BEST Scholar Program

The Biology, Experience, Scholarship, and Training (BEST) Scholar Program serves to attract exceptionally talented students to our majors. As a BEST recipient, incoming students receive a $5,000 scholarship for tuition and fees during their first year as well as mentorship from the directors of the School of Molecular & Cellular Biology (MCB) and School of Integrative Biology (SIB). Our highest achieving admitted students are invited to apply via email in late February/early March for a BEST scholarship. We are dedicated to increasing the participation of underrepresented populations in biology and encourage students from these groups to apply.

Since 2019, we've provided 26 scholarships, awarded $130,000 in funds; and held over 18 hours of tailored mentorship from our world-class directors of MCB and SIB.

The BEST Scholar Program has offered unparalleled opportunities throughout my college experience at UIUC. Through invaluable mentorship from Dr. Bagchi and Dr. Cáceres, as well as a roundtable-style discussion with like-minded biology students, this program has truly allowed me to experience the biology curriculum to its fullest extent as well as explore potential career paths for after graduation.”

—Will Reiser, 2019-2020 BEST Scholar


BEST scholarship recipients meet in Natural History Building in December 2021
Advice and mentoring from directors and prior-year BEST Scholars is an added perk of this community-building scholarship opportunity.

The unique opportunity to develop a mentoring relationship with such influential leaders here at Illinois can help to open many doors, including opportunities in research. BEST Scholars also have the opportunity to receive more in-depth and individualized meetings with a lead academic advisor and a career coach. Perhaps most inspiring to many BEST Scholars is the additional opportunity to interact with our past BEST Scholars to learn from their experiences and gain valuable advice about research, internships, and other career-minded goals.

“As a biology student interested in medicine, I found a wonderful community of like-minded peers, which helped me ground myself in college. And with mentorship from experienced faculty, I feel prepared to achieve my goals.”

—Cindy Mu, 2021-2022 BEST Scholar

Highlights of the BEST Scholars monthly group mentorship meetings include:

  • getting to know our faculty, staff, and other high-achieving students in biology
  • making important connections that assist BEST Scholars in finding a position in a campus research lab and student organizations that will help scholars develop as a student and future professional
  • obtaining information and planning to apply to the IB or MCB Honors programs; many of our BEST Scholars are accepted into these honors concentrations as sophomores
  • gaining academic advice and support as well as career coaching that will help scholars explore the many options available to them after graduation

Together, the BEST scholarship award as well as all of the mentorship and advising opportunities serve to aid BEST Scholars in making a smooth transition from high school to our world-class research institution here at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 

“I think applying for BEST Merit Scholars was one of the smartest things I did in college. Freshman year, I was overwhelmed with how to navigate the next four years. The warm, welcoming environment of BEST Scholars has created a community on campus where I never feel intimidated. Instead, it has provided me with invaluable resources and mentorship that has helped me find a research lab, manage my classes, and find volunteer opportunities on campus. In addition, it has helped me meet close friends—one of them even ended up being my roommate! Overall, this program has laid the foundation for me to succeed with my professional goals.”

—Katarina Vrtikapa 2020-2021 BEST Scholar