3 ways to get research experience in high school

By Lindsey Conger/Moon Prep

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. 

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