What is Summer Focus?

Since 1991, the Summer Focus program has provided highly-motivated high school students from 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, and laboratory staff serve as Mentors, Tutors, and Course Instructors.

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.

Summer Focus accepts 16 – 18 students each year. Scholars receive a $4,000 stipend for the summer. To be eligible to apply, Scholars must have successfully completed their junior year of high school before the program begins in June.

Summer Focus 2024 applications are now closed!

Summer Focus 2024 Program Dates:
June 3 – July 26


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. Project topics vary year to year based on participating labs, but we try our best to place Scholars according to their interests.

Together, the Mentor and Scholar conduct an intensive biomedical research project. Projects are designed to be reasonably accomplished during the eight-week program. Scholars also meet weekly with their Tutors to review background information related to their summer project. Scholars receive a $4,000 (pre-tax) stipend.

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, Summer Focus concludes with a closing Symposium (the evening of Friday, July 26, 2024). Each Scholar presents their research findings to their Mentors, Tutors, labmates, parents/family, friends, and teachers. A reception follows the presentations.

Check out profiles from past Summer Focus Scholars!

Recent projects have been completed in…

Genetics & Genomics, Developmental Biology, Cancer Biology, Neuroscience, Microbiology, Ecology, Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry, Earth & Planetary Sciences, and many more!

Hear about the Summer Focus experience from past Scholars!


Who can participate?

Students from any high school in the Greater St. Louis area (Missouri and Illinois) may apply to Summer Focus when they are in the 11th grade (i.e. their junior year).

We are especially looking for motivated students with a strong interest in science, but have had no previous research experience. Individuals from the St. Louis Public Schools district, under-resourced public school districts, and/or groups that are historically underrepresented in science are strongly encouraged to apply.

Summer Focus Scholars are selected during a competitive application and interview process during the winter/spring, then the program will begin the following summer.

Students who are accepted into the program will be notified in late March 2024. After acceptance, students will select a topic for their research project based on their own interests and that year’s available labs. 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 2024?

Applications for Summer Focus 2024 are closed

Application Materials

  1. Personal Information
  2. Educational History
  3. Work Experience
  4. Academic Transcript
  5. Five short answer questions
  6. Two short essays (300 words)
  7. Two letters of recommendation

Important Dates

Applications Due: February 12, 2024

Rec Letters Due: February 19, 2024

Interviews: Mid March 2024

Acceptances Notified: Late March 2024

Orientation: May 29 – May 31, 2024

Program Dates: June 3 – July 26, 2024

Applications are due Monday February 12, 2024. To best ensure a successful submission, complete the application in one sitting. The application includes five short answer questions and two short essay responses, which are listed below. We highly recommend composing your answers separately, then copy them into the application when ready to submit.

Short Answer Questions Prompts (150 words each)
  1. Please list any relevant awards, honors, or achievements (e.g. Honor Societies, Honor Roll, Science Fair Competitions, etc.)
  2. Please list any Extracurricular Activities that you are involved in (e.g. leadership positions, student groups, volunteer groups, etc.)
  3. Briefly describe your future career goals
  4. If you had all the money and resources available to you, what would you choose to research and why?
  5. If you have had any previous science-oriented experiences, please provide us with a general description and time-frame of the experience
Short Essay Responses Prompts (300 words each)
  1. Describe the nature and origin of your interests in science and research.
  2. What do you hope to learn by participating in the Summer Focus Program?
Two Letters of Recommendation

The application requires two letters of recommendation. One letter must be from a math or science teacher. The other letter may be from another individual (e.g. non-science teacher, school administrator, counselor, clergy person, etc.). Neither recommendation letter may be from a family member or peer.

The application will ask for the contact information of your two recommenders (name, email, relationship to you, and organization/school). Once you submit the application, your recommenders will automatically receive an email with instructions on how to upload their letter.

Letters cannot be submitted before the rest of the application. We suggest asking your recommenders at least one month in advance so they have plenty of time to write it before receiving the submission link.

Letters of recommendation are due Monday, February 19, 2024 (one week after the rest of the application). It is the applicant’s responsibility to confirm the recommender has submitted their letter by this deadline.

Recommenders: If you do not receive an email, please check your Junk or Spam folders. Consider adding noreply@qemailserver.com and ysp.summerfocus@wustl.edu to your district’s Safe Senders list to ensure our communications reach you.


Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to be a rising senior to apply for this program?

Yes, we only accept high school students who are currently in the 11th grade (juniors) and are going into the 12th grade (seniors) after the summer.

I am not a Missouri or Illinois resident. Can I still apply?

Unfortunately, we only accept Missouri and Illinois residents. Students are expected to work in person in their lab full time (40 hours a week) for the eight-week internship. Commuting distance is an important factor to keep in mind, even for MO/IL residents!

We provide free monthly passes for the Metro St. Louis public transit system (MetroLink and MetroBus) 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 three (3) days of the eight weeks working in labs since the program is so short.

There is a three day Orientation & Research Bootcamp in late May to train students in laboratory safety and commonly-used techniques. We understand this might conflict with final exams for some schools. If this is the case, do not let this discourage you from applying – it will not affect our review.

Who should I ask for letters of recommendations?

The ideal letter writer is a trusted adult 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, clergy person, etc.)
Are 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.

Does Summer Focus provide transportation?

Scholars are responsible for their own transportation to and from campus every day. We provide free monthly passes for the Metro St. Louis public transit system (MetroLink and MetroBus) to students who are accepted into the program.

We do not provide parking in the WUSTL campus garages. Scholars can elect to purchase visitor or employee parking separately. More information can be found here.


Any questions? Contact us!

We are happy to answer any questions about the program or application. YSP is entirely run by volunteers, so please allow at least one week for a reply.

Email the YSP Summer Focus Directors at ysp.summerfocus@wustl.edu

Emma Danhash

Director of Summer Focus

Hailey Modi

Assistant Director of Summer Focus