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Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP Iowa): 7 Reasons Why You Should Apply

The Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) at the University of Iowa is one of the oldest and most prestigious pre-college research programs in the United States. It is a highly competitive summer research program designed to provide academically talented high school students with an opportunity to engage in hands-on research experiences in various fields of study. The program is hosted by the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Iowa.

What is SSTP Iowa?

SSTP Iowa is a research internship program. Selected students will work closely with university faculty and researchers on ongoing research projects. The program aims to provide students with an immersive research experience and expose them to the rigors and excitement of scientific inquiry. Participants work full-time in research laboratories, attend seminars and workshops, and collaborate with their peers on group projects.

The SSTP offers a wide range of research areas for students to explore, including but not limited to science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), social sciences, humanities, and arts. The program encourages interdisciplinary research and fosters intellectual curiosity and critical thinking skills.

Eligibility and program dates:

The program is for advanced 10-11th graders.

It is hosted both in person from June 21st to July 28th, 2023, and virtually from June 19th to July 28th, 2023.

Application timelines and program structure

Applications open December 15, 2022 (at 5:00 pm CST), and close February 16, 2023 (11:59 pm CST). Students receive their notification for acceptance status on April 3, 2023 (5:00 pm CST).

You will be working with your research group from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Both the online and on-campus sessions have required evening activities.

The online section seminar will be on Tuesday evenings from 4:30 pm - 5:30 pm. The on-campus section seminar will be on Wednesday nights from 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm.

Application process

To apply, there is a non-refundable fee of $95, and two letters of recommendation will be required- with one being for an academic reference, and the other for a character reference.

To apply, you must write two essays, one detailing your areas of interest and skill sets, and the other explaining your reasoning for applying to SSTP, along with your transcript. Your application will be evaluated by faculty and staff from the University of Iowa based on the following, ranked in order of importance:

  1. Quality and content of essays and transcripts

  2. Letters of recommendation

  3. Alignment of research interests with a participating faculty mentor’s research.


The cost of attending the program virtually is $4,500. Which covers 3 semester hours of undergraduate credit from the University of Iowa. While the on-campus cost is $7,500. Which covers room, board, materials, admission to all regularly scheduled activities, and 3 semester hours of undergraduate credit from the University of Iowa. Once accepted to the program, you may apply for financial aid- which may cover up to 95% of the program’s cost. International students are not eligible for financial aid.

Here are 6 more reasons why applying to SSTP would expand a student’s horizons and advance their abilities in time for college.

1. The program is selective and is considered prestigious

Attending a pre-university summer program may or may not impress admissions officers, it really depends on what you’ve done at the program, how it fits into your larger narrative, and, very importantly, how selective the program is. SSTP has a reputation for being a competitive program with an acceptance rate that rivals high-level universities (10-15% acceptance in 2022). This will look good on college applications and remain a strong point in your profile for years.

2. You will study multiple research areas

SSTP gives you an opportunity to conduct mentored research across all sorts of scientific fields. The on-campus options include but are not limited to, biochemistry and molecular biology, biology, biomedical engineering, business analytics, chemical and biochemical engineering, computer science, neurology, and much more. Virtual research areas, however, cover a smaller portion of these fields, but provide the opportunity of studying and attending from your own home. The exposure to these areas will both further support the pursuit of a specifically chosen field while encouraging students to try something new. This exposure will also highlight your ability to research a broad range of subjects, furthering university applications.

3. You will gain experience in hands-on scientific research

At SSTP, you will be provided with the exclusive opportunity to immerse yourself in scientific research in the Belin-Blank Center; who's staff consists of a collection of leading experts in multiple scientific fields. The center itself has done research in gifted education and the development of talent in exceptional children for over 30 years. There, you will be encouraged to work closely with the faculty, gaining valuable hands-on experience that will set you apart for both college applications and future job opportunities in the STEM field. At the Belin-Blank Center, you will be granted access to some of the most advanced research facilities at the University of Iowa, which boasts of advanced laboratories, research libraries, and college-level computers for all areas of the STEM field. Here are previous year's posters giving you an idea of the type of research that took place.

4. You can learn from experts

For research experiments, you will be paired with faculty mentors who are there to provide students with guidance and support during the duration of the program. Some of the past mentors included Dr. Omar Chowdhury, who worked as an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Iowa, Umesalma Shaikamjad, PhD who researches Molecular and biological studies at the University of Iowa, and Dawn Quelle, PhD and professor of Neuroscience and Pharmacology at the University of Iowa.

5. You will do academically rigorous work

One of the best aspects of pre-university summer programs, like SSTP, is how they teach students to navigate the difficulties of university-level work. SSTP is a notoriously rigorous program, their methods encourage individual work, critical thinking, and time management from students. All of these are crucial to collegiate success, and are important to learn in an environment with mentors who can support and guide students towards success.

6. You will build a valuable network

The relationships made between a student and their fellow SSTP peers will last long beyond the end of the program. While students decide on potential universities later in their high school careers, programs like SSTP ensure a higher likelihood of knowing a student before attending a new school. Aside from fellow peers, the relationships built between students and their mentors alone is a unique opportunity that should not be overlooked. These faculty members stretch across all fields, and the staff will often move between universities. The ability to meet these individuals and form a connection with them will help advance any student’s research, and following the end of the program, the connection between students and mentors will result in priceless advice.

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 are passionate about a specific field and are interested in doing in-depth research with a top PhD as your mentor, then you could 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 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Mandy Brenner is a current junior at Harvard University. She is concentrating in History and Literature and loves to read and write in her free time.

Image source: Secondary Student Training Program logo



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