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Princeton's Laboratory Learning Program - Should You Apply?

Scientific research is an important way to build knowledge — you collect, interpret, and evaluate data to understand why different phenomena take place, and you can make discoveries. Research is also helpful in building a structured approach to problem-solving and a whole range of other useful skills such as communication, organization, time management, programming, and critical thinking, to name a few.


If you’re an ambitious and curious high school student interested in STEM and who feels strongly about conducting research that drives innovations, economic well-being, and social progress, then we highly recommend you consider applying to Princeton University’s Laboratory Learning Program.


This summer research internship is a great way to gain valuable experience working in a laboratory with researchers and would prove both prior experience and demonstrated experience when submitting your college application.


What is the Princeton Laboratory Learning Program?

The Laboratory Learning Program is a selective summer internship for high school students, giving them the unique opportunity to work alongside faculty and researchers in Princeton laboratories, assisting them with ongoing research, usually in engineering and the natural sciences. Around 25 Princeton laboratories accept 40 interns annually.


Princeton faculty lead research teams, which include postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduate students, and other staff researchers. At the end of the program, interns must produce a two-page research summary report.


Who is eligible for the program?

To participate, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Be enrolled in a U.S. high school and be at least 16 years old. High school graduates who will not turn 18 by June 15, 2024, can apply (for the 2024 cohort)

  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. International students enrolled in a U.S. high school can also apply. Princeton does not sponsor visas for the program.


What does the program cost?

The internship is unpaid, but you do not pay any fee to participate in the program. If selected, you have to make your own arrangements for housing, transport, food, etc.


What are the important dates?

The program runs in the summer for between five and six weeks, depending on the research project and the schedule of the researchers. Each research project has its own schedule. Successful candidates work full-time, Monday to Friday, with no weekend activities.


The deadline to submit your application for the 2024 cohort is March 15, 2024. Applications will be open from February 15 to March 15, 2024.


What is the program’s acceptance rate?

Every year, the Laboratory Learning Program receives over 700 applicants to fill a cohort of roughly 40, accepting approximately 6% of applicants.


Is the program prestigious?

The program is highly selective and prestigious. The cohort size is approximately 40 students and though the internship is unpaid, Princeton laboratories invest heavily to produce cutting-edge research and discoveries (In 2021, the university spent $404.4 million on research among the top 10% of universities nationwide), making an internship here highly desirable. Furthermore, Princeton ranks #6 globally, making it one of the best universities in the world to study at.


How long is the program?

A typical internship lasts five to six weeks, depending on the project, the laboratory, and the faculty researcher’s schedule.


What kind of research can I do during the program?

Research opportunities change every year, depending on the laboratory and the researcher’s focus. In general, Princeton laboratories pay special attention to engineering and the natural sciences. Some of the research projects interns participated in last year included:

  • Machine learning methods for power magnetics modeling

  • Heat pumps to save the world

  • Investigating heteroresistance to antibiotics

  • Machine learning for green power generation

  • Decoding human genetic variation in human health and disease

  • Biofuel oxidation at supercritical pressure

You can see the entire list of 2023 research opportunities here.


What documents do I need to submit with my application?

To apply for the internship you must fill in and submit a completed application form, which includes your GPA and contact details for a referee. You can choose to apply to up to two research programs (you can participate in only one). Additionally, within the form, you must write short answers (up to 250 words) to the following questions:

  1. What do you hope to get out of a research experience at Princeton?

  2. Describe what you have learned from previous science classes, laboratory, or research experience

  3. What do you hope to contribute to a research team?

You also have to fill out a section describing your career interests and what you plan on studying in college.


What are the pros and cons of the Princeton Laboratory Learning Program?


Pros

  1. You get to work on actual research conducted by the university If selected, you will be embedded into a research team led by a faculty member that includes postdoc, graduate, and undergraduate Princeton students and other staff. This can also potentially mean a longer association with the laboratory if you add value! It also means building a pretty strong network. In addition, you can build valuable skills like model construction, 3D printing, coding, research report writing, data analysis, literature review, and much more.

  2. You get to work at one of the U.S.’s top research laboratories Princeton’s laboratories are among the top 10% in the U.S. (in terms of funding) and produce exceedingly relevant research relating to renewable and clean energy, fighting disease, and medical breakthroughs, to name a few research themes. Previous years’ scholars have researched the herpes simplex virus, created computers to solve differential equations, and looked at how to prolong fertility in women. By working in a lab, the program emphasizes the interactive nature of scientific discoveries — being collaborative and participating in hands-on work are essential!

  3. You produce a research summary of your work At the end of your internship, you have to write and present a two-page report detailing the work you did and your contribution to the project. This will go a long way in showing a demonstrated interest in a subject on your college application.

  4. You don’t have to pay anything The program is free and the cost of materials is borne by the laboratory you work at. That being said, you do have to arrange your own stay, transport, etc.

  5. You will boost your college application profile Princeton’s Laboratory Learning Program is selective, offering limited seats (around 40 every year). It is also considered prestigious, being one of the country’s leading research colleges. Participating in a program of this caliber would drive a strong, positive impression in the mind of an admission officer.


Cons

  1. You can’t apply as an International student If you’re an international student interested in the program, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Princeton does not sponsor visas for the program, meaning only U.S. citizens and permanent residents, or international students already in the U.S. can apply.

  2. You have to make your own arrangements for transport and accommodation While you do not pay for the program, Princeton does not offer a stipend for housing, transport, food, etc., which could be costly if you do not live in the area

  3. You do not get an internship stipend While Princeton does not ask you to pay to participate unlike some other programs, it does not offer any monetary compensation (for comparison, the Navy’s SEAP internship pays $4,000 for an eight-week program that places you in one of their laboratories), which could dissuade some students from applying.

  4. You are limited to research in engineering and the natural sciences While Princeton has an extensive amount of research opportunities within these disciplines, your options might be limited if you’re more inclined toward other STEM subjects like chemistry, computer science and technology, and pure mathematics.


Our verdict — what do we think of the program?

If you’re an ambitious high school student fascinated by research in engineering or natural sciences, then you should consider applying to the Princeton Laboratory Learning Program. In terms of caliber, it is right up there with other prestigious programs such as RSI.

You get to intern at some of the nation’s top research laboratories at one of the best universities in the world. In addition, you will have the unique opportunity to work under research faculty on ongoing projects and make a meaningful contribution to research that matters.

On the other hand, if the lack of a stipend and the absence of housing support makes it hard to participate, consider some remote research opportunities instead! This holds equally true if you are not eligible to apply for this program - there are plenty of others you can check out!

Bonus — the Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in doing university-level research in engineering and natural sciences, 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, over 4000 students applied for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.

Kieran Lobo is a freelance writer from India, who currently teaches English in Spain.


Image Source: Princeton University logo

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