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HiSTEP - 8 Reasons to Apply

If you’re considering pursuing a career in the STEM-M fields (science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine), gaining some experience in biomedical research is an incredible way to begin or grow your interest. Especially before applying to college, having exposure in laboratory research and other forms of research can yield a great advantage.


In this blog, we’ll one opportunity to expand this interest through the High School Scientific Training & Enrichment Program (HiSTEP) a prestigious program for high school students hosted by the National Institute of Health (NIH)’s Office of Intramural Training & Education (OITE) and Office of Scientific Workshop Diversity. The program is hosted on the main NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland and grants students an enriching summer experience learning about scientific research and career opportunities.


In this blog, we cover the program's key details, such as eligibility, location, cost, dates and deadlines, as well as 8 compelling reasons why you should participate.

What is HiSTEP?

The purpose of the HiSTEP program is to provide high school students with an interest in STEM-M fields a chance to learn about science, biomedical research, and science careers at the National Institutes of Health. It also seeks to mold students into more effective leaders and solidify a foundation for future success in a myriad of ways. This program expands opportunities in these career fields with a specific focus on students from financially-disadvantaged backgrounds.


Alumni of the program have attested to the effectiveness of this program as a gateway to future achievement in science fields, calling it “one of the best experiences…[with] opportunities to “help overcome fears and gain confidence in [oneself].”


Each year, the program takes place from July to early August in Bethesda, Maryland. (Exact dates for 2024 TBA)


Who is eligible to apply?

HiSTEP welcomes students who are high school juniors at the time of application submission. Students must be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents who are at least 17 by mid-June. As far as academic requirements, you must have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher (however, some exceptions are made for students whose grades have shown steady improvement).

Furthermore, eligible students must attend a school where at least 30% of the student population participates in the Federal Free/ Reduced Lunch Program. Students must also live in Virginia, Maryland, or Washington DC (within 40 miles of the main NIH campus). Without primary residence in the DMV area, students are ineligible.


The eligibility criteria is quite extensive, so you should make sure to read through the eligibility guidelines carefully, and reach out to your teachers or academic advisor for any further clarifications!


Where can you apply for HiSTEP?

Applications for the program include a written application online and instructions for completing the application can be found here. Students are additionally required to submit: a cover letter, a CV/resume, academic information, and letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation should come from individuals who can personally attest to a student’s success in areas of STEM-M, such as science and math teachers. Thus, letters from coaches or family members, for example, are deemed inappropriate. The deadline for the applications and the reference letters is early February (exact date TBA for 2024).


Is HiSTEP considered prestigious?

Given the NIH’s status as a respected and premier institution for biomedical research and policy not only within the United States, but around the world, any opportunity to conduct research there is considered prestigious. The HiStep program offers research opportunities and mentorship at an advanced level, and the program is considered a very robust one.


8 Reasons Why You Should Consider Applying to HiSTEP

1. You will build a strong network with a diverse cohort of peers.

One of the hallmark aspects of this program is that students meet regularly in groups to discuss current topics in health sciences, case studies, as well as to engage in group projects. Given that HiSTEP prioritizes students from underrepresented backgrounds in STEM-M fields, this program is a wonderful opportunity for expanding connections with individuals from a variety of backgrounds and cultures whom you can seek support from later in your career.

2. You will receive a stipend for your participation.

HiSTEP is unique in that its program does not require students to spend their own money in order to engage in this opportunity. In fact, you will receive a stipend after the successful completion of the program. The stipend that you will receive is determined by your education level completed prior to starting at the NIH.


3. You will receive college and career advising to guide the next phase of your academic journey.

As part of the HiSTEP Program, participating individuals are provided with guidance on how to develop a successful college application, as well as how to find scholarships and mentors. The program offers workshops on perfecting resumes, successfully interviewing, and developing professional relationships. Few academic programs provide both research and personal resources in one setting, so this is a unique opportunity to take advantage of.


4. You will develop important skills in career readiness and leadership.

Beyond the benefit of conducting research at an esteemed institution, HiSTEP offers its participants beneficial opportunities to develop lifelong skills that will aid them in standing out in college applications and professional ventures. With the assistance of mentors, students grow in: self-awareness, assertiveness, interpersonal skills, and resiliency. All of these attributes are crucial to future academic and professional success.


5. You will have flexibility in your schedule and work hours.

The HiSTEP program dates last year were from July 5th to August 3rd, for 3 days a week. Thus, for each of the five weeks of the program, Mondays and Fridays are not advertised to have scheduled programming. In this way, students will have the flexibility of adjusting their summer schedules to accommodate the program, while being able to take advantage of the 3 day/week schedule. However, it is important to note that students are not recommended to have any strict obligations, such as classes or another job, for the duration of the program.


6. You will experience hands-on learning of basic science skills.

As participants in HiSTEP, you will be expected to conduct hands-on science experiments, as a way of learning and developing basic skills that scientists use in a laboratory setting. These are valuable skills that can serve to launch a career in research within STEM-M fields. Many incoming high school students lack laboratory skills, so this also provides a competitive advantage when applying for college or other research programs.


7. You will gain important exposure into the medical field and other related fields.

The NIH is regarded as one of the world’s foremost medical research centers, and it is a highly-valued and respected institution. This is one of the best places to experience the “scientific enterprise” and learn about research from trailblazers in the scientific world. Exploring STEM-M careers through scientists, healthcare professionals, and public health experts at the NIH opens wide doors for mentorship and network-building.


8. You can use your experience to make your college application stand out.

Given the NIH’s status as a world-class scientific research institution, participation in this program is sure to impress admissions officers at universities, especially those with a research-focus. Becoming an HiSTEP scholar is an excellent way to ensure your application stands out. It also can open pathways to advanced research positions while in college, and even after! The program is extremely competitive to get into, with an acceptance rate of <10%, with about 20 students making it to the final cohort each year.



Additionally, if you are interested in doing research, then you should also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded by researchers at Harvard and Oxford. To access the application, click the application form here.


Aisha is a student at Princeton University, studying Anthropology and Global Health. On campus, she is involved with student groups centered around health equity and cultural affinity. In her free time, she enjoys podcasting, learning languages, and trying new recipes.


Image Source: HiSTEP

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