Are summer programs really worth it?

I was recently nominated for the National Youth Leadership Forum for Medicine and I am wondering if it is really worth it? The program is very expensive ranging from $3,000 to 4,000 plus living and transportation arrangements. I know almost nothing about the program and I am very much debating whether it is honestly worth all that money. Do these type of programs make an huge impact on college decisions? Or should I look for something more local and les expensive?

For the most part, these summer programs don't have a huge impact on college admissions. We have an article specifically on the National Youth Leadership Forum and its issues here, but the gist of it is that NYLF doesn't have any more impact than any other extracurricular like a school sport or marching band, and may in fact be less notable to colleges since anyone who can pay can attend. Looking for something local and less expensive, particularly if it will give you equal or more exposure to the subject you're interested in learning about, is definitely preferable.

There are some summer programs, like Research Science Institute and the Youth Engineering Science Scholars, that only admit exceptional students and so will have a positive effect on your college application. The main benefit to the other programs would be if you excel in the program and are able to get an outstanding letter of recommendation from a professor.

For more on the pros and cons of pre-college summer programs, I highly recommend reading this article.