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SHAPE at Columbia University - 8 Reasons Why You Should Apply

As a high school student, if you want your application to stand out, especially when it comes to applying for STEM majors, one great way to do that is by participating in  pre-college programs. It’s important to be strategic about pre-college programs, because they can come in various structures - research programs, online and residential courses (for credit or non) or immersive experiences to capture college life. They also vary in selectivity rates and prestige value.


Most pre-college programs will not help you get into that particular college - so don’t apply to them as a way to impress admissions officers.


However, what these types of programs can offer you are: 

  1. A chance to explore your academic interests deeply. For instance, with today’s program, an opportunity to build some important skill sets in STEM and an opportunity to gain some hands-on experience or gain college credit.

  2. Build a network within that college, understand the vibe and explore your academic interests deeper while deciding on majors, minors, etc.

Another great way to leverage a pre-college program is to tie it in with your larger narrative - did it help you do a research project, get an internship or start an initiative of your own? This type of ‘tying’ into your larger goals is much more impressive than simply stating that you’ve attended a pre-college program.  


Today’s blog post focuses on one such opportunity, the Summer High School Academic Program for Engineers (SHAPE) at Columbia University.


What is SHAPE?

SHAPE is a pre-college program designed for rising sophomores, juniors, seniors, and recent high school graduates with a keen interest in STEM. It offers up to two 3-week sessions of college-level, project-based courses in diverse engineering subjects. The program is conducted by Columbia Engineering and aims to ignite curiosity and passion for engineering and technology in participants by taking them through a  mix of lectures and practical application in their chosen subject area. It's a commuter program, meaning students will travel to the campus daily for their classes.


Columbia Engineering is a part of Columbia University, one of America’s oldest universities with a strong focus on research and education in engineering and applied science. With a diverse faculty and a rich history of contributions to the field, it provides strong academic exposure and access to state-of-the-art resources and labs.


Who is eligible for SHAPE?

The eligibility criteria for SHAPE are quite minimal and straightforward:

  • You must be a rising sophomore, junior, senior, or a recent high school graduate.

  • You must have a strong interest in STEM fields.

  • Since these courses are all commuter programs, you must be able to commute to the Columbia Engineer campus all days of the course.


How does the application process work?

Here’s what you need to fill out a SHAPE application:

  • You will need to fill out the application form with personal and guardian information.

  • There are three essay questions that will need to be answered.

  • You will also need to submit a copy of your most recent high school transcript, which must be submitted by a teacher or counselor.

  • You will need to arrange for a letter of recommendation from a math or science teacher.

  • Your latest resume must be included.


While the applications for SHAPE 2024 opened on November 15, 2023 and the priority deadline was December 15, 2023, the final deadline is March 26, 2024 so you can still apply. The sooner you apply the better, as there are rolling admissions based on availability.


How much does SHAPE cost?

Once your application clears, a non-refundable deposit of $1,000 is required upon acceptance, credited towards tuition. Overall, the fee for EACH session is structured as follows:

  • Tuition - $5,150

  • Lab and Materials Fee - $250

  • Activities Fee - $100

  • Total - $5,500


Note that if you wish to attend both 3-week sessions, you will need to pay this fee twice.


SHAPE does offer need-based scholarships covering the full cost of tuition and fees. The scholarship application requires parental income information, a filled family income and expense worksheet and must be submitted by the priority deadline of December 15, 2023.


How is SHAPE structured?

SHAPE offers two distinct three-week sessions:

  • Session 1: July 8 - July 26, 2024

  • Session 2: July 29 - August 16, 2024


Each three-week session allows you to enroll in one course from a diverse blend of engineering subject areas, and one elective. Some courses span across two sessions, while some are limited to a single session. While you should browse the full list of courses here, we have included a quick overview of the subjects below:


  1. Robotics and Self-Driving Technology: This course offers a blend of theory and practical experiments in robotics, including designing and programming robotic cars.

  2. Advanced Robotics: For those with prior experience in robotics, this course challenges you to design and build a walking quadrupedal robot.

  3. Biomedical Engineering: You will engage in hands-on laboratory exercises in biomechanics, bioinstrumentation, and medical imaging, and even construct your own biomedical devices.

  4. Competitive Problem-Solving in Math and Programming: This course is tailored for beginners to advanced competitors in math and programming, focusing on algorithms and competitive problem-solving.

  5. Advanced Competitive Programming: Aimed at students targeting high-level competitions, this course delves into advanced algorithms and complex problem-solving.

  6. Climate Change and Engineering Solutions: You will learn about the impact of climate change and explore solutions through science and engineering.

  7. Sustainable Development and Engineering: This course provides an introduction to sustainable development challenges and solutions, focusing on technology and policy applications.

  8. Product Design and Innovation: Focusing on the design process, you will develop prototypes for new inventions, utilizing skills in ideation, prototyping, and manufacturing.

  9. Civil Engineering and the Built Environment: Using Morningside Park as a living laboratory, you will explore smart green designs to address climate change and infrastructure challenges.

  10. Mathematics for Real-World Problem Solving: This course applies mathematical tools like optimization and data analysis to solve societal issues.

  11. Solar Energy Engineering: You will explore electrical, mechanical, and computer engineering aspects of solar energy systems.

  12. Chemical Engineering and Global Challenges: This course provides an overview of chemical engineering, focusing on health, energy, and environmental challenges.

  13. Data Science and Decision Making: You will learn about inferential and computational thinking in data science, analyzing data to draw conclusions and make recommendations.


Note that each session has its own course list, so you should choose which session to apply for accordingly.


While the list of available electives has not been released, these are developed with the Columbia Engineering undergraduate team and you can enroll in one elective per session.


Many of the courses will also require you to spend plenty of time in the Makerspace, Columbia University’s advanced engineering workshop with full access to 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC tools, hand tools and the woodshop.


Is it prestigious?

SHAPE is designed to be a small cohort program to enable higher engagement and learning among its participants. The program's prestige also comes from its association with Columbia University, one of the country’s oldest universities. The curriculum has been designed to be rigorous, while also offering plenty of hands-on work to ensure that the learning goes beyond the academic. However, the course is quite expensive and there are no real academic eligibility requirements, somewhat taking away from its prestige. We would rate this as a good program to apply for purely from a practical learning perspective, but attending SHAPE in itself would not score you too many points in college admissions.


Pro tip:  One way to make this into a more prestigious opportunity would be to work hard, build some relationships with professors and PhD students at Columbia Engineering and try to assist on a research project - aiming for a recommendation. It’s a longer project but Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are great college profiles!


10 reasons to apply for SHAPE

  1. It is academically rigorous: You will be engaging in college-level courses that will challenge and build out your knowledge of STEM.

  2. It is practically oriented: You will be spending at least two hours a day in the Makerspace, participating in practical, project-based learning to bring theoretical concepts to life.

  3. There are diverse course offerings to choose from: SHAPE allows you to explore a wide range of engineering disciplines, from robotics to sustainable development.

  4. It will help you with college readiness: Attending the college-level courses offered through SHAPE on the Columbia campus itself, while interacting with professors and undergrad students, will help you gain insights into college life, academics, and the application process.

  5. It offers valuable networking opportunities: From the professors, to the teaching assistants, the undergrad students as well as your own peers, you will get the opportunity to connect and form a network with like-minded peers and professionals in the field.

  6. You will build important skills: Since SHAPE courses are all practical and project-based, often with significant team-based components, you will get to develop your critical thinking, problem-solving, team-building and technical skills.

  7. You will be able to explore potential career paths: SHAPE allows you to explore and discover various engineering fields that you might be interested in to understand what a career in that field may entail.

  8. You will get access to state-of-the-art resources: Columbia's state-of-the-art Makerspace lab allows you to work with actual industry-standard software and equipment, providing you even more exposure.


Our review

SHAPE at Columbia University offers an unparalleled opportunity for high schoolers to dive deep into the world of engineering. With its rigorous academic program, hands-on experiences, and access to top-tier resources, SHAPE can function as a launchpad for your future in STEM. If you're passionate about engineering, able to commute to Columbia University, have the budget and a long-term plan on how to leverage this type of a progam then SHAPE is a program you can consider applying to. It can be useful for you especially to narrow down on choices between engineering streams.



Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re interested in various STEM fields and keen on pursuing research that can help you build your profile further, 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: Columbia University logo


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