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Shoals Marine Laboratory Courses - Our Review

When it comes to pursuing specialist fields and niches, you cannot rely solely on high school education, regardless of how brilliant you may be! Fields like marine science or nautical engineering require more practical, hands-on education as well as exposure to the knowledge of specialists.

Enter pre-college programs like the Shoals Marine Laboratory courses - these can empower you with practical skills, nurture your curiosity, and enhance your college applications all at the same time, paving the way for a future in the marine sciences.

What is the Shoals Marine Laboratory?

The Shoals Marine Laboratory (SML) is a leader in marine science education, research, and outreach. Nestled on Appledore Island, Maine, it operates as a collaborative field research station jointly run by Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire.

What courses does SML offer?

SML’s primary goal is to drive marine education, and so naturally it has a large number of courses dedicated to the various subfields. However, most of these are advanced college-level courses. For high-schoolers, SML offers two courses divided into two modules each, namely:

1. Marine Environmental Science

  • Course dates:

    • Section 1 - July 3, 2023 to July 17, 2023

    • Section 2 - July 31, 2023 to August 14, 2023

  • What it’s about: This is an immersive, university-level course designed for advanced high school students. It explores the diversity of coastal marine habitats and ecosystems, emphasizing human impacts and environmental health.

  • Pedagogy: There is a strong focus on fieldwork, through explorations of the rocky intertidal zone, neighboring islands, and offshore trips for oceanographic sampling. You will also be attending lectures and discussions on marine ecology, oceanography, and climate science. A large part of the learning and grading is centered around the submission of a group research paper that applies the scientific concepts and methods learnt to address one key concept in the course.

  • An average day: Given that you’re living and studying on an island, there’s a fair bit of flexibility in the schedule to account for unexpected learning opportunities from the tides or the weather. Regardless, you can expect the average day to consist of at least 4 hours of lectures and 2 hours of field work of varying types.

  • College credits: Completing both Sections of the Marine Environmental Science course awards you with 3 college credits at Cornell University.

2. Introduction to the Biology of Sharks, Skates, and Rays

  • Course dates:

    • Section 1 - July 3, 2023 to July 10, 2023

    • Section 2 - July 10, 2023 to July 17, 2023

  • What it’s about: This course is about deepening your understanding of “elasmobranchs” aka sharks, skates, and rays. The objective is to bring you up to speed on the current science of elasmobranch biology, and the potential areas of future research and conservation.

  • Pedagogy: The course involves the submission of no less than 4 assignments, each involving their own mix of field work and academic research:

    • An outreach project in which you’ll have to choose a topic related to elasmobranch conservation and produce your own form of media to communicate information to the general public or specific audiences.

    • An elasmobranch family tree project in which you and your group will have to analyze how and why elasmobranchs split into different groups and how they fit together.

    • An anatomy & physiology project that lets you individually explore the form and function of an elasmobranch of your choice, expanding your knowledge of marine biology.

    • An experimental design activity where your group will have to design an actual, scientific experiment with a clear purpose that may be used by real scientists in the future!

  • An average day: Similar to the Marine Environmental Science course, expect to be spending 3-4 hours a day in various lectures, discussions and group activities and another 2 hours or more doing field work.

  • College credits: Completing both Sections of this course awards you with 1 college credit at Cornell University.

Are SML courses prestigious?

Shoals Marine Laboratory is a prestigious center for marine science learning in the country. The batch size of its pre-college courses being only 20 students makes them incredibly selective, meaning that simply gaining admission to them can boost your profile significantly. The practical, hands-on curriculum and the exposure it offers to modern marine science tools and techniques further adds to its credibility and prestige. Lastly, its association with Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire cement its position in the scientific community.

Who is eligible for Shoals Marine Laboratory’s courses?

Eligibility primarily revolves around your educational background and passion for marine sciences. You must have completed grades 10, 11, or 12 and achieved the equivalent of a B- or above in two year-long high school courses in science.

International students are also eligible for SML courses.

How does one apply?

  • The application for 2024 will likely open in mid-late January 2024.

  • You’ll have to complete the online inquiry form with your general information.

  • You’ll then have to send an email to with the subject line: "Application for SML high school course" and provide:

    • Your name

    • The SML course and section you want to enroll in

    • Your high school transcript. If you don’t meet the minimum letter grade requirement, you’ll need to furnish the contact details of a teacher or counselor who can speak to your individual circumstances.

  • By February 2024, you’ll receive the decision from SML.

We suggest going over the application process in detail here.

What are the costs involved?

Each course has three fee components at SML:

  1. Tuition fees, charged per credit - $1,680

  2. Room & Board, charged per night - $212

  3. SML Program Fee, charged per course - $343

International students will also have to pay a $75 visa processing fee.

There are unfortunately no scholarships or financial aid options available.

Considering pros and cons


  1. You’ll receive an immersive learning experience: You’ll be living, studying, and working on Appledore Island, with easy access and exposure to the marine ecology of the area. In conjunction with the lectures and discussions you’d normally expect from a pre-college program, you’ll get to regularly step out to the island shores and put your research into practice studying marine life in the island’s immediate surroundings.

  2. You’ll earn college credits: If you’re keen on getting into Cornell University or New Hampshire University, SML’s programs will provide you college credit, making your college journey easier!

  3. You’ll be associated with a prestigious program and universities: Cornell and New Hampshire are big names, not just in STEM research but in college education overall. Being an alumnus of the SML, which is jointly run by both, will add a lot of credibility and prestige to your profile regardless of where you choose to pursue your academics and your career.


  1. The courses are location specific: Appledore Island may be beautiful and rich in marine diversity, but it may not be suitable or approachable for everyone. SML’s pre-college courses are purely residential, with no virtual option at all.

  2. The curriculum is intensive and challenging: While not strictly a con per se, the courses demand dedication and hard work. You’ll need to be committed and passionate about the field to be able to put in the effort required to attend all your lectures, complete all the assignments, while juggling field trips and research presentations.

  3. There is no scholarship or financial aid available: SML’s courses are nobody’s definition of affordable, and unfortunately there is no financial aid available. If you’re an international student or if your funds are limiting your interests, you may be forced to opt out of applying to their courses.

Final thoughts - Should You Apply?

If you’re able to afford the rather steep fees and have no qualms about living on a remote island for a few weeks, then you can consider these courses! You will get access to solid, practical, hands-on learning of the latest tools and techniques in marine research. You’ll also get to earn college credits at two prestigious universities while you’re at it. If you’re keen on the marine sciences, then SML should definitely be on your radar.

Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re looking for the opportunity to do in-depth research in various STEM fields, 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: Shoals Marine Lab logo



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