College Admissions: The Top 7 STEM Summer Programs

Summer is quickly approaching, and you have no concrete plans yet. Should you take classes at a local community college? Volunteer at a hospital? Build houses in Kenya?
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By Hanmei Wu and Ishan Puri

Summer is quickly approaching, and you have no concrete plans yet. Should you take classes at a local community college? Volunteer at a hospital? Build houses in Kenya?

You feel nervous about applying to college and want to maximize your summer to gain the best experiences possible while also standing out in the college admissions process.

The best answer is anything that can help you build your story with a focus. Your summer plans should align with a focused extracurricular story about a specific passion or talent (or overlap of two) that you seek to present to college admissions readers. For instance, if you are interested in neuroscience, then you should participate in a relevant summer activity such as a summer research program, neuroscience courses at a community college, or preparation for a Brain Bee competition.

This article is specifically tailored to students building a story in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Below are some of the top STEM summer programs for high school students in the US that we think are very helpful based on our experience at Synocate.

Application Deadline: January 26, 2016

This extremely competitive science and engineering summer program brings 70-80 of the most accomplished high school students to MIT. The great news is that you do not need to pay tuition for this program (yay!) and it combines on-campus work in scientific theory with off-campus work in science and technology research.

During RSI, students will be reading the most current literature in the field they choose to study, draft and execute a detailed research plan, and deliver conference-style oral and written reports on their findings.

Below is the summer program schedule:

Week 1: Students participate in week-long intensive STEM classes with top professors

Weeks 2-6: Five-week research internship where students conduct individual projects under experienced mentors who are scientists and researchers

Week 7: Students prepare written and oral presentations on their research projects

2) Simons Summer Research Program

Application Deadline: January 20, 2016

This summer research program at Stony Brook University offers hands-on research in science, math, or engineering for high school students between their junior and senior years.

The selection process for Simons is very competitive - the acceptance rate is around 12%. Although prior research experience is not required, the application is time-intensive and requires essays and a school nomination. Unlike most summer applications, you will need to seek nomination from your high school from this program. Each high school may only nominate a maximum of three students per school, which helps ensure that you are one of the top candidates from your high school.

Application Deadline: Feb 20, 2016

During this 8-week summer internship program, high school juniors and seniors perform basic research with Stanford faculty, postdoctoral fellows, students and researchers on a medically-oriented project. High school students will gain valuable experience in biological sciences and medicine and understand how scientific research is performed.

Selection Criteria:

Must be U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a green card

Selection process heavily favors local Bay Area students

The program consists of hands-on research under the direct guidance of a one-on-one mentor. Applicants can choose from eight areas of research (institutes):

Cancer Biology
Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine
Cardiovascular Biology
Genetics and Genomics

After students are accepted, they are then assigned to a specific institute based on their choices.

Application Deadline: February 19, 2016

COSMOS is an intensive 4-week summer residential program for students completing grades 8-12.Students apply to one of the four University of California's COSMOS campuses -- UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz.

Selection criteria:

Each campus can only accommodate about 160-200 participants, so selection is competitive.

Grades, especially in math and science courses

A typical COSMOS student has a GPA of 3.5 or above. Students must have achieved academic excellence.

Math/science teacher recommendations

Participation in math/science activities

Responses to short-response questions

Deadline: March 15, 2016

HSHSP is a seven-week, intensive residential summer research program designed for motivated students to work on a research project under the mentorship of a university researcher.

Tuition: $3,800 (covers room, board, and some instructional costs)

Selection Criteria:

Approximately 24 participants will be selected

Incoming senior (at least 16 years old)

Only US citizens and permanent residents

Scholastic ability, maturity, evidence of interest in science, engineering, or mathematics and completion of specified high school courses in science and mathematics

Student must be in the upper 20 percent of high school classes, and have taken at least 3 years of college preparatory mathematics and 2, or more years of science

Two 400-600 word essays:

Describe the nature and origin of your interests in science and in research, what you hope to learn by participating in the program, and what you feel you can contribute should you be selected as a participant
Describe the impact a book you have read, have had on your thinking or any aspect of your life
Letters of recommendation from at least two high school teachers (at least one science teacher) who know you well. In their letter, they should speak to their knowledge, not only of your aptitude but of your motivation, maturity, and independence.

Students will be required to give a presentation in their high school science class or another appropriate forum, about their research project and program experience upon returning home. Preparation of their project for a local or national science fair also will be encouraged.

Application Deadline: February 15, 2016

MIT Launch is a four-week residential summer program during which students grow their entrepreneurial skills and mindset through designing and launching a real business of their own. This experience connects students to many of the best entrepreneurial networks and leaders across campus for instruction and best practices, engraining them in the MIT culture of Mens et Manus - mind and hand.

Teaching formats include interactive lectures, business simulations, entrepreneur panels, and the actual design and launch of a company. Lecture and simulation topics cover a range of business skills and leadership skills that translate directly into practical application.

Tip: Apply early! "Early admissions candidates are able to find out their admissions status in advance of the regular admissions candidates. Also, applying early allows you to be compared against a smaller pool of candidates with a typically higher yield of acceptance."

Selection Criteria:

"We had an admission rate of

Students in grades 9-12

Candidates who show initiative, action-orientation, coachability, and a fit with our values. We look for students who show to us that they have what it takes to become successful entrepreneurs.
No minimum grade or activity involvement requirements
A video is required in the application! Check out the blog for more tips.

Application Deadline: March 11, 2016

SUMaC offers intensive study in advanced mathematics for talented rising high school juniors and seniors. SUMaC accepts from around the world, so international students can apply!

SUMaC offers two courses called Program I and Program II, with unique topics for each course. Students are enrolled in just one program during the summer, and the two programs allow students to potentially return for a second summer.

Program I: Abstract Algebra & Number Theory

Five motivating problems: constructibility in geometry, classification of patterns in two dimensions, error-correcting codes, cryptography, and the analysis of symmetry in structures

Program II: Algebraic Topology

The two programs take place simultaneously from July 12 - August 8, 2015.


Applying to summer programs is similar to applying to colleges. You should apply for reach, target, and safety programs. Keep in mind that these are reach programs for every student, so you should also apply for some target or safety summer programs to hedge your bets. The worst case scenario is applying for all reach programs and getting rejected from them all. At Synocate, we have helped hundreds of students find their passion, the summer program that matches, and apply. The 7 programs above are the results of our work

Although all of these deadlines have passed for summer 2016, this information is helpful for high school students who seek to apply to these summer programs in 2017. Keep in mind that some of these programs have application deadlines as early as January! Don't miss these deadlines, and plan for these summer program apps ahead of time. Best of luck!

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