top of page
Post: Blog2_Post

The Ultimate Guide to Columbia University’s HK Maker Lab

Are you a high school student with a passion for innovation and creation within engineering? There are a lot of great programs and competitions that you should be looking at.

Programs and competitions highlight slightly different aspects of your profile.

Programs, especially research programs, are a great way to build foundational and some advanced knowledge. Having this type of experience on your resume can be a great way to signal to colleges about your level of passion, motivation, and competence as an applicant.

Research-based programs showcasing your competitive experience demonstrate that you are motivated, in touch with the latest developments in STEM, and driven and curious about making an impact in the field.

What is the HK Maker Lab at Columbia University?

The HK Maker Lab is part of Columbia University’s engineering outreach programs for high school students. It is an intensive six-week program focused on the foundations of biomedical engineering. What is unique about this program is that you not only develop the engineering solution but also an associated business plan.

If you are interested in the possibilities at the intersection of engineering and healthcare (even tech entrepreneurship), this program should be on your radar. Our guide provides an inside look at what you can expect from this exciting program, including key dates, course details, costs, and the pros and cons of participating.

Students who successfully complete Maker Lab will have the opportunity to obtain a paid internship at an academic or industry research lab.

Who is eligible to participate in the HK Maker Lab?

The HK Maker Lab is only open to NYC high school students who come from low-income neighborhoods or have educational disadvantages. If you're interested, here's what they're looking for in applicants:

  • High School students who are currently enrolled in a NYC high school during this academic year (2023-2024)

  • Heads up: if you're a rising junior or senior, you'll be receiving extra preference in the application process.

  • Students with economic and/or educational disadvantages (Please check their criteria for eligibility).

What will I be doing at the HK Maker Lab?

You will spend your time in the HK Maker Lab focusing on addressing a real-world health problem through an engineering solution. You will design, develop a prototype, and test a biomedical device. You will then develop an associated business plan. This is an end-to-end product development cycle with a taste of operationalizing a tech product into a viable business.

You’ll begin with three weeks of workshops guided by experts within the Engineering department at Columbia University in the City of New York. You'll navigate the engineering design process, learning the ins and outs through their engaging sessions. But it's not all theory – lab activities will give you the chance to dive into electrical circuitry, programming, and crafting, all while uncovering how technology can make a splash in the world of human biology.

Now, here comes the exciting part: the final three weeks of the program are all about teamwork and problem-solving. You and your squad of four will tackle actual healthcare and medical dilemmas, putting your creative minds to work. Once you've picked your challenge, you'll be armed with the resources of Columbia University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to build working prototypes. And the grand finale? Picture this: oral presentations and a poster session where you'll unveil your game-changing devices to the world. Your project could even score some quality time in the state-of-the-art facilities over at Harlem Biospace.

So, if you're up for a summer of innovation and learning in the niche space of bioengineering and healthcare the HK Maker Lab is where it's at.

What are the Application Requirements?

Ready to kickstart your journey with the HK Maker Lab? Here's what you'll need to get your application rolling:


  • Your Academic Journey: Show them where you're at with your current high school transcript.

  • Attendance Matters: Give them the scoop on your attendance record for the 2023-24 school year.

  • Let Your Words Flow: Get creative with your admission essays (1-4 of them).

  • Mentors' Stamp of Approval: Get two letters of recommendation – at least one from a math, science, or engineering teacher. These letters should come from people who know you in a professional, academic, or volunteer context.

  • Eligibility Proof: If your high school's Free and Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL) rate is under 70%, but you qualify for FRPL, Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, or similar government aid, don't forget to back it up with proof.


Applications are generally due in March for admission to the program that following summer. Keep an eye out for details about the 2024 summer program on the Columbia Engineering Outreach Newsletter web page.

HK Maker Lab runs through July and August with an opportunity for an internship for the following summer. The program meets Monday through Thursday, with oral presentations and poster sessions about your completed project on the last day of the program.


All set? Great! Complete applications can be submitted through their online portal. Remind your recommenders to send their recommendation letters to separately.

Selection Criteria:

The HK Maker Lab’s Recruitment Team will review all the applications. What's on their radar? Your answers, your dedication to attend all the sessions, your academic track record, those glowing recommendation letters, and any other supporting materials you feel you want to provide. Additional material could include past STEM programs you have participated in, past science projects and/or competitions, and any other information about your previous engineering experience you’d like to share (if you don’t have any prior experience, no need to worry, it isn’t a requirement).

Questions along the Way?

Don't hesitate to reach out to the HK Maker Lab Recruitment Team at if you're feeling a bit lost or need some guidance on submitting that stellar application.

How Competitive is the HK Maker Lab?

This is a highly sought-after summer program for New York-based high school students. Once you’ve applied, your application will be thoroughly reviewed. The program only admits 28 students per summer out of roughly 500 applicants. The eligibility criteria and the limited space make this a very competitive and selective program.

There are three possible outcomes after you submit your application: acceptance, rejection, or waitlisted. If you're waitlisted, keep an eye out for updates from the program – you might just get an invite for an interview with their Recruitment Team.

What are the Costs?

There is a travel and lunch stipend (given after the program is completed). Meaning, that travel and food expenses will need to be initially paid by the attendees throughout the six-week program. Contact directly for more details about any potential costs and fees that might become a barrier for you to attend.


1. You’ll experience intensive, hands-on learning

This program will aid in building your knowledge base and put it to the test through a robust product development cycle. It will also push you further and challenge you to turn a great solution into a viable business plan. Projects are focused on solving healthcare-related problems, past projects have included: developing a device to simulate skin-to-skin contact for neonates by replicating the mother’s breathing, heartbeat, and body heat in the absence of medical staff, a non-adhesive anchoring system for neonates to avoid the skin damage and potential infection medical tape has caused, a wearable flowing air device to prevent the health risks surgical smoke poses to surgical teams, and so many more amazing projects.

2. You’ll learn through a project-based approach

You can gain valuable project management skills by working on a biotech project from start to finish. Think of it as learning with purpose – you're not just absorbing knowledge, you're applying it to create something real and meaningful for the healthcare field. You will think of a healthcare-related problem and use biotech and engineering to create a product that will reduce or eliminate that problem. In this process of conceiving innovative solutions by tackling medical hurdles, you'll develop a toolkit of skills for the future.

3. You will gain access to Columbia University’s engineering resources

You will have access to state-of-the-art facilities and expertise at a prestigious institution. Imagine having access to cutting-edge labs, state-of-the-art equipment, and a pool of expert minds who live and breathe engineering. Past summers each student has received a kit of electronics and physical computing materials, circuit components and biosensors that was utilized during a series of hands-on bio-instrumentation labs. Additional lab equipment was used such as OnShape and TinkerCAD for 3D modeling. These top-notch resources expose you to the latest advancements in the field.

4. You’ll open doors for further opportunities

Students who successfully complete Maker Lab will have the opportunity to obtain a paid internship at an academic or industry research lab in the summer of 2025. The HK Maker lab works hard to create and sustain a biotech talent pipeline that represents New York City’s diversity. At least 91% of their program alumni have gone on to pursue STEM degrees at top universities and at least 26 students have completed paid internships at prestigious universities and science centers. Participating in this summer program will help you to join that biotech pipeline which can lead you to valuable programs in your STEM field of interest.


1. You’ll have to invest a lot of time

While the HK Maker Lab can be an exciting gateway to hands-on learning, one potential drawback lies in the intensive time commitment it demands. The intense schedule might encroach upon the time that you might otherwise spend with family, and friends, or pursuing other interests. While the learning experience is undeniably enriching, it's essential for students and parents to weigh this time commitment against the benefits to ensure a well-rounded and fulfilling summer experience.

2. You’re up for some tough competition

This is not strictly a ‘con’ if you get selected, because competitive programs look great on college applications. However, this means that you should have a plan B ready because, at a cohort size of 28 students, even if you are eligible to apply, it’s going to be pretty hard to get in.


In conclusion, the HK Maker Lab opens a world of innovation and learning for high school students eager to shape their engineering path. With a focus on real medical challenges, this six-week program offers a valuable learning experience. From intensive workshops on engineering design to hands-on labs exploring circuitry and programming, you'll engage with the basics of biomedical engineering. Collaborating with a team, you'll address a real-world health issue armed with the resources of Columbia University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The culmination of your journey involves showcasing your final product in oral presentations and a poster session. And if that's not exciting enough, successful participants could secure a paid internship. While navigating a competitive application process and managing the program's intensive commitment may pose challenges, the pros outweigh the cons in that the hands-on learning, project-based approach, and access to Columbia University's top-notch resources promise an invaluable learning journey.

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.

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. 

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

If you are passionate about conducting research in physics, 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.

Samantha Davenport is a socio-cultural anthropologist with experience in qualitative and ethnographic research. With a deep passion for understanding diverse cultures and societies, she has dedicated her career to conducting extensive field research and analysis amongst a variety of research projects. Samantha is driven by a desire to promote cultural understanding and bridge gaps between different groups.

Image Source: HK Maker Lab logo



bottom of page