What is the Summer Focus Program?

Since 1991, the Summer Focus program has provided highly-motivated high school students in the Greater St. Louis area with funded eight-week summer research internships at the Washington University in St. Louis.

Each Summer Focus Scholar is paired with two scientists: a Mentor and a Tutor.  The Mentor works one-on-one with the Scholar on a specific project in the laboratory, while the Tutor supports the Scholar throughout their research experience. Scholars also take two courses on strengthening their science communication skills and preparing to apply to colleges. Washington University graduate students, post-doctoral associates, laboratory staff, and principal investigators serve as Mentors and Tutors.

For over 30 years, the success of Summer Focus is due to its highly motivated students, intimate cohort size, emphasis on personalized mentorship, and individualized lab projects. The program accepts 12 – 16 students each year. To be eligible to apply, Scholars must have successfully completed their junior year of high school before the program begins in June.

Check out profiles from past Summer Focus Scholars here!

Key Facts about Summer Focus 2023

  • Program dates are June 5th – July 28th, 2023.
  • We are especially looking for motivated students with no previous research experience. Individuals from under-resourced school districts and/or groups that are historically underrepresented in science are encouraged to apply. 
  • The Summer Focus program includes personalized scientific mentoring and independent, hands-on research projects, as well as college preparation and science communication coursework.
  • The application for this year opens November 14th and is available here. Applications are due February 13th, 2023. We recommend completing the application in one setting to best ensure a successful submission.
  • Please email ysp.summerfocus@wustl.edu with further questions.

Who Can Participate?

Students from St. Louis area high schools may apply when they are in 11th grade. We are especially looking for students who have a strong interest in science, but have not had previous research experience. Individuals from under-resourced school districts and/or groups that are historically underrepresented in science are strongly encouraged to apply.

Summer Focus Scholars are selected by a competitive application and interview process during the winter/spring, then the Summer Focus program begins the following summer. Students who are accepted into the program will be notified in April 2023. After acceptance, students will select a topic for their research project based on their own interests and that year’s available mentors. Before a student begins working in the lab, they will receive training in lab safety and commonly-used lab techniques.

How Can I Apply to Summer Focus 2023?

The application for this year is now available here. To best ensure a successful submission, the application should be completed in one sitting. Applications are due February 13th, 2023. Please email ysp.summerfocus@wustl.edu with further questions.

What Is Life Like as a Summer Focus Scholar?

At the beginning of the summer, each Scholar joins their Mentor as a colleague in their lab. The Young Scientist Program recruits labs that want to train high school students and provide a welcoming environment – both intellectually and socially. Together, the Mentor and Scholar develop and conduct an intensive biomedical research project. Projects are designed in order to be reasonably accomplished during the eight-week summer program. Scholars also meet weekly with their Tutors to review background information related to their summer project.

Over the program, Scholars also participate in two courses: the Writing Course (science communication) and the NextUp Course (college preparation & professional development).

  • The Writing Course strengthens skills in scientific understanding and communication. Scholars will learn to critically read scientific literature, write clearly & concisely about their research, present complex scientific findings to a wide audience, and provide feedback to their peers in a kind & productive manner.
  • The NextUp Course prepares Scholars to achieve their post-high school academic goals, including successfully attending college. Course topics focus on career exploration, college applications, admissions test preparation, and navigating financial aid.

At the end of the summer, YSP Summer Focus concludes with a closing Symposium (Friday July 28, 2023). Each Scholar presents their research findings to their Mentors, Tutors, labmates, parents/family, and teachers. A catered dinner follows the presentations.

Summer projects may be conducted in:

  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Neurosciences
  • Microbiology
  • Ecology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemistry
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences

Check out profiles from past Summer Focus Scholars here!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do I have to be a rising senior to apply to this program?
    • Yes, we only accept students who are currently in 11th grade and are going into 12th grade after the summer.
  • I am not a Missouri/Illinois resident. Can I still apply?
    • Unfortunately, we only accept Missouri/Illinois residents. Students are expected to work in their lab full time (40 hours a week) for the eight-week internship, so commuting distance is an important factor to keep in mind (even for MO/IL residents!).
    • Note: We provide free monthly passes for the STL Metro Transit system (Metrolink & buses) to students who are accepted into the program.
  • Can I miss a few days of Summer Focus due to pre-existing commitments?
    • No, students cannot miss more than 3 days of the program since it is such a short program.
  • Who should I ask for letters of recommendation?
    • The ideal letter writer is someone who can attest to your qualities, character, capabilities, and/or work ethic based on their interactions with you over time.
    • We require:
      • One letter from a math or science teacher.
      • The other letter may be from another individual (e.g. non-science teacher, school administrator, counselor, minister, etc.)
  • Are the applications reviewed on a rolling basis?
    • No, all applications are reviewed together after the submission deadline. Submitting early does not affect your chances of getting accepted into the program. However, we encourage you to apply early to ensure that we get all of your documents (including letters of recommendation and official transcript) in time before the deadline.

If you have any questions, please contact the Directors of Summer Focus: