15 Best Research Opportunities for High School Students in California

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a woman looking at a microscope and a man writing notes

15 Best Research Opportunities for High School Students in California

Discovering the best research opportunities for high school students in California can pave the way to a brighter academic and professional future. These programs offer a chance to dive into real-world science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, along with arts and humanities, providing a comprehensive learning experience. High school students seeking to enhance their knowledge and skills will find these opportunities invaluable.

List of the 20 Best Research Opportunities for High School Students in California

1. COSMOS | California State Summer School for Mathematics & Science

  •   Location: UC campuses (Davis, Irvine, San Diego, Santa Cruz)
  •   Cost: $4,550 (Financial Aid available)
  •   Program Dates: 4 weeks in summer
  •   Application Deadline: February 9, 2024
  •   Eligibility: California school students with a GPA of 3.5 or above

COSMOS is a notable program offering one of the best research opportunities for high school students in California, particularly for those with a keen interest in STEM. This four-week intensive residential summer school is hosted across several UC campuses, providing a rich curriculum in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

a female student smiling at the camera

Students with a strong academic background, evidenced by a GPA of 3.5 or above, are invited to apply. The program’s hands-on approach, coupled with guidance from renowned faculty, allows students to explore complex STEM subjects beyond the standard high school curriculum. The experience gained here not only augments students’ knowledge but also prepares them for future academic endeavors.

2. Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program (SIMR)

  •   Location: Stanford University
  •   Cost: $500 stipend
  •   Program Dates: June 10 – August 1, 2024
  •   Application Deadline: Fee required for application
  •   Eligibility: Juniors and Seniors, at least 16 years old

The Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program (SIMR) is an exceptional opportunity among the best research opportunities for high school students in California, especially for those interested in advancing their knowledge in biology, chemistry, and medicine.

This eight-week summer internship at the prestigious Stanford University allows students to engage in significant hands-on research while being mentored by leading scientists in state-of-the-art laboratories. Participants will gain invaluable insights into the medical research process and the day-to-day operations of a professional lab environment. The stipend provided helps cover expenses, making this program accessible to motivated students eager to explore the medical sciences.

3. Scripps Research’s High School Student Research Education Program

  •   Location: La Jolla, California
  •   Cost: $4,760 stipend for seven weeks
  •   Program Dates: To be announced
  •   Application Deadline: To be announced
  •   Eligibility: San Diego County residents, 16+, with a 3.0 GPA in chemistry and biology

Scripps Research provides one of the best research opportunities for high school students in California, specifically designed to bridge the gap between high school education and real-world biomedical research. This unique program caters especially to first-generation college-bound students and those from underrepresented groups. During the intensive seven-week course, students receive a significant stipend, allowing them to focus entirely on their studies and research without financial worry.

They gain invaluable hands-on experience in state-of-the-art laboratories, working alongside top scientists. This direct mentorship and immersion in active research projects not only enhance their scientific knowledge but also build critical thinking and problem-solving skills. By the end of the program, participants will have a deeper understanding of the biomedical field and a clearer vision of their potential career paths within science, making this an unparalleled opportunity for motivated students in San Diego County.

4. Stanford Summer Session

  •   Location: Stanford University
  •   Cost: Starts at $4,962 for commuters
  •   Program Dates: June 22 – August 18, 2024
  •   Application Deadline: Varies
  •   Eligibility: Sophomores, juniors, or seniors, at least 16 years old

The Stanford Summer Session stands out as a premium academic enrichment program, offering an unparalleled insight into university life at one of the world’s most prestigious institutions. This program is considered among the best research opportunities for high school students in California due to its comprehensive curriculum and the chance to learn alongside current Stanford undergraduates. Participants can choose from various subjects, allowing them to explore new areas of interest or deepen existing knowledge in a chosen field.

The Hoover Tower and view above Stanford at sunset in Palo Alto in California

The program’s cost includes access to Stanford’s resources, faculty, and residential life, offering a realistic glimpse of college living and study. The diverse, global community of students also provides a rich, multicultural environment for personal growth and networking. This invaluable experience is instrumental for students considering their future college and career paths, providing them with a significant advantage in the college application process and beyond.

5. Joint BioEnergy Institute’s Summer Science Intensive: iCLEM

  •   Location: Emeryville, CA
  •   Cost: $3,000 stipend
  •   Program Dates: June 14 – July 26, 2024
  •   Application Deadline: March 17, 2024
  •   Eligibility: Economically disadvantaged sophomores and juniors in specified counties

The iCLEM program offered by the Joint BioEnergy Institute is another exceptional entry among the best research opportunities for high school students in California, specifically targeting economically disadvantaged students. This intensive summer program is designed to introduce participants to the cutting-edge fields of microbiology, biotechnology, and biofuels.

It provides not only academic and research exposure but also career exploration and college preparation, including workshops on the college application process. The program’s holistic approach ensures that students receive a well-rounded experience, from laboratory skills to professional development, making it a vital stepping stone for those interested in pursuing careers in these innovative fields.

6. UCLA’s Applications of Nano Science Summer Camp

  •   Location: UCLA
  •   Cost: Enrollment fees apply
  •   Program Dates: July 7 – 20, 2024
  •   Application Deadline: June 1, 2024
  •   Eligibility: 10th – 12th graders, at least 15 years old

UCLA’s Applications of Nano Science Summer Camp is a notable example of the best research opportunities for high school students in California, especially for those intrigued by the nanoscale aspects of science and technology. This camp dives deeper into the applications and implications of nanoscience, blending academic learning with practical, entrepreneurial insights.

Students have the chance to engage in hands-on experiments, collaborate on projects, and learn from leading experts in the field. This immersive experience not only broadens scientific understanding but also encourages innovative thinking and product development, providing a solid foundation for future studies or careers in nanotechnology and related disciplines.

7. Stanford’s High School and Pre-Medical Student Summer Internship

  •   Location: Stanford University
  •   Cost: Application fee applies
  •   Program Dates: Two sessions in July 2024
  •   Application Deadline: March 8, 2024
  •   Eligibility: At least 16 years old, high school junior or senior

Stanford’s High School and Pre-Medical Student Summer Internship offers an in-depth look into the medical world, specifically focusing on cardiothoracic surgery and techniques. This program is uniquely designed for students considering a future in medicine, providing them with practical skills and firsthand surgical experience.

Under the mentorship of Stanford’s esteemed faculty, participants learn key medical procedures, understand the complexities of patient care, and explore the ethical dimensions of surgery. This hands-on approach, combined with lectures and group discussions, prepares students for the rigors of medical school and careers in health care, making it an invaluable opportunity for aspiring medical professionals.

8. UC Berkeley’s The Summer Youth Intensive Program

  •   Location: UC Berkeley
  •   Cost: $14,825 (including room and board)
  •   Program Dates: Remote coaching and on-site internship
  •   Application Deadline: Not offered in 2024
  •   Eligibility: Top 10% of class, interest in chemistry or related fields

Although not available in 2024, the Summer Youth Intensive Program at UC Berkeley is typically cited among the best research opportunities for high school students in California. Aimed at the top 10% of high school classes, this program focuses on students with a keen interest in chemistry and related fields, offering both remote coaching and an on-site internship.

UC Berkeley

Participants typically engage in hands-on research, working closely with faculty and graduate students, which provides a rare glimpse into real-world scientific studies and laboratories. While waiting for its next offering, students can prepare by focusing on their academic excellence and nurturing their passion for chemistry, ensuring they are ready to apply when the program returns.

9. UCSD’s Academic Connections Program

  •   Location: UC San Diego
  •   Cost: Varies
  •   Program Dates: Varies
  •   Application Deadline: Varies
  •   Eligibility: High school students with a GPA of 3.3 or higher

UCSD’s Academic Connections is another excellent example of the best research opportunities for high school students in California. The program offers a diverse range of subjects, from music and engineering to sociology and life sciences, allowing students to explore and deepen their understanding of different academic disciplines.

This pre-college experience not only provides a taste of university life but also helps students identify their areas of interest and potential career paths. Engaging with UCSD’s esteemed faculty and using the university’s resources, participants can gain significant knowledge and skills during the summer, paving the way for their future academic and professional endeavors.

10. UC Irvine’s Math ExpLR Summer Research Program

  •   Location: UC Irvine
  •   Cost: Free
  •   Program Dates: June – July
  •   Application Deadline: March (tentative)
  •   Eligibility: Information pending

Math ExpLR at UC Irvine stands out for providing focused research opportunities in mathematical biology, allowing high school students to work alongside undergraduates on real research projects. This free program demystifies complex mathematical and biological concepts through hands-on application, making it one of the best research opportunities for high school students in California interested in STEM.

Participants get to experience the university environment while engaging in significant research that can influence their academic and career choices in STEM fields.

11. SAGE Camp at SLAC

  •   Location: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University
  •   Cost: Free
  •   Program Dates: June 23 – 29
  •   Application Deadline: March 15
  •   Eligibility: Public school students interested in STEM

SAGE Camp, set within the collaborative environment of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University, represents one of the best research opportunities for high school students in California, particularly for young women. This free, one-week residential program is dedicated to increasing female participation in STEM fields.

Group of cheerful happy students holding world globe and looking at camera leaning on white wall at campus.

Through hands-on activities, innovative projects, and mentorship, SAGE Camp inspires participants by exposing them to the vast possibilities within science and engineering. The camp aims to build confidence, foster creativity, and develop leadership skills among young women, helping them to envision a future in STEM careers where they are traditionally underrepresented.

12. UCLA Summer College Immersion Program (SCIP)

  • Location: UCLA
  • Cost: $8,521 – $10,831
  • Program Dates: June 24 – August 2
  • Application Deadline: May 1
  • Eligibility: Sophomores and juniors with a minimum 3.6 GPA

The UCLA Summer College Immersion Program (SCIP) is an exceptional six-week program designed for high-achieving high school students. As one of the best research opportunities for high school students in California, SCIP offers an authentic college experience complete with college credit and an immersive understanding of university-level academics.

Participants have the chance to study alongside UCLA undergraduates, engage in challenging coursework, and participate in enriching workshops that cover a range of topics from academic writing to college admissions. This program not only enhances participants’ academic profiles but also provides valuable insights into college life and the expectations of higher education.

13. UCSF’s Arthritis Foundation Summer Science Internship Program

  • Location: UC San Francisco campus, San Francisco, CA
  • Cost / Stipend: $1,500 stipend
  • Application Deadline: Undisclosed
  • Program Dates: June – August
  • Eligibility: Juniors or Seniors, at least 16 years old, with at least one completed year in math and biology, and a background considered under-represented in the sciences

The UCSF Arthritis Foundation Summer Science Internship Program offers a unique nine-week research experience for high school juniors and seniors interested in biology, chemistry, and medicine. Hosted on the vibrant UC San Francisco campus, this program is specifically designed to immerse students in the world of professional scientific research. Participants will dedicate 40 hours each week to their research projects, which are conducted in collaboration with the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, particularly within the Rheumatology and Immunology Laboratories.

This program not only allows students to engage in meaningful basic laboratory or clinical epidemiological/translational research but also aims to foster a diverse new generation of scientists by prioritizing applicants from backgrounds under-represented in the sciences. Successful applicants are rewarded with a $1,500 stipend, acknowledging their commitment and contribution to the scientific community during the summer months from June to August. The program’s selective nature ensures a highly focused and enriching environment for all participants, making it a coveted opportunity for young aspiring scientists.

14. University of California, Santa Barbara Research Mentorship Program

  • Location: University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Cost: Commuter: $4,975; Residential: $11,874
  • Program Dates: June 17 – August 2, 2024
  • Application Deadline: March 18, 2024
  • Eligibility: High-achieving high school students worldwide

The University of California, Santa Barbara’s Research Mentorship Program is renowned for being among the premier research opportunities for high-achieving high school students in California, particularly those eager to engage deeply in extensive academic research. This esteemed program offers a unique platform where students are paired with distinguished faculty mentors across various interdisciplinary fields. 

Multiracial university students

The program’s structure allows students to immerse themselves in exploratory and innovative research projects, acquiring advanced methodologies and contributing significantly to scholarly inquiries. Additionally, the inclusion of GRIT talks within the curriculum enhances the educational experience, exposing students to forefront research developments and innovative technological advancements presented by leading academics.

15. CIS Intern Program

  • Location: California Academy of Sciences
  • Cost: Free
  • Program Dates: Year-round
  • Application Deadline: April 1, 2024
  • Eligibility: 9th-12th graders, San Francisco students from underrepresented populations

The Careers in Science (CIS) Intern Program at the California Academy of Sciences is a distinctive, ongoing initiative tailored for San Francisco high school students. It aims to immerse them in the worlds of science and engineering throughout the year and across multiple years. Targeting students from underrepresented groups, the program seeks to cultivate a deep, enduring interest in STEM fields, equipping students with the knowledge and skills necessary for scientific careers.

Through the CIS Intern Program, participants engage in a variety of hands-on activities, enriching workshops, and meaningful mentorship, all contributing to their comprehensive development both personally and academically. The program’s strong emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion, along with its dedicated focus on the disciplines of science and engineering, positions it among the premier mentorship opportunities available for aspiring young scientists and engineers.

How to Choose the Right Research Opportunity

When navigating through the best research opportunities for high school students in California, it’s vital to align your choice with your personal interests and academic aspirations. Reflect deeply on the subjects that spark your curiosity and enthusiasm. Are you fascinated by biomedical research, captivated by the complexities of engineering, or drawn to the creative arts? Identifying your passion is the first step toward selecting a program that not only piques your interest but also supports your long-term career objectives.

Next, assess your academic background and achievements. Each program has specific eligibility criteria tailored to the nature and intensity of the research or study involved. Ensure that you meet these requirements and consider whether the academic rigor matches your capabilities and educational goals.

Location is another crucial factor. While some opportunities may be nearby, others might require travel or even temporary relocation. Consider how this fits with your personal circumstances and whether the program offers accommodations or assistance with housing.

Cost can be a deciding factor as well. While many programs offer stipends or financial aid, others might require a significant investment. Investigate the availability of scholarships or financial support and weigh this against the potential benefits of the program.

Lastly, consider the program’s structure and what it offers beyond the curriculum. Does it provide mentorship, hands-on experience, or networking opportunities? These elements can significantly enhance the learning experience and contribute to your professional development.

How to Prepare for a Research Opportunity

Preparation is key to making the most of the best research opportunities for high school students in California. Start by conducting thorough research on each program you’re interested in. Understand the objectives, structure, and outcomes of the programs. What skills and knowledge can you expect to gain? How do they align with your educational and career goals?

Begin your application process early. Gather all necessary documents, such as transcripts, recommendation letters, and personal statements. Recommendations should come from individuals who know your academic abilities and personal character well, such as teachers or community leaders.

a female student looking at the camera smiling

Your personal statement is your chance to shine – to convey your enthusiasm, experiences, and why you are a perfect candidate for the program. Tailor each statement to reflect how you align with the specific goals and values of the program.

If you have questions or need clarification, don’t hesitate to reach out to program coordinators. They can provide valuable insights and guidance to help you submit a strong application.

Once accepted, prepare to immerse yourself fully in the experience. Engage with the material, participate actively in discussions, and network with peers and instructors. Approach the opportunity with an open mind and a willingness to learn and grow.


Exploring the best research opportunities for high school students in California offers a unique chance to delve into academic and professional fields of interest, providing a substantial edge in your educational journey and beyond. By thoughtfully selecting a program that resonates with your passions and goals and preparing thoroughly for the experience, you can unlock a world of knowledge and opportunity. Each program offers distinct experiences and learning opportunities to enhance your understanding, skills, and readiness for future academic and career challenges. Embrace these opportunities wholeheartedly to pave the way for a bright and successful future.


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