Summer Research

Participating in a summer research or internship program can be an extremely beneficial and rewarding experience for undergraduate students, no matter what their field of interest or career goals are. This web page contains information about the process of applying to summer programs, including instructions for requesting letters of recommendation.  For more advice, you should visit the Piper Center  in person or at their web site. It’s also a great idea to talk with your professors.

Finding Programs

This will seem really overwhelming at first – there are a LOT of programs. Just keep in mind your fit for a program – look carefully for language about the type of student the program is geared toward. You could also narrow down by particular field, or by location. At the end of this page are some links to get you started. How many programs should you apply for? One limiting factor is likely to be the number of letters that your faculty recommenders are able to write… for many faculty, ten programs is considered an appropriate maximum. It is usually a good idea to apply to at least four programs; but the most important thing is that you are truly interested in all the programs to which you apply.

Your Application

Most applications will require some type of cover letter, personal statement, or research statement. You can get help with these things at the Piper Center. This is also a great chance to make sure that you have  an updated and professional resume – again, the Piper Center has great online resources as well as staff and peer advisors to help you. Another aspect of your applications will likely be letters of recommendation…

Letters of Recommendation

This is something that you need to be very mindful of. Many faculty write hundreds of letters per “season” for summer research applications – in order for us to provide you with the best possible letters, you need to provide us with the clearest and most helpful organization. Some departments and faculty have more specific requirements, but here are some absolute rules!

  • Choose people who know you well enough to write about you, rather than to simply restate what grade you got in their course.

  • Give potential recommenders the opportunity to say “no” by asking whether or not they feel comfortable writing you a strong reference.

  • A professor cannot write for you unless you have completed the appropriate FERPA forms (see the FERPA page on the Registrar’s site). Most students select the “waiver” with the 6-month box checked; if you instead choose the “consent” you need to be aware that a faculty member may not write for you in this case, and that letters of recommendation where access has not been waived are perceived by readers as being weaker than waived letters.

  • You must supply each recommender with a signed FERPA form, as well as a clear and thorough list of all program sites, names, deadlines, and instructions (like whether an additional form is required, or whether the recommender should expect an email with a link to that program’s reference form, etc.) – find out whether your recommender would prefer this in hard copy or in electronic form. If there are programs that require a snail-mail recommendation, you need to provide stamped and addressed envelopes for those.

  • Be prepared to provide any other materials that your recommenders request in order for them to produce the best possible letter; these often include a resume, personal statement, and/or a degree audit copy.

  • Give your recommenders their requested time (usually 2-3 weeks) after receipt of all pertinent information to submit your LORs on time.

  • You need to make every effort to have all program information compiled for your recommenders together at one time. We realize that deadlines may range from January to April, but it is challenging for us to have program information trickling in from a student. This may seem trivial to you, but please remember that faculty are often writing for so many people that they do not have the extra time to keep returning to one student over and over again.

  • It’s a good idea to write a thank-you note to each recommender!


St. Olaf CURI

St. Olaf Piper Center undergraduate research

National Science Foundation (NSF) REU

National Institutes of Health (NIH) opportunities

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) opportunities

Dr. Tom Frederick at Rochester Institute of Technology maintains a public web site with links to programs by category: