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3 ways to get research experience in high school

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Colleges have increasingly gotten more competitive: the applicant pools at Harvard University, Columbia University, and Dartmouth University increased by more than 30% for the Class of 2025. Therefore, having a strong resume that stands out is crucial for students applying to highly selective colleges or direct medical (BS/MD) programs. One way to do so is by gaining hands-on research experience. Here are three paths for high schoolers to achieve that. 

High school research pathways

Students should first look at what their high school offers; some schools have a research class like the Advanced Placement (AP) Capstone program, which consists of two courses: AP Seminar and AP Research. Students will be mentored on completing research, writing a thesis paper, and making a presentation. 

If this AP course isn’t available to students, they can also participate in science fairs or ask a high school teacher to guide them through an independent research project. 

Research with a college professor 

Students might want to work with an experienced mentor like a college professor who can lead them through the research process, connect the student with resources, and help analyze data. 

To find a college professor willing to assist, students can reach out to faculty members who have similar research interests. In the email, they should include a resume to help the professor know them better and their interests.  

Not all professors have time and space for a high school student to come into their lab to learn. Students should be prepared to email multiple faculty members and follow up to secure a position. Being flexible and willing to do whatever it takes in the lab can also help high schoolers gain hands-on research experience. 

Attend a research program

For students who prefer more structure, attending a STEM research camp can be a great way to get hands-on experience. Even better, students can sometimes earn college credit through a research program. 

One example is Rising Researchers—a virtual research program that lets students get hands-on experiences while earning two college credits. Students are mailed a microscope and lab kit so they can complete their own research at home. During the 4-week course, students learn how to conduct research on microbiology from a leading scientist at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. 

Take research to the next level with a passion project

After completing their research, students should always consider how they can take their accomplishments to the next level. For example, if they have written a research paper, they might target getting it published in a high school research journal. Or, they might choose to publish a book or guide on Kindle about their research. Another option is to run an informational campaign on social media or start a podcast to spread awareness about their research. 

By completing research while still in high school, students can distinguish themselves from other candidates and secure a spot at the most competitive universities.

*Lindsey Conger is a college counselor and tutor at Moon Prep. She helps students create memorable personal statements and applications that stand out from the masses. Lindsey also tutors students in writing, SAT and ACT prep to increase their academic profile to universities.

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