What is the Summer Focus Program?

Summer Focus provides highly motivated high school students with funded research internships at the Washington University in St. Louis. Each student is paired with a mentor and a tutor. The mentor provides guidance on a specific project as the student gains laboratory skills, while the tutor prepares the student for their research experience. Washington University graduate students, post-doctoral associates, laboratory staff, and principal investigators serve as mentors and tutors. Check out the profiles of Summer Focus Alumni here.

Key Facts about Summer Focus 2021

Due to the ongoing circumstances of the pandemic, we are working to create and organize Summer Focus (SF) 2021 in the safest possible way for all involved. We will be hosting a six-week virtual program for our 2021 SF Scholars.

  • Program dates are June 14th – July 30th, 2021.
  • We are especially looking for motivated students with no previous research experience. Individuals from under-served school districts and/or groups traditionally underrepresented in science are encouraged to apply. 
  • The Virtual Program will include the college preparation and science communication courses, as well as personalized scientific mentoring.
  • The application for this year opens December 14th and is available here. To best ensure successful submission, application should be completed in one sitting. Applications are due March 8, 2021.
  • Please email ysp.summerfocus@wustl.edu for further questions.

Who Can Participate?

Students from St. Louis area schools may apply when they are in 11th grade. The students are selected by a competitive application and interview process that begins in the fall, preceding the start of the program the following summer. Students accepted into the program are notified in March. In early spring, students are given the opportunity to select a topic in which to do a project based on their own interests. Prior to a student’s entry into a lab, he or she will also receive instruction in lab techniques and safety.

What Is Life Like as a Summer Focus Student?

At the beginning of the summer, each student joins his/her mentor as a colleague in the lab. The program recruits labs that are interested in teaching young people and in welcoming them both intellectually and socially. Together, the mentor and student develop and carry out a research project that can be reasonably accomplished during the eight-week summer program.

Over the summer, students also participate in a writing course and college preparation course. The writing course hones students’ skills in scientific understanding and communication. The college prep course assists students in achieving their post-high school academic goals including successful entry into college. The college prep course focuses on career exploration, college application, admissions tests, and financial aid. Other programming includes an open house, social activities, and seminars on career development. At the end of the summer, students present their research findings at the closing symposium to their mentors, tutors, faculty sponsors, teachers, and parents. A closing dinner follows the presentations.

The success of Summer Focus is a result of its highly motivated students, intimate cohort size, emphasis on individual mentorship, and individualized lab projects. Each year the program accepts 12 – 16 students. To be eligible to apply students must have successfully completed their junior year of high school prior to the commencement of the program.

Summer projects may be conducted in:

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

Profiles of Summer Focus Alumni can be found here.

How to Apply to Summer Focus 2021

The application for this year is now available here. To best ensure successful submission, application should be completed in one sitting. Applications are due March 8, 2021. Please email ysp.summerfocus@wustl.edu for further 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 be in lab 40 hours a week for the 8 week internship, so commuting distance is an important factor to keep in in mind even for MO/IL residents. Note: We provide metro passes for the STL metro to students who are accepted into the program.
    • Although the 2021 program will be virtual, only students in the Greater St. Louis area will be considered. It is lovely to hear there is widespread interest in SF, but our funding and resources are for the St. Louis community.
  • 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.
  • Can I mail my own transcript or do I have to get the school to mail in an official transcript?
    • If accepted, we require the high school to mail us your official transcript directly to the following address listed on the submit section of the Summer Focus application:
      Young Scientist Program
      660 S. Euclid Avenue
      St. Louis, MO 63110

      Also, if you have your own copy of the transcript, please send one via email in case the one sent in the mail is not received in time for the application review.

  • Who should I ask for letters of recommendation?
    • We require:
      • One letter from a math or science teacher.
      • The other letter may be from another individual (e.g. school administrator, counselor, minister, etc.)
  • Are the applications reviewed on a rolling basis?
    • No, all applications are reviewed together after the deadline. Submitting early does not affect your chances of getting accepted into the program. However, we do encourage you to apply early to ensure that we get all of your documents (letters of recommendation, official transcript) in time before the deadline.