Why Attend The Summer Science Program (SSP)

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Group of students reading on a bench.

Why High Schoolers Should Consider the Summer Science Program (SSP)

The Summer Science Program (SSP) is a prestigious and highly sought after opportunity for high school students to explore specific scientific fields in more depth before entering college.

Describing itself as “the educational experience of a lifetime,” the Summer Science Program offers high school students an engaging and unique program that can help boost their self-confidence, expand their interest in this subject matter, and even make their college applications more appealing to some of the best schools in the country.

Despite being a science-based program, previous attendees have gone on to become CEOs, judges, teachers, designers, and more – a testament to the wide range of skills that participants can gain from the Summer Science Program.

Three university students lounging in the school

What is the Summer Science Program?

The Summer Science Program is a 39-day academic enrichment program designed specifically to help inspire, encourage, and challenge highly motivated high schoolers from around the world. Every year, 36 eligible students and 7 accompanying faculty members head to a select campus for 39-days to immerse themselves in a unique learning opportunity. Having celebrated its 60th Anniversary last year, SSP is one of the longest-running pre-college programs of its kind.

While SSP participants remain on-campus throughout the program, it resembles more of a hands-on research opportunity than a “camp”. It’s a one-of-a-kind immersion experience that has developed an excellent reputation for instructing and inspiring some of the most promising minds in STEM fields. It’s a place where young, talented high schoolers can come together, collaborate on projects, and learn more about their fields of interest. It’s an opportunity that improves their prospects in college while also providing them with lifelong skills.

Five students are gathered to watch on a digital tablet.

While other programs might focus on learning more about a particular subject, SSP is an opportunity for students to really do science. Instead of reading more textbooks or listening to lectures, participants are given a real-life opportunity to understand what it’s like to be immersed in the STEM fields.

All students will leave with a better understanding of their desire to pursue an education and career in this field – and most do. It’s a unique, collaborative, research-driven experience.

What do participants do at the Summer Science Program (SSP)?

All participants in the Summer Science Program are divided into groups of three. With collaboration as a guiding principle of the program, everyone is encouraged to learn from each other and work together. Each day, students will spend around six hours in the classroom. During this time, they’ll learn more about the techniques and theories that will be necessary for their research.

Lab sessions and classroom activities are scheduled throughout the day for six days each week. Informative field trips and special guest lectures are sprinkled throughout to add some variety and excitement. The classroom time is dedicated to developing a better grasp of the topic and experimental science overall while the labs are where these skills are put into practice for research purposes.

Male student in a podium talking to people.

Every team is given a certain area of study for which they must conduct experiments, collect data, perform analysis, and report on their results. All the necessary resources, such as computers, are provided for participants. Students can apply for one of two research opportunities in the program:

  1. Astrophysics Program These teams will be taking images of asteroids near to earth with high-powered telescopes, writing software to help determine its orbit pattern, and plotting a path of possible future movement. All observations are shared with the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center to help improve the accuracy of future estimations.
  2. Biochemistry Program These teams will conduct experiments and use special computer tools to isolate a particular enzyme – one that has never been characterized before – that’s important in the infection of crops by fungi. The resulting model of the enzyme will then be submitted to a database for other scientists to use. The teams must then design a special molecule that could help protect crops from damage by that fungi through binding to a particular enzyme.

There are faculty and fellow researchers there to help the teams in their projects, but the stress of this program is hands-on learning and practical experience. There are no tests or assignments throughout and no grades given at the end. The whole focus is on providing high schoolers with an opportunity to do real research in a field that they love.

Who can participate in SSP?

While anyone and everyone can apply to the program, SSP is focused on accepting current juniors in high school, and a select number of sophomores, who have finished the pre-requisites and are between 15 and 18 years of age. Generally, freshmen and seniors in high school aren’t eligible for acceptance.

Students sitting on the grass and talking

There are prerequisite classes for each research program offered by the Summer Science Program. In order to fulfill a prerequisite, the course has to count for credit and be completed before June. You can take a look at the requirements here:

SSP Research Year while applying Pre-requisites
Astrophysics Junior Physics and Precalculus or Calculus
Astrophysics Sophomore Calculus and Physics
Biochemistry Junior or Sophomore Biology, Chemistry, and Algebra

SSP accepts students who are at the top of their classes and earning high grades in some of the more advanced science and math courses available. Students are also encouraged to aim for high standardized test scores. In addition to academic achievement in terms of grades and test scores, SSP also looks at a student’s character, challenges that were overcome during school, extracurriculars, and different aspects of their background such as school, family, and resource availability.

Students walking in the campus

Within the application form for the Summer Science Program, students will find sufficient space to explain their unique skills, performance, and circumstances. Every campus involved in the program represents a diverse group of inspired academics looking to explore their favorite subjects and improve their college admission opportunities. Students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in the STEM fields are highly encouraged to send in their applications.

When presented with two candidates who are equally motivated and fitting, SSP has chosen to admit the one who could benefit the most from the opportunity.

Skills and Advantages Students Gain from the Summer Science Program

While the primary purpose of SSP is to give eager and high-performing students access to actual research opportunities, there are a number of other advantages that you can receive from the program. Let’s take a look at a few of those skills here:

  • Confidence – The work required in SSP will be a step above that of typical high school-level courses. Throughout the program, students will overcome challenges that will help to boost their confidence that will make the transition into college that much easier.
  • Time-management Although there are faculty there to aid the students when necessary, participants are very much responsible for setting their own schedule, managing their own time, and sticking to it. It’s a skill that will definitely come in handy in college when there’s no adult around telling you what to do and when to do it.
  • Group cooperation – Teamwork is a staple of the program and a necessary skill to develop in order to complete the research successfully. Students will leave with a better understanding of how to collaborate respectfully, efficiently, and productively with fellow peers.
  • Motivation – While high school is a time for working on all of your academic muscles, college is really a time of focus and refinement. Through SSP, students have an earlier opportunity to hone in on a particular area of study and find the motivation to carry that passion over into college.
  • Advice – With some bright mentors participating in the program, it’s been reported by many participants that great advice was given on choosing a relevant major and college. This is welcomed help for any student who’s struggling to pin down the right college or area of study.

Why SSP Can Help You Get into the College of Your Dreams

Although SSP makes a point that participation in the program isn’t a “magic ticket” that automatically gets students into any college, it can help tremendously.

Here at AdmissionSight, we understand just how much unique experiences like this can improve your chances of getting into the college of your dreams. Whether that’s a nearby state university or a prestigious Ivy League School, here are a few reasons why attending the Summer Science Program can help improve your chances on your college admissions applications:

  1. It helps you narrow down your area of study – A whopping 75% of students either start college not knowing their major or changing it at least once. While this is perfectly fine, narrowing down your area of study beforehand can have tremendous advantages. Students who attend SSP gain real experience in a specific field that can help them determine whether or not that’s an academic path they’d enjoy pursuing. This knowledge makes it easier to choose a fitting university, personalize your admissions letter, and show your motivation.
  2. It’s a good test of your strengths and weaknesses – As you’ll often hear us say at AdmissionSight, your college admission application should be an accurate representation of who you are, both as a student and individual. Participation in SSP is more than just an academic initiative – it’s a valuable life experience. You’ll learn more about who you are, along with strengths and weaknesses that make you unique. This self-awareness will shine through on your college admissions paperwork, helping to set you apart from other students who aren’t as capable of expressing themselves.
  3. You’ll have practical application experience – Many students are nervous about applying for colleges because they’re unsure about how to go about filling out the paperwork, explaining their goals, and generally piecing together a good application. Even if you don’t get accepted into SSP, the act of applying to this highly selective program is great practice before heading off to college. You’ll learn how to accurately portray your academic successes, personal strong suits, and background in a compelling way.
  4. Admission officers are familiar with the program – The Summer Science Program is among the most distinguished programs for high school students in the entire country. Many admission boards and college administrators at the best colleges are familiar with this program and hold attendees in high esteem. As Jarrid Whitney, the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, Enrollment, and Career Services at Caltech explains, “our admissions committee seeks to find and attract candidates who have demonstrated a genuine passion for STEM beyond just great academics and school-based activities. SSP is an amazing program that truly inspires scientific inquiry and exploration in our prospective students!”
  5. You’ll get official recognition of completion – Some colleges make space on their application forms for any certifications or awards you might have. In addition to placing this impressive feat on your list of accomplishments, the Summer Science Program will also provide every participant with an official letter of completion to really drive the point home to admission counselors. You can even request a letter of recommendation from some of the administrators at the program if necessary – yet another way to highlight your success as a student. It’s also a great thing to spruce up your resume when you start looking for a job.
  6. You’ll have experience with college-level material – Between higher-level high school courses and special programs, such as SSP, college admission boards like to see students who have already received college-level education. The coursework required during this program will mirror more of a collegiate setting than a high school one. This is excellent preparation before students enter into higher education and also lets colleges know that you’re prepared to take on the workload.

What will SSP look like in 2020?

Since the beginning of the Summer Science Program, it has been held on multiple different campuses across the country. Unfortunately, the social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have severely impacted this year’s SSP.

Fortunately for all students and staff who had already worked hard to make this program a reality, the Board of Trustees all voted in favor of moving ahead with the 2020 Summer Science Program in an online format. A total number of 144 high school students will be chosen to participate virtually with half focusing on Biochemistry and the other in Astrophysics.

Given the difficult circumstances and unforeseen challenges, program directors have also decided to cut the program fee by a generous $3,000. Even with this major discount, financial aid is still an option for those who qualify. SSP has made it clear that, despite the obstacles, the program will remain focused on some of its core values such as support, inclusivity, rigor, challenge, connection, collaboration, respect, and trust.

Traditions of the program, such as a fun talent show, questions of the day, and guest lectures, will be maintained as much as possible even with the virtual model. A “flipped classroom” style will be attempted including live stream and pre-recorded parts.

What are you waiting for?

The Summer Science Program is one of the very best educational programs in which high schoolers can participate. Whether you have a passion for science and math or simply want to explore the fields more, SSP is the best place to do it. You’ll gain skills that will aid you both in and out of the classroom.

When you start applying to colleges, you’ll quickly realize all of the different ways that the experience with SSP has helped – preparing you for college-level courses, beefing up your resume, making it easier to focus your search on a few select colleges, and more. If you’re interested in learning more, you can visit the SSP website to apply.

How AdmissionSight can help

At AdmissionSight we have a great track record of getting our students into some of the more competitive summer programs in the world, including the Summer Science Program. With hundreds of applications under our belt, we know what it takes to help you master the application process.

We help our students write captivating and inspiring summer program application essays, portray their academic successes in the best light, and convey their desire to join the program eloquently and with a distinct, personal touch. Feel free to contact us no matter your admission needs, and we’ll do our best to help you achieve your academic goals.


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