virginia Tech, is a mountain town certain to make credit-boosting summer school more fun. Ensconced in the New River Valley area, Blacksburg often places on best U.S. college town lists. “Local footpaths in the Jefferson National Forest are sublime – not surprising, given that Blacksburg is a mere 20 minutes from the Appalachian Trail,” writes Outside magazine. It continues: “The two-mile hoof into the Cascades, with its 66-foot falls, is everyone’s pet hike; other favorites include Tinker Cliffs and Dragon’s Tooth.” Less than two hours away, New River is popular with white water rafters, and the towering New River Gorge offers amazing views. The university’s summer session starts on May 27 and ends on August 16.

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University of Washington – Seattle, Washington

30. University of Washington – Seattle, Washington

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The University of Washington (UW) is another great place to spend a summer session, not least because of Seattle’s lure. The coastal city is known for its great coffee, iconic skyline, diverse music scene, green parklands, downtown attractions and the mighty Lake Washington. “With Seattle as your base, you can kayak in the San Juan Islands, climb snowy peaks, explore the nearby temperate rain forests, enjoy the scenery and seafood of the Puget Sound or embark on day visits to the Olympic National Park or Mountain Rainier National Park,” writes Mother Nature Network. UW’s summer program runs from June 23 to August 22. Its website explains, “Whether you’re looking to earn your degree faster, advance your career or enrich your life, chances are… you’ll find what you’re looking for.”

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University of Alaska Anchorage – Anchorage, Alaska

29. University of Alaska Anchorage – Anchorage, Alaska

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“Set amid the coastal Chugach Mountains, Anchorage defies popular visions of polar ice caps and frozen tundra,” explains TripAdvisor. The website adds that Anchorage’s more clement summer climate is perfect for “taking on uniquely Alaskan opportunities like arctic biking or touring the fjords of Prince William Sound.” The University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), meanwhile, boasts that “the campus is nestled in the middle of a greenbelt, surrounded by lakes, ponds and wildlife.” Further afield, Anchorage’s majestic nearby natural attractions include the extensive Chugach National Forest and Chugach Mountains, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Flattop Mountain, and a host of hiking trails and camping opportunities. Enjoy UAA’s summer sessions from May 19 to August 2.

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University of Vermont – Burlington, Vermont

28. University of Vermont – Burlington, Vermont

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The University of Vermont (UVM) in bustling Burlington is a great place to boost academic credit this summer. Ensconced on the shores of Lake Champlain, the city is flanked by the Adirondack Mountains on one side and Vermont’s glorious Green Mountains on the other. UVM’s Latin name even translates as “University of the Green Mountains” – and the surrounding area is filled with bicycle and hiking trails. TripAdvisor describes Burlington as “Vermont’s largest and perhaps most cosmopolitan city.” The website adds that Burlington features a “perfect blend of New England charm, arts, culture and nature” that “you can’t help but fall in love with.” UVM’s Summer University has a plethora of on-campus and online courses running between May 19 and August 8.

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University of Tennessee – Knoxville, Tennessee

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Knoxville – the home of the University of Tennessee (UT) – has been described as “one of the gateways to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” Nestled in the Great Appalachian Valley, the city is a wonderland of “diverse park and greenway settings – including forests, flower-covered fields, quarry lakes, creeks, rivers and exciting bluffs,” according to OutdoorKnoxville.com. Knoxville also boasts theaters, gardens and museums. And the Tennessee River, popular for canoeing and riverboating, flows through the city as well. Elsewhere, Bonnaroo Music Festival – which takes place from June 12 to June 15, 2014 – is barely three hours away by car. UT’s summer courses run from May to August and are available to current, incoming and visiting students.

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University of South Carolina Beaufort – Beaufort, South Carolina

26. University of South Carolina Beaufort – Beaufort, South Carolina

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In 2013 Beaufort, South Carolina topped Coastal Living’s America’s Happiest Seaside Towns list. “Lowcountry friendliness and urban refinement strike just the right balance,” it wrote, highlighting Beaufort’s “exquisite local cuisine” and “historic antebellum architecture.” Hunting Island State Park is a top attraction, with TripAdvisor remarking of its beach: “Set on a wildlife-rich semi-tropical barrier island with a fishing pier and camping, [it] offers a bounty of seashells and… warm summer swimming.” There’s also the iconic Hunting Island Lighthouse, while Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park is another favorite local destination. What’s more, in the shape of Arthur Horne Nature Park, Beaufort has a beautiful wetland teeming with flora and fauna. The University of South Carolina Beaufort runs a summer session from May to July.

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University of New Orleans – New Orleans, Louisiana

25. University of New Orleans – New Orleans, Louisiana

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Situated in the lakefront part of New Orleans, Louisiana, the University of New Orleans is another great place to spend a stimulating summer session, with classes running from July 9 to 30. New Orleans sits astride the mighty Mississippi River and is recognized for its Southern hospitality and “let the good times roll” approach. The city has a buzzing music scene and is filled with jazz venues, several of which can be found on historic Bourbon Street in the bustling French Quarter. New Orleans also boasts parks, a botanical garden and protected areas like the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, and the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Champaign, Illinois

24. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Urbana and Champaign, Illinois

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In 2012 Livability.com included Champaign on its Top 10 College Towns list – describing it as “loaded with things to do” – while in 2013 the American Institute for Economic Research named the Illinois city the sixth best college town in the U.S. Champaign and its surrounds certainly have a lot to offer summer students, from hiking and kayaking to museums and live music. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the splendor of nearby locations like Allerton Park, Homer Lake Preserve, Kickapoo State Recreation Area, Lake Mingo Trail and the Forest Glen Preserve. Plus, Champaign County hosts a selection of local festivals. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s summer session runs from May 19 to August 9.

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Utah State University – Logan, Utah

23. Utah State University –  Logan, Utah

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“Expansive views of the Rocky Mountains can be seen from almost anywhere in the city,” writes Livability.com, which ranked Logan, Utah third on its 2012 Top 10 College Towns list. Home to Utah State University and set west of the Bear River Range, Logan affords a seemingly endless catalog of open-air activities. Natural features like Logan Canyon and Mount Logan make hiking extremely popular in the area, while rock climbing, swimming, fishing and mountain biking are all easily on the cards. Known as the “Caribbean of the Rockies,” local gem Bear Lake additionally offers water sports enthusiasts the chance to explore the city by kayak, canoe or boat. Plus, Salt Lake City is just over an hour and 20 minutes away. Utah State’s summer session runs from May 5 to July 16.

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University of Virginia – Charlottesville, Virginia

22. University of Virginia – Charlottesville, Virginia

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The Blue Ridge Mountains, parts of which are just 22 miles from the University of Virginia

The University of Virginia was the creative product of Thomas Jefferson, whose nearby former residence, Monticello, was – together with the university’s campus – recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. Besides being steeped in history, Charlottesville is known for its happening music scene and is widely acknowledged as being among the hippest college towns in the U.S. Summer music festivals in Virginia include FloydFest and the Red Wing Roots Music Festival. Plus, being situated close to the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Charlottesville area is blessed with epic hiking trails, ballooning trip options and picturesque vineyards. Study-wise, the university promises a winning combination of “small classes, great teaching and unique opportunities.” Choose from over 400 courses that run between May 19 and August 8.

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Boston University – Boston, Massachusetts

21. Boston University – Boston, Massachusetts

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Fan Pier, ten minutes from the University of Boston

Home to Boston University (BU), Boston, Massachusetts is one of America’s great college towns. It’s also a fantastic spot in the summer. The city’s extensive, restaurant-lined waterfront is filled with fun places to spend a sunny afternoon, while green oases like Boston Public Garden and the Arnold Arboretum are fine settings for getting some thinking done. Elsewhere, cultural sites such as the Institute of Contemporary Art and the acclaimed Museum of Fine Arts round out Boston’s list of attractions nicely. And when the city gets too much, hiking escapes like the Breakheart Reservation, Middlesex Fells and Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary are all just short drives away. A final mention goes to the historic Boston Light lighthouse on tranquil Little Brewster Island, which is another Boston must-see. BU’s summer program runs from May 20 to August 8.

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Stanford University – Stanford, California

20. Stanford University – Stanford, California

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Stanford University offers current and visiting students “more than 175 courses… in 35 departments” between June 21 and August 23 – and naturally this opens the door to summer adventure and recreation in Stanford and its surrounds. Stanford is less than an hour from the tiny beach town of Pescadero, described by Coastal Living as being “blessed with clean air, beautiful and uncrowded beaches, and great off-road bicycling and hiking in the Santa Cruz Mountains.” Palo Alto’s Arastradero Preserve, fewer than four miles from the university, has its own selection of trekking and biking trails, too – just watch out for tarantulas and coyotes. Meanwhile, events-wise, the Vans Warped Tour hits nearby Mountain View on June 21, 2014, and annual San Francisco festivals Outside Lands (August 8 to 10, 2014) and Pride (June 28 to 29, 2014) are little more than half an hour away by car.

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California State University, Long Beach – Long Beach, California

19. California State University Long Beach – Long Beach, California

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Downtown Long Beach, five miles from California State University, Long Beach

Long Beach, California is bound to ward off any possible summer school apathy. Breathtaking Naples Island, seven minutes from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), is well worth a visit, as students can enjoy gondola rides and take in the canals and bayside views. Downtown Long Beach and its waterfront are just over ten minutes away, while surfing-focused website REVOLT included CSULB on its 2014 Top 10 Universities for Surfers list – thanks to the school’s close proximity to Huntington Beach. Elsewhere, Pomona, only 40 minutes by car, hosts the Vans Warped Tour on June 20, 2014. In fact, Southern California as a whole features a wide selection of seasonal festivals, from the Playboy Jazz Fest (June 14 and 15, 2014) to the Anime Expo (July 3 to 6, 2014). CSULB’s summer program runs from May 27 to August 15.

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New York University – New York City, New York

18. New York University – Lower Manhattan, New York City

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What could be better than a summer “in the heart of New York City,” taking in the Big Apple’s heady culture, history and nightlife? From the boutique stores and trendy nightspots of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District – dubbed “New York’s most fashionable neighborhood” by New York magazine – to iconic Rockaway Beach in Queens, the possibilities are seemingly endless. What’s more, “Living in a skyscraper jungle doesn’t necessarily mean you’re far from surf,” writes Surfer magazine, which cites Rockaway and Casino Pier as nearby city escapes. Plus, students have their pick of world-famous museums, theaters and art galleries. Running from May 27 to August 15, New York University’s “wide selection” of flexible summer courses are open to both existing and visiting students as well as applicants from overseas.

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University of Texas at Austin – Austin, Texas

17. University of Texas at Austin – Austin, Texas

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The Austin cityscape over the waters from Lou Neff Point, which is just over three miles from the University of Texas at Austin

The self-declared “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin, Texas is a must for anyone considering a summer school session. Travel + Leisure included Austin on its America’s Coolest College Towns list, calling it “Texas’ retro-stylish capital.” The publication also urges visitors to “sip alfresco drinks and take in the sunset at Oasis, where tiered decks jut out from a 450-foot-high cliff over Lake Travis.” National Geographic credits Austin’s unique appeal to its “hipster-meets-cowpoke” attitude, adding that the area “has the rolling hills, clear lakes and granite ravines to compete with more mountainous towns.” Small wonder that Austin’s residents get to enjoy awe-inspiring mountain biking and hiking trails as well as rock-climbing hot spots. The University of Texas at Austin’s summer program stretches from May 27 to August 18.

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University of Mississippi – Oxford, Mississippi

16. University of Mississippi – Oxford, Mississippi

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Lake Sardis, 23 minutes from the University of Mississippi

Oxford, Mississippi is simultaneously “touted as the ‘Cultural Mecca of the South’” and figures among “America’s coolest college towns,” according to Visit Oxford MS and Travel + Leisure, respectively. The city is home to the University of Mississippi (UM), and Livability.com notes its unusual blend of “screaming football fans” and elegance. In terms of things to do, Oxford is full of culinary delights and great cycling routes – plus it opens the door to diverse hiking trails. Nearby lakes include Sardis, Enid and Grenada, while John Kyle State Park and Cossar State Park provide a host of water sports and outdoor adventure options. The Holly Springs National Forest is another must-see local attraction, featuring as it does three further lakes and an array of flora and fauna. UM’s summer terms run from May 28 to July 25.

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San Diego State University – San Diego, California

SDSU

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The coastline is less than 15 miles from San Diego State University.

San Diego State University (SDSU) is another California-based institution that cushions any potential summer school blow with splendid sprawling beaches and a buzzing social scene. The SDSU main campus also contains the recently added $12 million Aztec Aquaplex, which features a 167-foot swimming pool, a hydrotherapy spa, and a leisure beach and pool, all of which is open to SDSU students. As mentioned earlier, summer in San Diego also boasts the exciting Comic-Con International: San Diego, which means that the city will be jam-packed in late July. SDSU’s summer classes run from May 21 until August 14, and the university promises to help students “stay on track” with “hundreds of on-campus courses” and “more than 100 online courses.”

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University of California, Santa Cruz – Santa Cruz, California

14. University of California, Santa Cruz – Santa Cruz, California

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High up in the hills, the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) is an awesome place to spend the summer – even a working one. “In the world of consistency, Santa Cruz reigns king among California’s surf destinations,” writes Surfer magazine. Surfer adds that the campus is nestled “among the redwoods” and “surrounded by some of the most famed (and diverse) surf spots in the world.” The location also features a beautiful open space the locals call the Great Meadow and is encircled by state parks, marine-protected areas and seaside cliffs. Summer classes are open to current attendees as well as visiting, international and high school students. UCSC offers a wide selection of courses running from June 23 to August 29.

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Columbia University – New York City, New York

13. Columbia University – Upper Manhattan, New York City

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Governors Ball at Randall’s Island, 11 miles from Columbia University

Columbia University can boast of many of the same seemingly endless Manhattan attractions as New York University, with everything from Times Square to The Guggenheim close at hand. What’s more, on June 1 the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey hosts the Hot 97 Summer Jam 2014, featuring everyone from 50 Cent to Nicki Minaj. From June 6 to 8, 2014 the Governors Ball Music Festival takes over Randall’s Island with acts like Vampire Weekend, The Strokes, Outkast and Jack White. And on July 12, 2014 the Vans Warped Tour extreme sports and music festival rolls through Wantagh, Long Island. Columbia’s summer program is aimed at current, visiting and international students and runs from May 27 to August 15.

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University of Hawai’i at Mānoa – Honolulu, Hawai’i

47. University of Hawaii Maui College – Kahului, Maui

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“Academics and adventure? School and surf? Take courses amidst the natural beauty of Hawai’i,” states the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s (UH Mānoa) official website. And for college students stuck behind a desk this summer, conciliatory payoffs don’t come much sweeter than tropical Honolulu on O’ahu Island. Current UH Mānoa students can earn extra credit while enjoying Honolulu’s iconic Diamond Head volcanic cone and the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop. Impressively, UH Mānoa’s summer school presents over 600 courses and is also open to incoming freshmen, international and visiting students, and high school kids. “O’ahu’s South Shore offers ample rippable waves nearby in the summer,” writes Surfer magazine, adding, “The water’s warm, [and] the swells are prolific.”

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University of Wisconsin-Madison – Madison, Wisconsin

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Travel + Leisure describes Madison, Wisconsin as an oasis-like splash “of hustle and bustle amid the plains.” The city is crammed full of cafés, diverse restaurants and art galleries and is known as a happening college town. Madison is also famous for its parks and lakes, and TripAdvisor calls it “one of the country’s more picturesque state capitals,” referencing its “stunning glacial waterways.” The city’s thriving music scene is showcased by a calendar filled with events like the Marquette Waterfront Festival on June 7 and 8, 2014 and the Isthmus Jazz Fest on June 20 and 21. In addition, nearby Milwaukee boasts Summerfest and the Vans Warped Tour in 2014. The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers more than 1,000 summer courses from June to August.

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California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo, California

10. California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo, California

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Chumash Peak, just over four miles from California Polytechnic State University

Students seeking to balance their summer studies with some calming outdoor tranquility should look no further than California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), located in San Luis Obispo, California. Close to the Santa Lucia Mountains, hilly San Luis Obispo has attractions for just about everyone: from relaxing beach swims and scenic hiking trails to parks, lakes and more cultural activities. Only around 11 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, the city’s nearby natural draws include Avila Beach and Morro Bay State Park, and pastimes like rock climbing and kayaking are locally on hand. The city also boasts the close by Nine Sisters volcanic summits, while the Laguna Lake area features a golf course and a lush, wide-open park. Cal Poly summer classes start on June 19, ending August 26.

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University of Chicago – Chicago, Illinois

9. University of Chicago – Chicago, Illinois

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The Lollapalooza festival at Grant Park, a little over six miles from the University of Chicago

The esteemed University of Chicago’s summer session is available to current and visiting college students – as well as high school and non-degree learners – and runs from June until mid-September. “Experience… the city at its liveliest, with all of the summertime outdoor music festivals, street fairs, beaches and other amenities,” says the university’s official site. Seasonal attractions include the Pitchfork Music Festival, which happens from July 18 to 20, 2014 and features the likes of Beck, Neutral Milk Hotel and Kendrick Lamar. Then from August 1 to 3 there’s the legendary Lollapalooza, boasting massive acts like Eminem, Outkast, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, Skrillex, Lorde and more. Besides the city’s architectural, historical and cultural delights, another must-do activity is indulging in some of Chicago’s fêted restaurants.

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University of Miami – Coral Gables, Florida

8. University of Miami – Coral Gables, Florida

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The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, just over ten miles from the University of Miami’s main campus

What could be better than a summer in Miami, even if you have to study? The University of Miami (UM) in Coral Gables, Florida is perfectly positioned to get the most out of the city. As far as great outdoor pursuits go, there’s the world-famous Everglades tropical wetlands in southern Florida, which is less than an hour’s drive and provides a haven for nature fans, kayakers and canoeists. Then there’s the iconic Venetian Pool public swim spot, which one visitor described as “a tropical oasis.” Nicknamed “The City Beautiful,” Coral Gables is filled with cultural pursuits, quirky bookstores, cafés, boutiques and restaurants. It’s also just an hour and 20 minutes to Palm Beach. UM’s summer sessions run from May 19 to August 8 and include workshops and special classes.

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Pepperdine University – Malibu, California

7. Pepperdine University – Malibu, California

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College students attending Malibu-based Pepperdine University won’t have to look far for an impressive summer school. According to Surfer magazine, “Students are treated to (or tormented by) views of First Point… while sitting in class.” Volcom co-founder and Pepperdine graduate Richard Woolcott adds, “Small campus, great education, cool people and country living… What more do you need?” The university’s website boasts that Pepperdine’s Seaver College Summer School “provides academically rigorous classes in an environment that supports student growth.” It doesn’t hurt, either, that Seaver College is “picturesquely located in Malibu where the Santa Monica Mountains reach the Pacific Ocean,” with views “of the winding seashore” and the “rugged beauty of Malibu Canyon.” The college also offers an array of non-degree programs.

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University of Georgia – Athens, Georgia

6. University of Georgia – Athens, Georgia

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The iconic Georgia Theatre, a one-minute walk from the University of Georgia

Based in Athens, Georgia, the University of Georgia (UGA) is a great place to attend summer school without missing any action. Athens is one of the hippest college towns in the U.S., boasting a buzzing downtown area filled with boutique stores, popular eating spots, unique cafés and charming Victorian structures. The town is also recognized for its strong live music scene: the influential 40 Watt Club, which helped introduce seminal bands like R.E.M. and The B-52s, played a pivotal role in the take-off of the American punk rock and new wave movements. Athens additionally features a number of mountain biking trails, while nearby Oconee National Forest is a fantastic fishing, boating and hiking destination. UGA’s summer sessions run from May 13 to July 31.

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Cornell University – Ithaca, New York

5. Cornell University – Ithaca, New York

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Class-bound summer school students can find more than enough cause for cheer in the astounding natural wonder surrounding Ithaca, New York’s prestigious Cornell University. Nestled amidst the sprawling valleys of the Finger Lakes, Cornell’s Ithaca campus looks out on gorgeous Cayuga Lake and is bordered by Fall Creek and Cascadilla Gorge. The university also showcases Cornell Plantations – which is bursting with beautiful flora and ponds – while Ithaca itself is well known for its scenic hiking and bicycle trails. Ithaca has topped “best college town” rankings and has figured prominently on lists like Travel + Leisure’s America’s Most Romantic Towns, MSN Real Estate’s 10 Most Livable Cities and NerdWallet.com’s Best Places for Work-Life Balance. Cornell’s summer program features over 500 options and runs from May 28 to August 5.

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University of California, Berkeley – Berkeley, California

4. University of California, Berkeley – Berkeley, California

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With its main campus near downtown Berkeley, the University of California, Berkeley is perfectly situated for summer students to enjoy a healthy work-play balance. Travel + Leisure lists Berkeley as among the most happening college towns in the U.S., citing its “festive commercial strip,” cool eating places and abundance of trendy coffee houses. “Bohemian Berkeley has evolved into a culinary and cultural travel scene,” adds TripAdvisor, which also highlights “outdoor adventure” awaiting in the hills of Tilden Park and the stunning waterfront César Chávez Park – “where the San Francisco skyline sparkles across the bay.” Meanwhile, running from June 28 to 29, 2014, the nearby once-a-year San Francisco Pride festival is a must-see seasonal event. The university’s summer sessions begin on May 27 and end August 15.

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University of California, Santa Barbara – Santa Barbara, California

3. University of California, Santa Barbara – Santa Barbara, California

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Looking out over the Pacific Ocean, the University of California, Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) main campus seems more like a summer getaway than a place of higher learning. The campus sits on a peninsula that boasts a private lagoon – plus a network of cycling and walking trails that allow students to take in the grand views. And if that weren’t enough, UCSB is also close to California’s beautiful Channel Islands, the mighty Santa Ynez Mountains and popular surf spot Rincon. Santa Barbara’s 2014 summer calendar includes the annual Summer Solstice Celebration, which takes place from June 20 until June 22 and features a parade that is the county’s biggest one-day occasion of its kind. UCSB students and non-students alike can choose from lots of summer courses in subjects from anthropology to writing. Sessions run from June 23 to September 19.

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University of Colorado Boulder – Boulder, Colorado

2. University of Colorado Boulder – Boulder, Colorado

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In 2014 Livability.com rated Boulder, Colorado second on its Top 100 Best Places to Live list. “Boulder has incomparable outdoor offerings like the Rocky Mountain foothills, the Flatirons and its rivers and bike trails,” writes the website. Elsewhere, Mother Nature Network describes the city as “a Mecca for people who love the outdoors,” while Outside magazine calls it the “quintessential modern mountain town.” In short, the healthy activities, fresh mountain air, outdoor eating spots and resorts will certainly make up for any downsides of a summer entailing hitting the books. The University of Colorado Boulder’s summer program runs from May 12 to August 8 and offers more than 500 courses to current as well as non-degree and international students.

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University of California, San Diego – La Jolla, California

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The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) is located in sunny La Jolla and offers its students over 600 courses through its Summer Session program. The scheme is also open to visitors and promises to “accelerate” participants’ degrees, “enhance” résumés, and augment “cultural and intellectual knowledge.” The program is separated into two parts and runs from June 30 to September 6 – so it’s the perfect excuse to discover San Diego’s many highlights, among them the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park. The university is set near to Torrey Pines State Reserve and overlooks the “clothing optional” Black’s Beach, a two-mile stretch that Surfer magazine calls “one of the best beach breaks in California.”