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Research in High School is Possible: Here’s How!



Research offers the chance for high schoolers to change the trajectory of their lives—learning about their field of choice and even contributing to it. By engaging in their own research or working with professors, graduate students, labs, or other organizations, students can improve their analytical, problem-solving, and collaboration skills while exploring their passions. Colleges also value these experiences—both within STEM fields and beyond—and completing research can help students build a stronger college admissions profile. 


Getting started with research

Students should begin by deciding their field of interest. Consider not only your academic and career goals, but your personal interests as well. From here, the next step is to gain a background understanding of the area of interest you’re researching. Start with more approachable forms of writing like books, magazines, and online articles to help you understand the field before seeking out more dense research publications. 


Once you’re ready to dive into current research, start with works that are referenced in the articles and books you’ve already read, then move on to research portals and reputable sites such as the following:

  • Google Scholar

  • PubMed

  • Directory of Open Access Journals

  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  • The Public Library of Science


You can also reach out to your high school librarian and local libraries to find out what other databases and research journals these facilities provide free access too. 


As you gain a better understanding of your interests, try to identify a specific research area or question(s) you’d like to explore. This will most likely take a few attempts before you settle on a viable topic. 


When you’ve picked a research area and/or question, you’re ready for the next step. 


How to pursue research opportunities

Start local! Consider networking with friends, family members, and other people in your life. If you don’t know anyone involved in the fields you’re interested in, reach out to local labs at universities, professors, hospitals and clinics, or companies where research is already underway. Sending competitive materials like a cover letter and resume can help you stand out during your search. 


If you’re still struggling to find opportunities, consider applying to organized research programs and summer camps designed for high schoolers. Here, students may pursue their own research questions or work within a research group under the guidance of a mentor, usually resulting in a finished project or paper that can be submitted to student journals or conferences. These opportunities demand varying degrees of time commitment and cost, with some even offering stipends or college credit. 


Here is a list of research programs to serve as a starting point. Most application deadlines for this summer have already passed, but keep them in mind for the future:


Independent research

When it comes to doing research in high school, mentorship under a professional can be very helpful, but these opportunities can also be limited. In these cases, independent research is certainly an option to consider. However, taking this path will require much more discipline and commitment. If you’re curious about completing an independent research project, start early, as the process of researching and writing a paper can sometimes take more than a year. 


Independent research can take several forms depending on your selected field—from AP Capstones to IB Extended Essays, literature reviews and qualitative studies, conducting experiments or interviews, or even sending out surveys. From there, what remains is data analysis, finding your conclusions, and writing the paper itself. 


What to do with your research

Writing a research paper involves summing up the entirety of your research in one polished document. As first-time researchers, students are encouraged to start by imitating the tone and structure of other papers in the field. Most published research papers will include an abstract, context, methodology, results, discussion, and a conclusion. This process will take multiple drafts and reviews, but the end result will be something to be proud of!


Once you’ve done all of your research and written your paper or made your presentation, there are several things you can do with it, including publishing, presenting your findings at conferences, and even entering it in student competitions. These can result in great feedback and accolades, all contributing to an impressive application profile.


Here are some potential opportunities to look into once you’ve completed your research project:


Publications


Conferences


Competitions/Science Fairs


We are here to help! We offer 1:1 counseling services for students to receive professional guidance and/or feedback on their application materials. Our counselors can aid you along your research path by helping you find a topic to research, decide on programs and competitions to apply to, and provide specific research goals along the way.


Our Steps Program for high school students grades 9th-11th, is a college admission counseling program that will help you get a head-start on planning for college admissions. You will meet with an experienced college counselor who will help you step-by-step in sculpting an outstanding academic and extracurricular profile. Our counselors provide 1:1 guidance on research program applications, course selection, GPA management, internship placement, extracurricular selection, and more.

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