1. Application Deadlines?

Early admission: before or by February 17, 2020

  • Deadline for scholarship request
  • Best choice of open labs
  • Reduced program fee: $6,300

Regular admission deadline extended to: before or by March 30, 2020

  • Program fee: $6,500
  • Students who live outside of commuting distance to USC will be considered during the the Regular Admit period

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. 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 others. 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.

4. 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.


5. 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.

6. 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 6/15 – 7/31 period (except the July 4 holiday), for the full seven weeks. (No weekend or evening work is permitted.)
  • All students must complete the Lab Safety Training and Orientation on the first day, June 15, 2020; 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).

7. 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.

Here is a general schedule for SHINE students (some labs begin later than 9 a.m.):

  • 9:00 am: Check-in with lab/faculty lead each morning
  • 9:00 am – 12:00 pm: Lab Research
  • 12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch (actual time may vary based on the lab’s schedule, SHINE students usually have lunch together)
  • 1:00 – 5:00 pm: Lab Research
  • 5:00 pm – Sign out with lab/faculty lead

On Fridays, SHINE provides lunch for SHINE students during additional programming activities. We ask all SHINE students to be on the USC main campus on Fridays.

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

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, no vacations.

9. 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 with a unique link for each student; 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.

10. What are the meal options during the summer at USC?   

Lunch will be provided during Friday mentoring sessions for all SHINE students. All other days, students will be responsible for their own meals. Many labs have refrigerators and microwaves, so SHINE students will learn in advance from the guidelines in their lab for refrigerating or heating food brought from home. There are also plenty of locations on campus to purchase food or enjoy a meal.

11. What does it mean that SHINE is a commuter program? Why do you give priority to local students instead of offering housing to out-of-town students?    

SHINE is for high school students who have a family home or living arrangements in the area during their seven-week program. There are no opportunities for housing on the USC campus for SHINE students. We often have students from Northern California who apply with the plan to find their own living quarters here in Los Angeles, but even that ends up taking extensive administration time for us; we have decided in 2020 to focus on providing the best research experience to students, which means not focusing on helping out-of-town students find housing. However, if out-of-town students want to apply for the Regular Admit deadline of 3/16/20, we are happy to see if there is a spot for that student if the family is willing to take full responsiblity for securing housing. Our priority is a unique research experience.

12. What are the transportation options?   

As daily commuters to the University of Southern California, SHINE students will have many options. USC is easily accessible by bus, rail, or car. The Metro Expo line stops at USC, there is a free daily USC shuttle from Union Station, and many bus lines come here. Parking on campus is available for a daily fee or a pass for the seven weeks.

Application Process

13. 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 their lab project, described here. Applicants are urged to include in their personal statement reasons for their interest in the particular projects or 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 2020, 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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. Can supplemental materials be uploaded?   

Yes, 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.

18. 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 30 deadline. Please inform your writers to include as their subject line: “SHINE20 recommendation for LAST NAME_FIRST NAME” (for example, “SHINE20 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 March 30 deadline.


21. 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

22. 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.

23. 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: $1,000 deposit
  • By date specified in offer letter: $5,300 balance for early admission, $5,500 for regular admission.

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

To pay by credit card, use the USC Viterbi secure portal by clicking here. Or, you may send checks (PAYABLE to University of Southern California) to:

ATTN: SHINE, c/o Dr. Katie Mills, USC Viterbi K-12 STEM Center, 3650 McClintock Ave, OHE 332, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1450

24. When will admitted students receive more information?   

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

25. 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 $6,300 for early decision (due February 17, 2020) and $6,500 for regular decision ( extended to March 30, 2020). A $1,000 deposit is due when the student accepts the offer from the professor, and the balance is due by the date indicated in the acceptance letter. Once paid, these fees cannot be reimbursed.

Health and Safety

26. Is USC safe? Are the surrounding areas safe?

The USC Department of Public Safety patrols campus and surrounding student neighborhoods. During orientation, a DPS officer will brief students on local safety, emergency procedures, and reducing risks. There has never been a safety problem with SHINE students.

For emergency situations, more than 400 emergency “blue light” phones have been strategically placed in many buildings, each parking structure (on every level) and across the campus grounds. Many of these emergency phones are easily identified by the blue emergency lights on top of the phone booth. They provide a direct line to the Public Safety office and should be used only under emergency conditions. To report an emergency from a regular telephone, call (213) 740-4321.

27. What are the procedures if a SHINE student becomes sick or injured while at USC?

The USC Health Center is open during the business hours that SHINE students will be conducting their lab research on the University Park Campus. Any students needing immediate emergency medical assistance will be seen at the USC Health Center. SHINE students will be required to demonstrate proof of insurance and medical emergency information to the USC Health Center in case medical attention is required.

28. How do SHINE students learn lab safety?

On the first day of the program, June 15, 2020, everyone will receive the USC Lab Safety Training.

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