Admission Essay Tips

If you have begun an SSTP application, then you know two essays must be submitted as part of the admission process. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you complete your essays:

  1. Write the essay in a Word document first.  Check for spelling and grammar errors. In addition, perform a word count to make sure you have not exceeded the word limitations for the essay.
  2. Have someone you trust proofread your essay and ask for their honest feedback.  It is unlikely that the first draft of your essay will really be your best work.
  3. Make the essay personal.  Your essay should tell your story.  No one else has the experiences you have! What sets you apart from other applicants?
  4. Be honest.  Don’t overstate your experiences or your expectations.  The essays are a way for us to try to determine whether or not this program and the research group will be a good fit for you.


Essay #1: Describe your academic areas of interest. (750 word max)

The first essay question is meant to help the selection committee try to narrow down which research group may be a good match based on your research interests. This essay should highlight any work you have already done in your area of interest.  It should also highlight any previous experience you have in the area of research, research design, computer programming, or upper level academic coursework. For example, if you’re interested in physics and you’ve already taken AP Calculus, we know we can try to place you in a research group using advanced levels of mathematics. Or, if you’re interested in environmental science and you’ve already had experience with GIS, this is something we would want to know!  When highlighting your interests and experiences in this first essay question it is important not to over-state your abilities and experiences.  The best way for us to find you a research group that will be a good fit is if we truly know your strengths as well as areas that will need a little more guidance.  If you don’t have any research experience in the area you’re interested in, just say so! Tell us why you’re interested in this area and what life events have lead you to your academic interests in this area.

Essay #2: Why are you applying to the Secondary Student Training Program? Describe your career aspirations and explain what you hope to gain from the SSTP experience. (750 words max)

The second essay question is the essay many, many research mentors will request to see when determining whether or not you will be a good fit in their research group. It is very important that you answer both questions posed as part of this essay! Also, it is important to remember that research mentors are interested in mentoring interested students who want their guidance. It’s important that you honestly answer the questions in this essay. Mention your career goals and how SSTP may help you get there. If you want to come to the Secondary Student Training Program to learn research design to help you with projects you’re working on at home, or if you just want to know what it’s like to do research at a Research I institution, then include this in your essay. Mentors are interested in knowing what you hope to get out of this experience because it helps them determine whether or not you will be a good match in their research group, and it will also help them determine which of their projects may best fit your expectations.


A Letter to Future SSTP Students



Student Reflects on his SSTP Experience



SSTP Class of 2016 Student Shares her Summer Experience


Application Walkthrough

Hello! Applications for SSTP are now open and ready be filled out. To avoid confusion, we have created a step-by-step walk-through to help you with the application process.

Part 1: Create an account 

  1. Create an account providing your demographic information (email address, DOB, home phone, etc.). Be sure to include the email address you prefer to use for communication with the Belin-Blank Center staff.

Part 2: The Application Checklist

After making an account, the website will lead you to the application checklist page that will look like the one below:

pic 1

The green dots indicate that you have provided us with the needed information. The red dots mean that there is something missing from your application. To access each section, simply click on the colored dots and the corresponding list will expand.

Application Responses and Research Interests

Tell us a little bit more about yourself and your academic experiences! This is the section where you will insert your essays. Additionally, there will be a section for you to indicate your subjects of interest. To insert your essay into the system click on the “edit” button:

Application Responses - Edit

After clicking the “edit” button, you will be able to type your essays into the corresponding text boxes. To save your progress, click “update.”

Application Responses - Update

Application Materials

Here you will find additional materials necessary for the application. Once you have expanded the Application Materials tab, the page will look like this:

Application materials

  • Teacher Recommendation – Insert your teacher’s email address to send them a request to write a letter of recommendation for you. Your teacher will receive an email leading them to a page where they will fill out the recommendation. Once the teacher has completed the recommendation, you will receive a confirmation email.
  • Transcript – We ask that you upload a transcript of grades obtained in high school (including dual-credit college courses). Unfortunately, you can only upload one file into the system. If you have more than one transcript file, merge them together to create one aggregate file to submit.
  • Score Report – Enter the scores from one standardized exam (ACT/SAT/PLAN/PSAT/Other) that you believe will best reflect your abilities.

Part 3: Finished!

I’m all done! Where is the submit button?

There is no submit button for the application. Once you have completed all sections of the application checklist, all of the dots will be green and your application status will say, “Complete – Pending Acceptance” as indicated below:


Since there is no submit button, can I go back and edit my application?

Yes! You will be able to edit your application until the due date: February 3rd, 2017. After the deadline, you will no longer be able to edit your application.

Will my application be considered if incomplete?

No, incomplete applications will not be considered. It is your responsibility to ensure that all materials have been uploaded and that teachers have submitted their letters of recommendations by Feb. 24th, 2017.

When will I be notified of my acceptance?

The final selection for SSTP participants is April 3rd, 2017. You will be notified via email of your acceptance status.


Why Should I Participate in SSTP?


SSTP Mentor Studies Effects of Music on Dementia Patients

Daniel Tranel, a professor of neurology and psychology at the University of Iowa, and Alaine Reschke-Hernandez, a graduate student, have been working to study the emotional effects of music on patients suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. By measuring patients’ moods before and after sessions, Tranel determines the type and magnitude of the effect.


Photo: David Scrivner/Iowa City Press-Citizen

Jasmine Leahy, a member of the SSTP class of 2016, worked with Dr. Tranel and Reschke-Hernandez this summer. She reflected on the impact of the research conducted by Tranel’s team: “It was transformative for me to see how music can completely improve the demeanor of someone. Many of the patients we worked with became more engaged when we played music for them. Our patients with Alzheimer’s became more willing to share things and talk, participate in conversations, etc.”

Read more at the following links:

Local news article

Local news story