1. Application Deadlines?

Early admission: before or by March 26, 2021

  • This is also the deadline for scholarship requests
  • Best choice of open labs; preference to applicants who live in Southern California
  • Reduced program fee: $5,100

Regular admission deadline : before or by April 23, 2021

  • Program fee: $5,250
  • Applicants who live in California outside of commuting distance to USC will be considered during the the Regular Admit period; unfortunately, we will not be accepting out-of-state applicants so please do not apply if you do not live in California.

All materials -- including your teachers' letters of recommendation -- must be received by these dates. (Teacher recommendations usually slow down the admission process, so consult with teachers ASAP.)

Click here for a checklist of materials necessary for completing the online application.

General Questions

2. Scholarships? How do I apply for financial assistance?

USC Viterbi is committed to opening up research college and career pathways to people who may be under-represented in engineering, including girls, first-generation college-bound students, and under-represented ethnic minorities, as well as students whose families may be under financial limitation. A range of scholarship levels, from full to partial, is available to applicants who demonstrate both financial need and exceptional merit. On the SHINE application, there is a place to request consideration for scholarship and to upload documentation of financial need in the form of a letter confirming federal and reduced meal assistance for public school students or a principal's letter confirming scholarship status for private school students.

3. How did SHINE get started? What's the difference between computational and experimental research?

SHINE began in 2015 and has grown steadily since then. Demand by students and families to experience research that addressed real-life problems in society that engineering helps to solve, including new drug testing systems, generating energy from reclaimed water, human-robot interactions for children with autism, quantum computing, etc. SHINE was created and is still run by Dr. Katie Mills, Co-Director of the K-12 STEM Center at USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Dr. Mills is a former professor at USC and Occidental College and has specialized in experiential education for nearly three decades. The K-12 STEM Center is led by Dr. Mills and her Co-Director, Dr. Darin Gray; both have been named "Engineer of the Year" by the Orange County Engineering Council (in 2020 and 2021); they manage under the leadership of Dr. Maja Mataric', Vice President of Research for USC and a dedicated SHINE professor.

Experimental research is often what we all imagine when we think of scientists in a lab coat, wearing goggles, mixing chemicals -- all of that is typical of Chemical Engineering, Materials Science, Biomedical Engineering. In Aerospace, researchers use a wind tunnel or water channel to experiment with fluid dynamics. Roboticists might try out their robots in a lab or with people. However, all fields of experimental research increasingly rely up computational research, which uses a mixture of data analysis, mathematical modeling, statistics and probability, and perhaps also artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality or augmented reality. This is the real advantage of SHINE since most high schools are not yet teaching this important but now-standard aspects of university research.

4. Will this program help me to get into USC?   

The admissions process for USC Viterbi SHINE is completely separate from the admissions process for the University, where decisions are made by the Office of Admissions. However, there are SHINE students each year accepted to USC Viterbi School of Engineering, as well as other top schools including UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego and more. The SHINE program provides students with an opportunity to experience university-level research, which is useful for all college applications, especially personal statements and interviews.

For more information about USC admissions criteria, please visit the USC Admissions page or the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Admissions page.

5. How do parents feel about SHINE?

Hear two parents discuss their views on the SHINE experience. Surveys show that 100% of parents of SHINE students feel strongly or very strongly that SHINE was a positive experience for their child, even in 2020 when COVID forced SHINE to be remote for the first time. Still, parents tell us: "The SHINE program saved [my daughter]’s summer. She absolutely loved every moment and learned so much."


6. What is the role of the SHINE student?   

SHINE students become part of the research team of the sponsoring faculty member and learn specific lab skills from their Ph.D. student mentors. Each student will have specific and varied tasks that contribute to the research projects of the team under the one-on-one direction of their mentor for 20 hours/week. Additionally, SHINE students are likely to interact with the professor running the lab, graduate students in the lab, and undergraduate students or visiting educators or researchers, depending on the lab. Over the seven weeks, students will be exposed to top-quality research practices. They will receive an overview of the process of how researchers plan and/or implement an intervention and then analyze and disseminate the results. SHINE students will gain research-specific skills, people skills, content knowledge, confidence, and perspective about how their current STEM courses are precursors to a future of real-world problem solving through research.

7. What will be expected of SHINE students?

Expectations for SHINE participants:

  • Students accepted to SHINE need to be prepared to contribute at least 20 hours per week throughout the weekdays between the 6/14/21 – 7/30/21 period (except the July 4 holiday), for the full seven weeks. (No weekend or evening work is required.)
  • All students must complete the Lab Safety Training and Orientation on the first day, June 14, 2021; in addition, the SHINE students must strictly adhere to all safety rules at all times or face dismissal from the program.
  • Students will participate in the culminating Poster Session and contribute a poster with a short research summary to the SHINE Website (see examples).

8. What is a typical daily schedule in a SHINE lab?   

Each team sets its own hours and work schedule, so each SHINE student will set hours with her/his Ph.D. student mentor. SHINE students learn under the direct supervision of their lab mentor for 20 hours/week; there are an additional seven hours per week of optional workshops on related research skills. SHINE students should count on a schedule of 20 - 27 hours per week, which allows some time for a part-time job or a summer school course.

During COVID requirements for research to be conducted remotely, each research team will set a schedule of both synchronous collaboration and asynchronous independent work, concentrated on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The full cohort of students always gets together on Friday mornings for trainings and fun sessions. SHINE students and USC undergraduates usually get together during COVID for an evening of remote games, a talent show, or other forms of getting to know one another. All staff, from Dr. Katie Mills to the undergraduate student employees, provide extensive office hours for students.

9. Can SHINE students miss a week for a family vacation?   

This question was more pertinent before COVID restricted much travel; still, once a student agrees to become part of the professor’s research team, s/he will need to be available every weekday that the lab mentor has specified at the start of the summer program. Sorry, it is not possible to take a week or more off from SHINE for a vacation; students with competitions or academic meetings can arrange prior to acceptance to make up for schedule conflicts.

10. What sort of recognition or feedback is provided at the end of the seven-week research project?   

Each SHINE student participates in the culminating Poster Session, and the posters remain on the SHINE Website; this can be useful to SHINE alumni when they apply to college and internships. In addition, each student will receive a Letter of Certification detailing the research project, including comments from the sponsoring faculty member or research team members. This detailed Letter of Certification can be used by students in their college applications; however, professors and Ph.D. student mentors do not write separate letters of recommendation for SHINE alumni.

Application Process

11. Will I be able to choose the lab in which I am placed for the summer?   

The online application asks applicants to state a first, second, and third preference for the general field of engineering (e.g., aerospace or biomed or electrical), described here. Applicants are urged to include in their personal statement reasons for their interest in the particular SHINE projects or engineering fields as well as qualifications for working in a particular lab when a professor has listed prerequisites (for instance, if you've never ever coded before, you will not be eligible for a robotics lab, but if you have experience in C++ and Java, chances are you can learn Python over the summer, so that means you fill the prerequisites). We do our best to match the applicant to her or his preferences, but we do not guarantee placement in the applicant's top choices; placement depends on the number of applicants seeking to join a particular lab, that lab's capabilities during summer 2021, as well as the applicant's fit with the professor's team. When we inform applicants of their acceptance, we will inform them of the lab to which they have been accepted; at that time, the applicant can decline or accept. SHINE students cannot change labs once the assigned lab has been accepted, nor will there be any lab changes permitted once the SHINE program begins.

14. What are the required application materials?   

SHINE is a competitive program, so we ask for a number of categories of information on the application form. Most important will be the student's enthusiasm for hands-on participation in an ongoing research project, a solid track record in STEM courses, and the willingness to become part of a team. Applications must have all the required components for consideration. Click here for a checklist of materials to have ready before beginning the online application.

Additionally, there is a $35 application fee required at the time you submit your application.

12. What are the program prerequisites?   

The program is designed for rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors, so we understand that younger applicants may have had fewer STEM courses and fewer, if any, test score results. We will be considering the entire range of materials in an application, including GPA (we are looking for a GPA of 3.4 or higher on a 4.0 scale), the personal statement, two letters of recommendation from teachers, plus an optional PDF of supplemental materials. Each applicant will be considered as a person, not a series of statistics. Each professor may have her or his own preferences for the skill set that a SHINE student should bring into the lab, so applicants should consult the List of Projects for specifics; we will help match each qualified applicant's skills to the professor’s needs, and the professor decides whom to accept into the laboratory for the summer.

13. What question is asked on the personal statement?   

The personal statement demonstrates each applicant's passions and drive. We ask applicants to explain in 500 words a specific time when you used your STEM knowledge to solve a problem and a specific time when you realized that research was key to your future academic goals. We encourage applicants to review the types of projects that may be available this summer and discuss in an additional 250 words why they selected their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice of projects. When applicants have carefully written and edited their statement and project discussion, they will need to have a PDF ready to upload during the online application process; the student's full name and email address should be on each page of the PDF and the file should be named. The 750-word limit will be enforced; applications with over 750 words on the personal statement will be disqualified from consideration.

14. Can supplemental materials be uploaded?   

Yes, we encourage applicants to add this!! The online application form has the option of uploading one additional PDF (five-page limit) that demonstrates your interest in research; this could be a science fair entry, an award, a lab report, a STEM project, etc. Again, please make sure your full name and email address are at the top of each page on the PDF and your name is included in the file name. The five-page limit will be enforced; applications with over five pages will be disqualified from consideration.

15. What is required for the letters of recommendation?   

Letters of recommendation from the applicants’ teachers are an important component of the SHINE application process. Two letters of recommendation are required, and an optional third letter can be added. Both of these letters must come from teachers who discuss the student’s academic qualifications in science, technology, engineering and/or math as well as her or his readiness to participate in a research lab for seven weeks over the summer. Applicants should begin talking now with teachers about their intention to apply to SHINE and review with their teachers the students’ STEM coursework, GPA, plus any test scores in order to assess the students’ readiness to participate in an ambitious research program at USC Viterbi School of Engineering. This conversation will help illuminate the applicants’ strengths and weaknesses, which can be addressed in the personal statement or letter of recommendation.

Please arrange for your letter writers to submit their letters of recommendation to K12STEM1@usc.edu before the March 26 or April 23 deadline. Please inform your writers to include as their subject line: “SHINE21 recommendation for LAST NAME_FIRST NAME” (for example, “SHINE21 recommendation for SMITH_JANE”).We do not require teachers to use a specific form; we are looking for a typed letter in a Word or PDF file.

We cannot guarantee that we will consider any applications without the minimum of two teacher recommendation letters after the April 23 deadline.


16. When will notifications of admittance be available?   

We will send notifications to students and legal guardian(s) within four weeks of the application deadline, in most cases. We appreciate your patience as it is the professor of the lab who determines an applicant's fit with the research team. Sometimes highly qualified applicants are given consideration by more than one professor when professors must balance a diverse range of skills within a research team.

Program Fee

17. Is there an application fee? Can the fee be waived?   

The $35 application fee helps cover the cost of processing and retaining application documents; therefore, this fee cannot be waived; students accepted for scholarships can have their application fee refunded once they are admitted to the program.

18. Once the student is accepted, what is the deadline for paying the deposit and the remaining balance?   

Admitted students will need to submit the following non-refundable payments:

  • By date specified in offer letter: $1,200 deposit
  • By date specified in offer letter: $5,100 balance for early admission, $5,250 for regular admission.

Alternatively, admitted students can pay the full amount when accepting his or her offer letter.

You can pay by credit card. To view more details and submit program fees, please visit our payments page.

Because all staff are working remotely during COVID, we prefer electronic payment of fees; however, if you need to pay by check, please contact us at K12STEM1@usc.edu to proceed.

19. When will admitted students receive more information?   

We will email admitted students with updated information and any required next steps.

20. Will a final bill or statement be sent to students and parents? How can parents know what they still owe?   

There will be no invoices. The program fee is $5,100 for early decision (that application deadline is March 26, 2021) and $5,250 for regular decision (that deadline is April 23, 2021). The $1,200 deposit and the balance due date will specified in the acceptance letter. Once paid, these fees cannot be reimbursed. In some cases, we can work out payments over time.

Health and Safety

21. How do SHINE students learn lab safety?

On the first day of the program, June 14, 2021, everyone will receive the USC Lab Safety Training.

22. How do parents know SHINE protects their students' safety?

All staff, student mentors, and faculty working with students under 18 complete trainings in Minor Protection and pass a police background check. All are trained in best practices when working with adolescents, even online; any concerns for safety should be discussed immediately with Dr. Katie Mills, SHINE Director.

If you have any questions about SHINE, please contact us.