High schoolers can include a variety of accolades and experiences in their application, such as high grades, after-school clubs, and summer programs. However, apprenticeships remain relatively rare, and writing about one in your college application can allow you to stand out from others in the application pool.
What is an apprenticeship, and what makes it different?
Unlike clubs or summer programs, an apprenticeship delivers direct work or research experience and is often paid, so it’s a large responsibility for a high school student which can help them gain great experience.
Curious whether this experience will suit you? Want to learn more? Continue reading to see whether the Monell Science Apprenticeship Program is the right choice for you.
Is the Monell Science Apprenticeship Program prestigious?
Yes, MSAP is incredibly prestigious. It is rare to find an apprenticeship program that allows high school students to explore research in a professional lab on a full-time basis. The program is also highly competitive, as they have an acceptance rate of around 10%.
Moreover, the program provides a salary for those who participate in the program, as SAPlings will engage in full-time research for the duration of the program.
What is the Monell Science Apprenticeship Program?
MSAP aims to increase interest in biomedical science or medicine as careers by accepting high school or college students (particularly those from a disadvantaged background). Accepted MSAP attendees are guaranteed a high-quality, hands-on research experience in the Monell laboratory environment for seven full-time (or close to full-time) weeks in the summer. The Monell Center describes themselves as the world’s only independent, non-profit scientific institute dedicated to interdisciplinary basic research on the senses of taste and smell.
Their apprenticeship program ensures other activities such as a public conference where apprentices present their research, enrichment activities that include lectures on scientific topics, and opportunities to learn about different careers in medicine and science.
The program is located in the Philadelphia region, and while 2024 dates have not been open as of yet, we can assume that it will take place mid-June to early August.
Who can apply? When are applications open?
An applicant must meet the following criteria to be considered for MSAP:
Have a strong interest in science and research
Be currently enrolled in a high school or undergraduate institution
Be able to prove eligibility to work in the United States
Is from the greater Philadelphia area, including Camden, NJ
Is available for the full seven weeks – does not have a planned summer vacation that will impede them from joining the program.
If you are accepted and are a minor, then you may present working papers, but you do not need to provide them when you’re applying
According to their website, on average, MSAP receives approximately 200 applications, and they generally accept between 18 to 24 students, resulting in a 10% or less acceptance rate. Typically, approximately 20-30% of accepted students (5 students) are returning students who have attended MSAP in the past.
Applications for summer 2024 have not been open yet, but will be available here.
What is it like to be in the Monell Science Apprenticeship Program?
So, what can you expect in MSAP over the summer?
Each SAPling is matched with a full-time scientist and works closely with that mentor and lab staff on an independent research project. The mentor will be responsible for ensuring that their apprentice receives the appropriate training and follows all safety procedures. Part of the experience includes contributing to lab meetings, one-on-one mentor meetings, and participating in lab procedures. The research project will be presented in the Capstone Symposium by the end of the program.
Hands-on activities outside of the lab
The program aims to provide students an understanding of the broader impact of scientific research. Therefore, they will partake in activities beyond the laboratory, such as listening to a seminar series on a range of careers in STEM, joining Journal Club to discuss in depth about select scientific articles, and attending networking sessions.
Every week, you will be expected to attend (and enjoy!)will social events such as trivia nights, ice cream socials, and field trips so attendees can get to know more about one another while having fun in the process. The program is simply not a place for you to gain research experience, but also have fun with your fellow attendees and increase group cohesion.
Monell Science Apprenticeship Program: Pros & Cons
With a better understanding of MSAP, let’s dive into the potential pros and cons.
1. You will gain significant medical research experience.
Seven weeks of full-time research experience in a professional laboratory setting is sure to give you plenty of time to work on your skills and abilities. Having this experience can also help you determine what career path you would like to pursue, such as whether you’d like to continue research in college or whether you can apply your research knowledge into another industry.
2. Your college application will be given a significant boost.
Because of how rare and prestigious this opportunity is, your application is bound to stand out. A full-time, paid, research experience during your time in high school will show your dedication to the academics, which will reflect better for schools that prioritize excellence. If you’ve been looking for a great summer experience to write about, MSAP might be for you.
3. The lectures and seminars will be enriching and interesting.
In addition to the work you do in the lab, there will be weekly lectures and enrichment seminars that will help you learn about important scientific topics or interesting applications of scientific techniques. In 2022, there were lectures on “How to Read a Paper,” “Science Communications,” “Higher Education Resources,” and more, which were led by experts from top colleges like University of Pennsylvania. You can expect a multifaceted overview of the research field at MSAP.
4. The apprenticeship offers a stipend
While the program does not publish the hourly rates on their website, the fact that the program provides payment at all is amazing. High school students are often expected to work long hours for free for a chance to earn a certificate or an award, but that time can be compensated fairly in MSAP because they recognize that you are doing real work in their laboratory.
5. You have a lot of networking opportunities with mentors and peers.
You are bound to make great connections here, especially if you plan on pursuing a career in STEM. You will meet experienced professionals in the lab who will get to know you deeply throughout the research process, experts who will lead lectures and seminars for you, and also other peers in the apprenticeship program. Building a network early may help you know where to look for advice, career prospects, and help on the college application process.
1. You have to be located in Philadelphia.
While you may like Philadelphia, the location may be restricting for some, especially if you’re not from around the area. Even if the program suits your interests, if you find it difficult to commute to or live in Philadelphia for an extended period of time in the summer, then MSAP may not be the right choice for you.
2. You will receive no housing or board benefits.
Another major detriment is that the program does not have housing or board benefits, so students will be expected to find their own housing and meals. However, the program recognizes this issue, and spurs SAPlings to talk to relatives or friends in the area. A letter from the enrollee’s host verifying their place of residence will be required after acceptance.
3. The program is very competitive.
Because the program is very prestigious, getting selected for MSAP is a very competitive process. If you get accepted, that’ll be great – but in the meantime, you should probably have a backup plan because there is no guarantee that you’ll be selected. Because some of the accepted students are college students (25%), and some students have participated in MSAP in the past, the slots for remaining seats in the program may be relatively rare.
4. You may not be interested in medical research.
The Monell Center is a place that focuses solely on medical research, particularly in the area related to the sense of taste and smell. If you’re not interested in research about how taste and smell can be used to detect diseases, then you may have to look into other research opportunities instead.
Overall, MSAP is a fantastic program with very unique advantages, so it’ll be an amazing experience to include in your resume for colleges. If you find the pros to be important while the cons are not applicable to you, then I recommend that you should apply for it whenever the application cycle re-opens.
One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you are interested in doing university-level research in STEM, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students 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.
Lydia is currently a junior at Harvard University, studying Molecular and Cellular Biology. In high school, she was the captain of her high school’s Academic Decathlon team and attended the Governor's School of Engineering and Technology. In her spare time, she likes to create digital art while listening to music.
Image Source: MSAP logo