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.
1) Research Science Institute (RSI)
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.
3) The Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program (SIMR)
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.
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):
Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine
Genetics and Genomics
After students are accepted, they are then assigned to a specific institute based on their choices.
4) COSMOS (California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science)
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.
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
5) Michigan State University High School Honors Science/Mathematics/Engineering Program (HSHSP)
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)
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.
6) MIT Launch
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."
"We had an admission rate of
Follow Ishan Puri on Twitter: www.twitter.com/synocate
The Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program, sometimes referred to as the Stanford Institutes of Medical Research (SIMR), is a highly competitive 8-week research program held annually for approximately 60 students from the United States entering their final year of high school or first year of college. Widely regarded as one of the most prestigious internship programs in the country, SIMR was founded by P.J. Utz in 1998 as the Center for Clinical Immunology Summer Research Program. SIMR is run by Stanford University at the Stanford School of Medicine and is targeted towards students with an interest in science, engineering, and medicine. 
The Stanford Institutes of Medicine (SIM) Summer Research Program was founded in 1998 as the CCIS Summer Research Program. The program was initially run by the Center for Clinical Immunology at Stanford. The goals of the program included increasing interest in biological sciences and immunology among high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, and the United States.
In 2000, 10 interns participated. In 2001, the number increased to 20 interns and remained at 20 to 25 interns through the summer of 2007. Funding for the program has since been provided by Genentech, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease's Asofsky Program, FOCIS, and private donors. In 2007, the Stanford Institute for Immunology, Transplantation and Infection cosponsored the program (called the CCIS/ITI Summer Intern Program).
In 2008, the program teamed up with five Stanford Institutes that study cancer biology, stem cell biology, neuroscience, immunology and cardiovascular medicine. The program was renamed the Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program, or SIMR. 
Overview and structure
Student apply to the program in the period between December and February preceding the summer. In 2013, 3.2% of applicants were accepted to the program. The application process entails submission of objective criteria including a transcript of grades and test scores; a resume of research experience and volunteer work; a summary of extracurricular activities, honors, and awards; letters of recommendation; and several essays detailing interests and goals in science.
Admitted students choose one of eight institutes (Immunology, Stem Cell Biology, Neurobiology, Cardiovascular Medicine, Cancer Biology, Bioinformatics, Bioengineering, and Genetics) to join, attending lectures by faculty, postdocs, and grad students within their respective institute for the first half of the program. Throughout the program, interns are required to work at least 40 hours a week in a lab of their choice with a Stanford grad student, postdoc, or faculty member on a hypothesis-driven research question, though most work more.
Interns have the opportunity to regularly attend core faculty talks specifically for entire SIMR class (rather than a specific institute within SIMR), thesis defenses, lab meetings, and symposia, as well as lunches with other interns and social events on Stanford's campus. Several notable faculty, such as Nobel laureate Brian Kobilka, Irving Weissman, Lawrence Steinman, and Atul Butte have given talks at SIMR. A hallmark of the program is a trip to the nearby Agilent Technologies in Santa Clara as well as several seminars intended to expose participants to opportunities and potential pathways in science and medicine. Many events are intended to provide interns the opportunity to interact with peers while networking with professionals in academia (at Stanford) and in industry. Interns have access to institute-specific TAs, college and career advising, as well as guidance for research publication and science fairs.
Upon completion of the program, interns are expected to deliver a 10-minute presentation open to members of the medical school. The program concludes with a poster session held for sponsors of the program, such as CIRM and the Arthritis Foundation, and the general public alike. Interns receive a stipend for their research along with a certificate of completion at the closing ceremony. Many interns choose to pursue their internship beyond the dates of the program. 
Several participants have been named semifinalists and finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search. In addition, two interns have been named semifinalists in the Siemens Competition, and one student was named a Presidential Scholar by George W. Bush. 
Over 80% of the students in the first six classes have gone on to major in science in college or are pursuing careers in research, medicine, or engineering-related fields. Students from graduating classes have entered college as well as medical and graduate school at universities including Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Yale, Princeton, Caltech, Penn, UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, and Duke. Furthermore, a few alumni are admitted each year to combined 7- or 8-year undergraduate/medical school programs, such as Northwestern University's Honors Program in Medical Education (HPME) and Brown's Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME).
In 2007, approximately twenty interns coauthored publications on their research in highly respected peer-reviewed journals, such as Nature Medicine, Blood, PNAS, and Science during their time in the program.