The California State Summer School for the Arts at CalArts

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Young woman holding a pencil while thinking.

The California State Summer School for the Arts at CalArts

The California State Summer School for the Arts is a four-week summer program in California for high school students who are talented and motivated in the arts. The California State Summer School for the Arts has various options for all types of students, whether you are interested in film, theatre, animation, dance, music or more.

When it comes to arts and visual arts and the college admissions process, it gets to be competitive. Participating in a summer program, especially through a prestigious program can give students the leg up when it comes to applying, as well as the California State Summer School for the Arts gives students a chance to create, providing work to submit as a portfolio. Utilizing a summer program is a great opportunity to work hard in a subject you’re passionate about, or to focus on a subject that you’re deciding whether or not to pursue. Either way, a summer program works to your advantage. Continue reading to learn about other available summer programs and the benefits of visual arts programs.

Cheerful students going to school


The California State Summer School for the Arts gives high school students a peek into college life and provides a focused space for learning and collaboration with peers who think similarly. And the program takes place at the California Institute of the Arts.

The California State Summer School for the Arts is in its 34th year of hosting a summer program, due to coronavirus this year has been cancelled, but keep up with their Facebook page to stay up to date and check out past student’s work. This is also a great time to check in with us at AdmissionSight to ensure you’re preparing for when it comes time to apply to summer programs, check out our Summer Program Applications service, or contact us. To find out about the programs The California State Summer School for the Arts offers, whether or not you are eligible, how to apply, and more, keep reading.

About The California State Summer School for the Arts

The California State Summer School for the Arts aims to provide high school students in California a chance to partake in an intensive learning experience revolving visual, literary, performing, and media arts taught by professions for students to develop their skills, learn and realize their potential.

A professor talking to a student while they walk outside the classroom


Read more about The California State Summer School for the Arts mission here.

The California State Summer School for the Arts was founded in 1982 when other states began hosting production opportunities, and The California Legislature wanted to solidify an educational environment for young artists in California. They wanted to combat the issue of students leaving California for out of state colleges,  so they came up with their goals as well as their first summer session in 1987, and a few years later they opened the program up to students outside of California to make it an international program.

The goals of The California State Summer School for the Arts are:

  1. To enable artistically gifted and talented students, broadly representative of the socioeconomic and ethnic diversity of the state, to receive intensive training in the arts through a multidisciplinary program
  2. To provide a training ground for future artists who may wish to study and practice the arts or to pursue careers in the major performing arts companies and the commercial and fine arts institutions in California;
  3. To establish a model for partnership between the public and private sectors.

Read more about their history and goals here.

What Does The California State Summer School for the Arts Offer?

The California State Summer School for the Arts is a fast-paced, intense training program to prepare students for college training in visual or performing arts, creative writing, animation, and film. Mainly California based high school students participate but there are opportunities if you do not live in California as well.

students practice singing


The California State Summer School for the Arts is taught by professional faculty, different programs function in different ways, but each is crafted to the needs of the students and topics. Various programs get special guest speakers or screenings which are great networking opportunities and also opportunities one wouldn’t get in high school. This program is aimed for high school students to have a glimpse into college life, and a hand when it comes to applying to a visual and performing arts program, which can be different than a science or math college program due to the competitiveness of performing arts programs, the need to submit a portfolio, etc. At AdmissionSight we help students craft their portfolio to get noticed by admissions officers, so if you cannot, or even are planning to try to attend The California State Summer School for the Arts but need help now with portfolio planning, contact us. 

Group of students studying on a table.


By participating in The California State Summer School for the Arts, students also receive 3 units of California State University elective credit after successful participation. Pre-college credits are a great way to get ahead of your peers, it gives you time as a student to plan our courses as well as can save you money, it’s important to prepare for college as early as you can, and by participating in a summer program that helps, but also has proven you’ve taken college-level courses can prove you were motivated when it comes questions an admission counsellor might have about extracurriculars.

Here are the various academic programs offered:

  1. Animation
    • In the animation program, students will learn about the theories and techniques of animation in workshops that are led by professionals. Work will be in two-dimensional animation, life drawing, movement as well as guest visits from animators. Students will get to experience screenings and also learn about the history of animation. Read more about the animation program, the instructors, and more here.
  2. Dance
    • The dance program includes training in ballet, modern and conditioning technique, choreography, dance history, and jazz. There are also course options for improvisation, modern repertory, pointe, and ballet repertory. Read an in-depth description of the program, dance genres, and instructors here.
  3. Film
    • The film program through The California State Summer School for the Arts focuses on comprehensive filmmaking, from film production, theory, students create short works and get to view screenings and participate in a field trip. Learn more about the types of filmmaking, the professional instructors, and various field trips here.
  4. Music
    • The music program is for vocalists, instrumentalists, and composers with classes in music history and theory, Western and non-Western chamber music, composition and improvisation, technology as well as a mix with art forms that collaborate with music such as dance, theatre, animation and more. There are opportunities to get private lessons and work in ensembles. There are more music competitions and programs out there, and it’s important to participate in as many as possible to show determination and gain skills and awards, check out the list here. Get an insight into what a day looks like in the music program here.
  5. Visual Arts
    • The visual arts program provides classes in figure drawing, design, painting, digital media, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, and photography. There are lectures from guest artists as well as workshops, gallery and museum visits. View the required courses and choice courses as well as instructor descriptions here.
  6. Theatre
    • The theatre program is an acting course that concentrates on teaching students how to develop physical and vocal awareness and control. The courses taught include Tai Chi Ch’uan, acting, movement, voice, story, stage combat, physical comedy, stage acrobatics, and musical theatre. There are other forums, workshops, and lectures as well. Read about the theatre instructors here.
  7. Writing
    • The writing program has individualized programming in poetry, fiction, and scriptwriting. Students work in small groups to provide and receive feedback and get to meet with literary agents, journalists, poets, and more. At the end of the session, they publish an anthology. There are various other writing programs out there, whether more broad or specified or in different states. If you’re interested in applying to various writing summer programs, check out the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, and the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, listed on this Summer Program Offerings list.

So many different schools offer summer programs, including some prestigious universities. Although participating in a top ten or Ivy League school program may not guarantee you a spot at the school, the participation helps. The Columbia Summer Program offers different programs in arts and writing. And the USC Summer Programs offer topics such as journalism and performing arts.

There are also various contests for students in high school who focus in topics such as animation, dance, writing, film, music, visual arts, and theatres, such as the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, there is also a slew of Humanities Competitions listed here. It might be daunting to participate in a summer program while also trying to enter contests to win, but work can overlap when it comes to work you’ve created or work that you plan on entering in your portfolio. You can even submit school work to some competitions, and taking the time to submit can make a huge impact if you win an award, receive an honourable mention or even learn something from it.


California high school residents from grades 9 through 12 can apply to The California State Summer School for the Arts. Only a limited amount of students not from California get in each year. Participants are judged based on talent and creativity shown through submitted assignments and teacher recommendations. In 2019, less than half of the applicants were accepted in each department, making the California State Summer School for the Arts very competitive. If you successfully complete the California State Summer School for the Arts program, you are named a California Arts Scholar.

Read more about student life, campus information and housing to get more insight on how the

California State Summer School for the Arts summer program works once accepted.


Each department has different requirements in order to apply. In all, they have a need for an artistic portion as well as a teacher recommendation. Each has a requirement for a self-introduction, or portrait, something relating to you as a person, which is a great way to prove your skills as well as show off your individuality, and why you stand out.

The California State Summer School for the Arts knows you might not have a full animation project to submit for review, that’s what the program is for, but it’s important to ensure all of your work is your own.

This is what an example of requirements needed looks like, this is for the visual arts program:

  1. Choose an issue that interests you (something personal, political, or social). Use whatever materials, techniques, and processes work best to express your views on the chosen issue. Upload an explanation of the work in a separate document.
  2. Create an original art piece that reflects who you are. Use appropriate materials and techniques to interpret your idea. In this assignment, we will look at how you creatively interpret the problem, and how you make artistic choices.
  3. Choose a piece of your artwork that you feel best demonstrates your technical skill and understanding of your favourite medium. In this assignment, we want to see that you have developed the skills needed to succeed in this advanced program.

Note how detailed and specific the requirements are, make sure you follow all instructions based on the program you are applying to. All of the specific requirements can be navigated here. If you need help when it comes to submitting your Summer Program Application, we can help make sure you’re putting your best foot forward through laser-focused essay editing plus a letter of recommendation strategy.

Tuition and Financial Aid

The four-week program for California residents totals $2,250, while non-California residents pay $6,750. There are scholarships available for students with financial needs, and no student will be denied because of financial reasons. But, financial aid is only available to California residents.

Photos and Profiles

The California State Summer School for the Arts alum have been very successful in their endeavours after participating the program, from attending CalArts, to creating documentaries and animation, view their profiles here to better understand what one can learn from the California State Summer School for the Arts.

Take a sneak peek into what the California State Summer School for the Arts program is like, from inside a dance class to lunch to street chalk, viewing the photo gallery from the past years is a great way to get excited about the program and see how much you can learn.

In Conclusion

The California State Summer School for the Arts is a great summer program if you are interested in experiencing the arts in a rigorous, collaborative, real-life college space. Not only are you focusing on your craft, but also receiving meaningful experience, advice, and networking opportunities to maximize the rest of your time in high school. If you are not sure if this specific summer program is for you, visit our list of various programs, here, to find one you may be interested in, or contact us for personalized help.




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