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Applying to UCSD Research Scholars? Here's Everything You Need to Know

For any high schooler keen on pursuing a career in STEM, pre-college opportunities in research have become an increasingly compelling option for the summer. Such opportunities function as a stepping stone for building essential skills and STEM knowledge, while significantly boosting your college application or future career prospects.

Today’s blog post dives into one such opportunity, the UCSD Research Scholars program, and what makes it a must-consider for aspiring STEM enthusiasts.

What is the UCSD Research Scholars program?

UCSD Research Scholars, managed by the Division of Extended Studies at UC San Diego, offers high school students a unique educational experience.

By leveraging the resources of UCSD and partnering with equally reputed expert institutions like the Boz Institute or the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the program provides a large repertoire of courses across various fields.

You will get to learn and do research in fields as diverse as Bioengineering, Life Sciences, Design Thinking, Marine Science, Medicine, and Business Research, in multiple formats - online, in-person, or hybrid.

There are courses of different levels in each of these subjects, from beginner to advanced, and there is no restriction on how many you can enroll in, so long as you meet the criteria and there is no overlap. This makes UCSD Research Scholars a rich learning opportunity if you’re dedicated.

Which subjects can I explore as a UCSD Research Scholar?

The UCSD Research Scholars program offers a diverse range of subjects, each of which has multiple courses dedicated to their fundamentals. We’ve listed some of the major ones below:

  1. Bioengineering: Dive into the intersection of engineering and biological systems. Learn about biomedical technologies through a mix of theoretical and practical work. The following courses are available in this field:

    1. Bioengineering Broad Overview and Techniques (BE-BOAT): A batch of beginner courses intended to provide an overview of bioengineering and hands-on foundation techniques. Within BOAT, you have the following options:

      1. BioImaging & 3D Printing Dates - January 20, 2024 to March 9, 2024 Format - Online Cost - $2500 What you’ll learn - Hands-on skill in bioimaging and 3D printing. You’ll understand how 2D and 3D biological image data is acquired and stored, and how to manipulate, display and transform it.

      2. Mammalian Cell & Tissue Culture Dates - June 17, 2024 - June 28, 2024 Format - Online | In-person Cost - $2600 (online) | $2900 (in-person) What you’ll learn - Dedicated training on the skills required for mammalian cell and tissue culture, and where and how such culture methods are used.

      3. Biomechanics & Mechanobiology Dates - June 10, 2024 - June 14, 2024 Format - Online | In-person Cost - $1300 (online) | $1450 (in-person) What you’ll learn - You’ll be performing experiments on load-supporting skeletal structures and biomechanically testing models of tissues.

    2. Bioengineering Research Orientation Workshop (BE-ROW): If you’ve already done a BE-BOAT course, then you’re eligible to apply to BE-ROW to gain some actual research experience. In this course, you’ll get to work with active researchers who will take you through the actual steps of bioengineering research - from literature review, problem definition, modeling and study design, all the way to paper writing and presentation. Dates - July 15, 2024 - August 9, 2024 Format - Online Cost - $2600

    3. Bioengineering Scholar High School Internship Project (BE-SHIP): Similar to BE-ROW, you’ll have the opportunity to plan and conduct a focused research internship and project in collaboration with an academic lab. Unlike BE-ROW, this is a more advanced research project where you will largely be working solo, utilizing the techniques and methods you’ve learned in the BE-ROW course. Dates - January 9, 2024 - March 20, 2024 Format - Online Cost - $2500 (an additional lab fee up to $500 may be required)

  2. Life Sciences: Engage in hands-on molecular biology research. These courses offer a blend of lab work and theoretical learning, perfect for aspiring biologists. Here are the courses available:

    1. Introduction to Bioinformatics: If you’re keen on exploring the intersection of life sciences and data science, this is the course for you. You’ll be introduced to how bioinformatics works and how it’s applied to the study of genes and proteins. You’ll be learning a lot of biostatistical concepts and their applications, as well as computational tools like the R programming language. Dates - January 9, 2024 - March 14, 2024 Format - Online Cost - $2000

    2. Deep-Sea Fish Metagenomics: This hybrid course will introduce you to the biodiversity of deep-sea fish. You’ll learn multiple research methods and work at the Boz Life Science Research and Teaching Institute to design experiments, perform research and analyze data. The course concludes with you presenting your research in a seminar to a scientific audience. Dates - January 8, 2024 - March 13, 2024 Format - Hybrid Cost - $3000

  3. Marine Science: In this field, the courses focus on environmental advocacy and marine biology. You will get to develop your skills in problem-solving, organization, and leadership in the field of marine science. There are three tiers of courses: the first being foundation courses that build your fundamentals in ocean sciences; the second being multidisciplinary practical research experiences with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography; the third being workshops in scientific writing that will allow you to publish your research in the Marine Science Research Scholars Journal. The complete list of courses with details can be found here.

  4. Business Research: UCSD Research Scholars also has a bridging course to help you prepare for a career in business, entrepreneurship, and management. This course combines in-class discussions, case studies, and simulations for a comprehensive learning experience. You can check the details here.

Who is eligible?

The eligibility criteria for UCSD Research Scholars vary by program. However, the general requirement is for students in grades 10-12 who are passionate about diving deep into their chosen field of study, and usually a minimum GPA of 3.0. Some courses also have a prerequisite of completing the prior beginner courses to advance. We highly suggest you check the detailed pages linked above for each course.

Is it prestigious?

The courses in the UCSD Research Scholars program all have limited spots, making them selective by design. There is also great depth of learning and practical experience to be gained - scholars learn from leading experts, engage in meaningful projects, and gain insights that set them apart in their academic and professional journeys. UCSD itself is a fairly recognized university, placing in the Top 20 in Forbes’ rankings and at 34 in US News & World. While the programs can be a bit expensive, we would still rate UCSD Research Scholars as a moderately prestigious program, given its competitive admissions process and rich exposure.

Considering the pros & cons of applying


  1. You’ll be able to specialize and gain in-depth knowledge: Each course in the UCSD Research Scholars program offers a deep dive into its respective field. Whether it's Bioengineering or Marine Science, you'll gain specialized knowledge that goes beyond standard high school curriculum. This depth of learning prepares you for advanced studies and gives you a competitive edge in college applications.

  2. You’ll benefit from expert mentorship and networking opportunities: Learning from and interacting with leading experts and faculty at UCSD provides an unparalleled mentorship experience. This exposure not only enhances your learning but also helps you build a professional network, which can be invaluable for future academic and career opportunities.

  3. You’ll get to work on real-world projects and gain hands-on experience: Unlike typical high school settings, this program allows you to work on real-world projects. This practical experience is crucial for understanding the applications of your learning and developing problem-solving skills. It also gives you a taste of what working in your chosen field might be like.

  4. You’ll enhance your college applications: Participation in such a prestigious program is a significant addition to your college application. The skills and experiences gained can set you apart in the competitive world of college admissions and later, in your career.

  5. You’ll have access to state-of-the-art facilities and resources: UCSD is known for its top-notch facilities and resources. As a participant, you'll have access to these, providing a learning environment that most high school students don't get to experience. Even in their online courses, you’ll have kits sent to you allowing you to research and experiment remotely!


  1. The admission process can be competitive: Most courses in UCSD Research Scholars have small batch sizes, meaning that admissions can be fairly selective.

  2. The workload can be intensive: Many of the courses, especially the more advanced ones, are rigorous and demanding. Balancing this with regular high school work and other commitments can be challenging and might require excellent time management skills.

  3. The fees can be steep: Each course has its own tuition fee, and while they’re moderately expensive individually, the fees mount up rapidly if you’re doing more than one course. The scholarship availability is also limited and usually subject specific, further making the fees problematic.

  4. Courses overlapping can be problematic: As each course has its own schedule, there is limited flexibility in terms of course selection and scheduling. This can be a constraint if you have specific learning preferences or other commitments.

Is it really worth it?

The UCSD Research Scholars program is a comprehensive, immersive experience for high school students passionate about STEM. From its reputation, rigorous curriculum teaching real-world techniques, to the many hands-on opportunities it offers, this program can be a strong investment for your academic and professional future. If you can afford the courses and are ready for an intellectually stimulating challenge, UCSD Research Scholars could be the perfect fit for you.

If you're looking for a real-world internship that can help boost your resume while applying to college, we recommend Ladder Internships!

Ladder Internships is a selective program equipping students with virtual internship experiences at startups and nonprofits around the world! 

The startups range across a variety of industries, and each student can select which field they would most love to deep dive into. This is also a great opportunity for students to explore areas they think they might be interested in, and better understand professional career opportunities in those areas. The startups are based all across the world, with the majority being in the United States, Asia and then Europe and the UK. 

The fields include technology, machine learning and AI, finance, environmental science and sustainability, business and marketing, healthcare and medicine, media and journalism and more.

You can explore all the options here on their application form. As part of their internship, each student will work on a real-world project that is of genuine need to the startup they are working with, and present their work at the end of their internship.

In addition to working closely with their manager from the startup, each intern will also work with a Ladder Coach throughout their internship - the Ladder Coach serves as a second mentor and a sounding board, guiding you through the internship and helping you navigate the startup environment. 

Cost: $1490 (Financial Aid Available)

Location:  Remote! You can work from anywhere in the world.

Application deadline: April 16 and May 14

Program dates: 8 weeks, June to August

Eligibility: Students who can work for 10-20 hours/week, for 8-12 weeks. Open to high school students, undergraduates and gap year students!

Additionally, you can also work on independent research in AI, through Veritas AI's Fellowship Program!

Veritas AI focuses on providing high school students who are passionate about the field of AI a suitable environment to explore their interests.

The programs include collaborative learning, project development, and 1-on-1 mentorship. These programs are designed and run by Harvard graduate students and alumni and you can expect a great, fulfilling educational experience. Students are expected to have a basic understanding of Python or are recommended to complete the AI scholars program before pursuing the fellowship. 

The AI Fellowship program will have students pursue their own independent AI research project. Students work on their own individual research projects over a period of 12-15 weeks and can opt to combine AI with any other field of interest. In the past, students have worked on research papers in the field of AI & medicine, AI & finance, AI & environmental science, AI & education, and more! You can find examples of previous projects here

Location: Virtual


  • $1,790 for the 10-week AI Scholars program

  • $4,900 for the 12-15 week AI Fellowship 

  • $4,700 for both

  • Need-based financial aid is available. You can apply here

Application deadline: On a rolling basis. Applications for fall cohort have closed September 3, 2023. 

Program dates: Various according to the cohort

Program selectivity: Moderately selective

Eligibility: Ambitious high school students located anywhere in the world. AI Fellowship applicants should either have completed the AI Scholars program or exhibit past experience with AI concepts or Python.

Application Requirements: Online application form, answers to a few questions pertaining to the students background & coding experience, math courses, and areas of interest. 

Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re looking for the opportunity to do in-depth research on more topics in STEM, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.

Image Source: UCSD seal


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