A summer undergraduate research fellowship is one of the best things you can do for how to get into medical school. But that’s not all. If you’re planning on any career in STEM fields, and thinking of applying to the most prestigious universities in Canada or the best Ivy League colleges in the US as a graduate, then a summer undergraduate research fellowship (SURF) is an excellent opportunity to increase your academic and professional profile. In a SURF, you’ll become more familiar with what it takes to conduct advanced experiments and be part of a research team. You’ll also learn from experienced researchers, and, hopefully, develop your own research interests that you can outline in a research interest statement. This article will list some of the most sought-after summer undergraduate research fellowships in both the US and Canada, what you need to get in and why they are so important to your future.

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Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships in the US Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships in Canada What are Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships? Why Should I Participate in a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship? How to Get into Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships Conclusion FAQs

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships in the US

1. Harvard College Program for Research in Science and Engineering (PRISE)

Admissions Requirements: Strong academic record, faculty recommendation, research proposal

Length: 10 weeks

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Individualized mentoring, hands-on lab experience, weekly seminars.

The PRISE program at Harvard University is only one of five summer undergraduate research fellowships offered by the Ivy League school, which include SURFs in the following subjects:

  • BLISS (Build Learning through Inquiry in the Social Sciences)
  • PRIMO (Program for Research in Markets and Organizations)
  • SHARP (Summer Humanities and Arts Research Program)

To name only a few. The PRISE program lasts for 10-weeks, and is open to any Harvard undergraduate in any program. However, you must be in good academic standing, but this does not mean that you have to have the highest GPA. There are several application components that you have to organize for each SURF. In general, you have to include a personal statement, and a Harvard supplemental essay explaining your background and what you plan to do after the fellowship. You must also secure at least one letter of recommendation from someone who knows you well. 

2. Stanford Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP)

Admissions Requirements: Exceptional academic achievement, professor recommendation, research interests' alignment

Length: 8 weeks

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Collaborative research projects, workshops, presentation opportunities.

Stanford University has several SURF programs available for each program of study associated with research and laboratory experiments, from engineering to life sciences and medicine. You generally need to have at least a 3.0 GPA and be enrolled full-time at any accredited college or university in the US or Canada. For Stanford, you also need to include a personal statement and Stanford supplemental essays. You must also submit a Stanford grad school statement of purpose outlining your research interests and plans for the future, as well as two letters of recommendation.  

3. MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP)

Admissions Requirements: Underrepresented minority status, strong academic background, faculty recommendation

Length: 9 weeks

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Research across STEM disciplines, professional development seminars.

The Summer Research Program at MIT, one of the best engineering schools in the US, is a summer undergraduate research fellowship directed mostly at underrepresented groups in science and technology. These groups can range from minorities and first-generation college students to gender-neutral students and veterans, so the program accepts a wide range of candidates. There is a minimum GPA of 3.5 to apply, but the program stresses its holistic approach to the admissions process. Along with identifying which underrepresented group you belong to; you must also submit a CV or research resume and three college recommendation letters with at least one being from a former instructor, but you do not need to submit an MIT grad school statement of purpose.

4. Yale Young Global Scholars (YYGS)

Admissions Requirements: Exceptional high school achievements, essays, teacher recommendation

Length: 2 weeks

Cost: Partially funded

Highlights: Academic rigor, global perspectives, Yale faculty-led sessions.

This summer undergraduate research fellowship at Yale University is aimed at high-school seniors, so it’s a summer program for high school students, but it is also open to international high-school students from any country, so there are no residency restrictions or requirements. The program is aimed at giving students from a variety of backgrounds the chance to learn from Yale students and faculty within four different subject areas:

  • Innovations in Science & Technology
  • Literature, Philosophy, & Culture
  • Politics, Law, & Economics
  • Solving Global Challenges

There are no hard academic requirements (minimum GPA, for example) but you must submit a slew of Yale supplemental essays answering specific questions, while also elaborating on why you are a good fit for the program of your choice and what plans you have after the program ends.

5. Columbia University Amgen Scholars Program

Admissions Requirements: STEM background, faculty recommendation, research interests alignment

Length: 10 weeks

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Biomedical research focus, workshops, guest lectures.

Applying to the SURF program at Columbia University will also put you into consideration for the Amgen Scholars program which is sponsored by Amgen, a biopharmaceutical company. You can apply to the SURF program as a junior, sophomore, or non-graduating senior, so graduate students are not eligible to apply. International students are also not eligible for this program. You must submit at least two letters of recommendation and have a minimum GPA of 3.2. You do not have to have any previous research experience in any discipline and you can apply as a non-Columbia undergraduate as well. 

6. University of California, Berkeley – SUPERB Computer Science Program

Admissions Requirements: Strong computer science background, academic achievements, letters of recommendation

Length: 9 weeks

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Immersive research projects, industry connections, networking events.

The SUPERB Computer Science Program at UC Berkeley combines several current topics in engineering and science from artificial intelligence and database management to human-computer interaction and operating systems. But its main focus is on engineering research, as it relates to information technology. It is a unique program for its proximity to Silicon Valley and the industry leaders who are pioneers in these fields. The SUPERB program aims to act as a bridge for qualified and interested undergraduate students from all over the country to be able to learn from the best. You have to submit a personal statement, two letters of recommendation, and a CV for grad school outlining your previous academic career, but there is no research background requirement. 

7. Princeton University Summer Journalism Program

Admissions Requirements: High school juniors, demonstrated interest in journalism, teacher recommendation

Length: 10 days

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Intensive journalism workshops, media industry insights, college application guidance.

Unlike other summer undergraduate research fellowship programs on this list, the Princeton University Summer Journalism Program is a decidedly non-STEM program, as its main focus is to encourage high school students into a journalism career. The program is aimed at high-school juniors who come from economically-distressed backgrounds, as that is one of the main application requirements. You must also have an interest in journalism. You need to have at least a 3.5 GPA to apply, but you can still apply with a low GPA as long as you explain the factors affecting your low marks (COVID, financial hardship, etc.).

8. University of Pennsylvania – Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER)

Admissions Requirements: STEM background, research interests' alignment, academic achievements

Length: 10 weeks

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Energy-focused research projects, field trips, networking with industry experts.

The VIPER program at the University of Pennsylvania is not exactly a traditional summer undergraduate research fellowship, although it does have a SURF component. The VIPER program is a unique curriculum offering at UPenn for students interested in careers in STEM fields with a focus on energy research and sustainability. VIPER is a dual-degree undergraduate program that you apply for when you apply to UPenn, but there is also a summer research component that is open to all students. You can take a SURF program to increase your research experience and work on your own research projects as part of the overall curriculum so you have something to write about on your Ivy League grad school statement of purpose

9. California Institute of Technology (Caltech) WAVE Fellows Program

Admissions Requirements: Strong STEM background, academic achievements, faculty recommendation

Length: 10 weeks

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Hands-on research experience, workshops, faculty-led discussions.

While other summer undergraduate research fellowships don’t require you have any previous research experience, the WAVE Fellows Program at Caltech does require you have previous experience. You must also submit two letters of recommendation from previous science instructors. To apply to the WAVE Fellows Program, you have to be an enrolled undergraduate, and be interested in pursuing a PhD in the future. You must also identify a potential mentor to work with, and create a research project under their guidance, if you are admitted to the program. The only other requirement is having a 3.2 GPA. 

10. Brown University – Leadership Alliance Summer Research – Early Identification Program (SR-EIP)

Admissions Requirements: Underrepresented minority students, strong academic background, faculty recommendation

Length: 8-10 weeks

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Mentorship, GRE preparation, graduate school application guidance.

This SURF is sponsored by Brown University and is open to undergraduate students from all schools, but is aimed mostly at students from historically black universities and colleges and other top non-Ivy League schools. However, Brown University is only one of the participants in the Leadership Alliance Summer Research program, and you can choose from several other sites to do your summer research. You only have to submit two letters of recommendation, your transcripts and have a GPA at or above 3.0. Once you apply, and indicate your preference for Brown, you’ll be matched with a research mentor whose research interests and work coincide with your previous research background.

Want something more tailored to your schedule? Check out how virtual research opportunities can be beneficial to you!

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships in Canada

1. University of Toronto - Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP)

Admissions Requirements: Strong academic standing, faculty endorsement, research proposal

Length: 12 weeks

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Interdisciplinary research, seminars, symposium participation.

University of Toronto students and non-U of T students are able to apply to this undergraduate research fellowship. You must have at least a B+ average and have completed at least one year of undergraduate study. The program is also open to international students. You must also identify a mentor from the faculty at U of T and prepare an application that requires a research assistant cover letter, your transcripts and a short description of any previous research experiences.

2. McGill University Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering (SURE)

Admissions Requirements: Engineering background, academic achievements, professor recommendation

Length: 16 weeks

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Engineering research projects, professional development workshops, industry site visits.

The summer undergraduate research fellowship at McGill University is open to Canadian and international students, although the latter must secure a work visa before entering the program. You can also apply as a non-McGill student, as long as you have completed at least one year of undergraduate study. McGill is one of the best universities in Canada for engineering and this program focuses strictly on research in engineering, especially as it relates to energy-generation and sustainability. You must have a GPA of 3.0 to secure a spot. 

3. University of British Columbia – Science Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE)

Admissions Requirements: Science background, faculty endorsement, research interests alignment

Length: 16 weeks

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Laboratory research, scientific communication workshops, publication opportunities.

The Science Undergraduate Research Experience at the University of British Columbia is applicable to any science student at the university and can take many different forms. There is no one program available, as students will have to design their own research plans and interests and then look for a mentor or faculty member to help them carry out their research. You can also decide to apply for the Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA), which is a federal scholarship aimed at helping undergraduates in Canada fund their research projects.

4. University of Alberta – Undergraduate Summer Students' Research Program

Admissions Requirements: Strong academic record, professor recommendation, research proposal

Length: 12 weeks

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Research across disciplines, skill development workshops, conference participation.

The University of Alberta hosts a summer undergraduate research fellowship program for its undergraduate students, as well as medical students at the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. You can choose a specific research program or project that interests you from an online database where researchers post openings on their project teams, or work for non-university organizations who also require research assistants, such as the Alberta Cancer Foundation or the Alberta Diabetes Institute.

5. University of Waterloo – Undergraduate Research Assistantship (URA)

Admissions Requirements: Academic achievements, faculty endorsement, research interests alignment

Length: 16 weeks

Cost: Fully funded

Highlights: Collaborative research projects, research symposium, networking events.

The University of Waterloo hosts several summer undergraduate research fellowship opportunities for its engineering students. The program is open only to current undergraduate engineering students who have at least an 80% average and are already enrolled in their second or third-year at the university. You have to find a mentor from a list of participating faculty members who are seeking research assistants to help with their research projects. You have to contact this faculty member and then fill out an application and submit it to the Faculty of Engineering office. As Waterloo is one of the best universities in Canada for computer science, the Cheriton School of Computer Science also hosts summer undergraduate research fellowships. 

What are Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships?

Summer undergraduate research fellowships are opportunities for you to expand your research experiences and knowledge as preparation to enter research- and science-intensive careers, including in medicine, computer science, life and natural sciences, and engineering. SURFs are similar to summer programs for high school students, but at another level. SURFs exist because of how important is research for medical school or to be admitted into graduate school, especially as an MD/PhD candidate. As you can tell from the list above, SURFs are not only science-based.

Other subjects and faculties also hold SURFs for any internal or external students interested in gaining hands-on research in any discipline from journalism to the arts and humanities. The program at Harvard is known as the Harvard Summer Undergraduate Research Village Program, which hosts several types of SURFs for students from a wide variety of disciplines, including arts and social sciences, not just STEM subjects.

Summer undergraduate research fellowships are like summer jobs. Most, if not all, of the programs offer a stipend for the entire length of the program (usually between 10 and 12 weeks) and you will be expected to work in the lab or assist senior researchers with their projects for up to 40 hours per week, so you can think of ways for how to improve research at your university when you return to your undergraduate program.

As they are offered on the national level, you will have to travel to the site and spend the summer there, usually in-residence or on-campus, as you fulfill your responsibilities. But it is not all work. Many programs also offer extracurricular and social activities as part of their program schedule so you get to enjoy the summer with other fellows and create a network of like-minded students and researchers.

Why Should I Participate in a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship?

For many students, a summer undergraduate research fellowship will be the first time they step into a laboratory or do any kind of lab-based research. But that is not always the case. Some programs require you have previous lab or research experience, while others do not, so it depends on the program. But the main value of doing a SURF is that you will gain valuable research experience in your particular field that will appear on your transcripts when you apply to graduate programs, either at the Master’s or a PhD-level.

One of the key entry requirements to many of these programs is that you are strongly considering a career, or at least going to graduate school, within these fields, so a summer undergraduate research fellowship is an excellent opportunity to prepare for these endeavors. When applying to graduate school or professional schools that are science-based (medicine, dentistry, pharmacy) having participated in a summer undergraduate research fellowship like the ones listed above will showcase how serious you are about research, and science and increase your application’s profile.

How to Get into Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships

1. Research Programs First to Find the Right One

This article lists only a few of the many types of programs out there, so you should make researching summer undergraduate research fellowships a priority to find the right one for you. By exploring various programs, you gain insights into diverse research fields, mentoring styles, and program structures, which may appeal to you, or not. This research equips you to align your interests and aspirations with the fellowship that resonates most profoundly. Choosing a fellowship that aligns with your passion not only enhances your motivation but also ensures a fulfilling and impactful research endeavor. Remember that there are other things to consider, such as location, stipend amount, extracurricular benefits, housing and whether the program offers scholarships or future opportunities, so you don’t want only to choose a program based on its prestige or reputation. Your choice should reflect your interests in a specific field, so you can get the most out of the experience.

2. Don’t be Afraid to Reach Out to Programs

You should remember that summer undergraduate research fellowships are like summer jobs, so that means you have to reach out to professors, programs, faculties and other important people as you would with any job search or when looking for how to find premed research opportunities. While the programs listed here are formally organized programs with application processes and are competitive in nature, another side to SURFs is that you can seek out your own opportunities by contacting professors, researchers and other faculty members to discuss whether you can help with their research. If you choose the informal route either because you want to or were not accepted into a formal program, you need to discuss what your contributions can be and what your compensation will be, whether a small stipend, a letter of recommendation or being credited on published research papers.

3. Get Good Letters of Recommendation

Securing strong letters of recommendation is crucial to a successful application to summer undergraduate research fellowships. These letters provide a glimpse into your character, work ethic, and potential as a researcher, offering valuable insights to selection committees. When choosing recommenders, choose individuals who know you well academically or professionally and can speak to your skills, accomplishments, and character. It’s crucial to select someone who believes in your abilities wholeheartedly, offering genuine support.

When approaching potential recommenders, ensure they are aware of your achievements and aspirations. Request letters well in advance, providing them with specific details about the fellowship, your accomplishments, and the reasons you're interested in the program. Personalize your request, explaining why you value their mentorship and how the fellowship aligns with your goals. Offer to provide relevant materials, such as your resume, academic transcripts, and a summary of your achievements, to assist them in writing a compelling recommendation.


Summer undergraduate research fellowship programs represent exceptional opportunities to immerse yourself in groundbreaking research, learn from esteemed mentors, and contribute meaningfully to your field of interest. Do your research and choose wisely. You should find something that aligns with your passions, and prepares you for the academic or professional opportunities you want to do in the future.


1. What are summer undergraduate research fellowships?

Summer undergraduate research fellowships are paid positions within a specific university department (engineering, computer science, natural science) where you can participate and work with faculty researchers to increase your lab skills, learn more about your particular field and earn much-needed experience to showcase on your applications to future academic or professional opportunities. 

2. Who is eligible for a summer undergraduate research fellowship?

There are many different eligibly criteria for summer undergraduate research fellowships, which range from being an undergraduate in good academic standing to being from a historically underrepresented group in STEM (Black, Indigenous, people of color) or even a high school student. You need to research each SURF program to make sure you qualify as many programs have very specific eligibility criteria. 

3. What do I need to get into a summer undergraduate research fellowship?

Every SURF has different application criteria. Some are open only to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Others place more importance on your academic record and having previous research experience. You should explore what a summer undergraduate research fellowship you’re interested requires, and try to meet those requirements. 

4. How do you apply for a summer undergraduate research fellowship?

Every SURF program has its own application process and method, so you should research what that method is to ensure you get in. Some programs will have online applications or a unique application portal. Other programs will accept paper applications with all your relevant application materials. 

5. Which summer undergraduate research fellowships is the best?

We listed some of the best summer undergraduate research fellowships in the US and Canada based on their reputation and affiliation with a well-regarded school, but there are dozens of other programs that may suit your needs better than the ones we listed here. The best SURF program for you is one that you feel you can contribute to, but also one that will help you reach your future career or academic goals. 

6. What do I do in a summer undergraduate research fellowship?

The exact schedule and responsibilities for each SURF is different. But they usually require a full work week divided between lab research, attending lectures and guest speakers, presenting your own research to other fellows and faculty and recreational or social activities. 

7. Are summer undergraduate research fellowships paid?

Yes, in general, all SURF programs involve varying levels of monetary compensation along with other benefits such as housing, health insurance and transportation costs. 

8. Why should I do a summer undergraduate research fellowship?

A SURF is a great opportunity on many levels. It has the same value as any other type of job, as it will help you build an impressive resume that you can show to other programs in the future (both academic and professional), while also imparting valuable research experience and knowledge. If you are thinking about a career either in academia or STEM industries you should think about a SURF as an excellent launch pad to help you gain the experience you need to be a competitive candidate. 

To your success,

Your friends at

BeMo Academic Consulting

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