Conducting long-term research before your college years can be one of the most rewarding extracurricular experiences that appears on your resume. Research is a great way for students to build powerful connections with prospective recommendation letter writers, explore academia as a career, and watch their classroom skills be applied in real life to bring about change. For those of you thinking about engaging in research this summer, I highly recommend you start thinking about it and begin researching programs right now.
Here are some categories of summer research programs available to high school students.
1. University programs open to students nationwide. An example of this would be the Stanford Summer Research Program. These programs are highly competitive, last almost the entire summer, and provide students with a stipend for their work and living expenses ($3500). Students are matched with faculty members who help them devise their own project.
2. High school sponsored summer field experience trips. Some high schools offer summer field experiences in the geosciences, marine biology, and many other fields. These programs (1-3 weeks in length) are usually substantially shorter than university-sponsored programs. Oftentimes, scholarships are available through the school to cover cost, but there is no stipend available for the student’s work. My alma mater, Oak Park and River Forest High School, offers such programs, which also involves a semester-long preparation class.
3. Use your parents’ or mentors’ connections to find an open spot in a university laboratory. Look at your budding network and see if one of your friends has a relative who welcomes summer interns. If there’s one thing your parents are good for, it’s their career connections. Many of my friends in high school had parents who worked in labs at Northwestern University, DePaul University, and University of Chicago. This route is great because you aren’t competing with a pool of thousands of qualified applicants and there is no essay writing involved!
4. Health organizations open to students nationwide. The NIH has a summer research institute specifically targeted at students who are interested in biomedical research. Like the university-sponsored programs, this program lasts almost the entire summer (8 weeks) and provides a small stipend ($900).
Keep in mind, if you do choose to apply to a research program, deadlines can be as early as January or even November with decisions being released from early March through April. Applications will require letters of recommendation, standardized test scores, personal statements, and transcripts. Highly competitive programs, such as MIT’s Research Science Institute, recommends that applicant’s ACT scores should be at least a 33 (verbal at least a 34) and PSAT scores should be at least 220 (math at least 76), numbers that reflects the highest caliber of students nationwide.
Evaluate yourself carefully when looking at programs. Applying to research programs is just like applying to college: don’t get caught up in the prestige if the program is not a good fit, apply to reach programs as well as match programs, and keep yourself organized.