If you’re interested in developing a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) hook in order to make your college applications stand out, this article is for you! STEM is a broad field, and it can be hard to know which experiences can help you stand out the most in the college application process. Whether you know exactly what part of STEM you want to pursue or are still exploring, this article can help you determine what steps you can take in high school to become a strong STEM college applicant.
If you’re interested in computer science, medicine, or environmentalism, check out those guides as well!
Join Clubs at Your School
Joining clubs at your school is a great way to explore your interests in STEM outside of classes. Whether you have already discovered your niche STEM interests or are still exploring new ones, check out some of these clubs at your school in order to get hands-on experience and connect with other students who share your passions:
If your school does not offer these extracurriculars, look into starting clubs like these yourself or getting involved outside of school through opportunities like a passion project. Founding your own club can be a great passion project! Here’s our guide for how to do so!
Intern in Your Field
Internships are a powerful tool that can help you explore your interests, develop new skills and gain valuable experience. They can make for unique additions to your college application. However, part of the reason these opportunities are so impactful is that they are difficult for high school students to find.
STEM internships can either be formal programs, such as those offered by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Institute of Health (NIH), MIT and Harvard’s Broad Summer Scholars Program (BSSP), or individual opportunities. Individual internships require students to reach out to professionals in their area of interest to form connections and request an internship opportunity. For STEM students, individual internship opportunities may be research with a college professor or working at a company in their area of interest.
Whether you are planning to find an internship through a program or individually, here are some of the steps you can take to secure an impressive STEM internship:
Start with research: Make sure you do your research before applying to any internship opportunities. Many of the formal high school STEM internship programs have age requirements and strict application deadlines, so it’s important to do your research early on to avoid any missed opportunities. Similarly, if you’re pursuing individual internship opportunities, demonstrate to your potential mentor that you have put in the effort to understand their work to the best of your ability and you have a genuine curiosity about their field. If you’re reaching out to professors, try to read some of their research papers and reference them in your initial outreach email.
Reach out widely: High school internships, whether through a program or individually sourced, can be very competitive. Particularly if you’re going the independent internship route, you should be prepared to hear “no” from some (if not most!) of the people you reach out to. To prepare for this, make a robust list of potential mentors and contact as many people as necessary in order to land that internship!
Be professional and curious: Once you’ve successfully found an internship, remember to be professional and curious throughout the internship process. Ask questions to thoroughly understand what you’re doing, and remember that mentors can be great sources for letters of recommendation in the future!
Start a Blog or Podcast
One of the easiest ways to explore your passion for STEM is through creating your own blog or podcast. While researching content for your articles or episodes, you’ll learn more about your niche area of interest and how to share scientific information in an engaging way. To get started, you’ll want to explore popular blogs or podcasts that already exist in STEM, analyze what these podcasts or blogs have done successfully, and then consider how you could approach STEM related topics from a different angle. Here are a few to check out:
There are countless topics to explore through your project, so find something that interests you and get started!
Do your own independent research
One of the great things about STEM is the opportunity to conduct your own independent research or projects to explore your interests. If you’re interested in botany, you can start a garden and study the ideal conditions for different species that you plant. Or if you prefer engineering, you may rewire an old lamp to turn on and off with a remote switch. To make these experiences impactful, you’ll want to record what you learn throughout the process, either on your blog, podcast, or another form.
If you’re a student interested in STEM, it is important to take advantage of as many STEM classes available at your school as possible. This will demonstrate your interest and give you a good foundation for when you enter college!
In addition to school courses, you can take advantage of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. These courses will allow you to explore courses that either are not offered at your school or are at the college level. This can help you find your STEM niche, build a knowledge base for your passion project, and explore your interests deeply. Sites like mooc.org and coursera.org are great places to finding courses on any STEM topic!
If you’re still not sure exactly what area of STEM you want to dive into for your passion project, MOOCs can be a great place to explore some of your interests. Since many MOOCs are free and self-paced, you can start a course and move on to something else if it doesn’t align with your interests. Trying courses in topics like organic chemistry, electrical engineering, or evolutionary biology may help you discover a passion you didn’t know you had!
If you already know where your niche is in STEM, MOOCs can help you dive deeper into your area of interest. For example, if you know that you’re interested in going into engineering, you can take introductory college level courses on engineering mechanics or electronic systems. These courses can go on your college application and demonstrate your independent pursuit of knowledge in an area you’re passionate about!
MOOCs are also a great way to explore any non-STEM interests that can help with your passion project. If you’re interested in teaching a robotics course to younger students, you may take a course on project-based learning so you can build a curriculum that is engaging and inventive.
While MOOCs are a great way to supplement your high school coursework, some of the courses offered on MOOCs are intended for undergraduate or graduate students and may be too advanced for you, so be very mindful of course rigor when selecting classes!
Beyond courses at school and online, a number of universities offer fantastic summer programs geared toward students interested in medicine. For example, the Emory Summer Scholars Research Program enables students to join oncology research for six weeks during the summer months. Whether or not you want to pursue a career in oncology, gaining exposure to the cycle of translational research is crucial to understanding how medical treatments are created, from origin to development to trial, all the way through to the phase during which they reach the market and are sold to patients.
Other great summer programs for students interested in medicine include CEE’s Research Science Institute (RSI), where high school juniors complete intensive research at MIT over the summer, the Jackson Laboratory’s Summer Science Program, where students spend the summer in Bar Harbor, Maine conducting biomedical research and Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Human Oncology & Pathogenesis Program, during which students “conduct independent research projects and attend enriching training sessions and tours designed to support their interest in the clinical side of translational research.”
These are just a few examples of medically oriented summer programs available to high school students. If you’re interested in attending a medical summer program, we recommend spending some time searching for medical programs offered by medical schools, research institutions and hospitals in your nearest city, region, and state!
With so many disciplines falling under the STEM umbrella, there are hundreds of potential career paths that you could pursue following the completion of a STEM degree. Here are some of the general career paths that people in STEM might take:
Academia: Every STEM field—from geology to theoretical physics to mechanical engineering—has opportunities for careers in academic research. If you’re interested in advancing the understanding of STEM concepts through laboratory or other kinds of research, academia may be a good fit for you.
Industry: If academia isn’t for you, another other option is to seek an industry position. Companies and government agencies often seek out STEM graduates to develop new technologies, medicines, and protocols. Some industries for STEM graduates include computer science, engineering, and pharmaceuticals, but there are plenty of interdisciplinary fields with positions such as food scientist or beauty chemist for you to explore!
If you’re interested in diving into the many potential careers for STEM students, check out this organization!
Participate in a Contest or Competition
While joining clubs and taking MOOCs are great for showing your interest in a subject, engaging in contests and competitions are an effective way to demonstrate your proficiency in STEM. The broader your contest is, the more impressive and competitive it will be, so keep that in mind when comparing competitions at the local versus national or international level. Here are some competitions at the local and national level to look into:
Case Study of a Past Command Student
Here’s an example of how one of our students created a successful STEM blog passion project:
Samantha was a junior when she came to Command Education. A student from Russia with an interest in electrical engineering and computer science, Samantha wanted to create a platform for students to learn foundational robotics concepts and find community. She started with a simple website showcasing video tutorials, but encouraged other students to join the platform as contributors. With marketing guidance from her mentor, Samantha was able to share her project across social media and other platforms and had built a community with thousands of members by the time she graduated. She also partnered with schools across the globe to create in-person clubs for students to work through her and other contributors’ tutorials together. With this project alongside a strong academic profile, Samantha was admitted to Stanford!
*Name and details changed to comparable alternatives for anonymity