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Are Research Projects Important for College Applications?

High school is an exciting time for students to explore their passions and showcase their ambitions. Each year, students at University Connection surprise their mentors with amazing project ideas and out-of-the-box solutions to some pressing issues! 

📌 Researching the effects of certain foods on negative emotions, UC CAAS student Ose created a combination of food items (largely nuts and seeds) that would reduce the extent to which that emotion is generally experienced by the sufferer regularly. The learning goal was to understand the brain, hormones, emotions, and their connection with food. Through the project and under the guidance of her teachers at school, Ose figured out so much about neuroscience and psychology on her own.

Ose

In an increasingly competitive college admissions landscape, taking on a qualitative project such as a research project can be a compelling means of showcasing your creativity, curiosity, and willingness to venture outside of the classroom. But is research really necessary? More importantly, is it really necessary for college applications?

📌 Reyhaan, a UC student who joined Drexel University in 2023 and is currently pursuing Finance, actively included research as part of his portfolio of activities. He worked on a research paper that incorporated International Relations and Economics under the guidance of a Ph.D. mentor from Columbia University. The topic of his research paper was – “The economic impact of the UN’s failed Humanitarian Intervention in Haiti in 2010 and its effect on the country’s GDP.”

The answer is not a black-and-white one. Rather, it’s a personal one, stemming from your interests and inspiration. If you are excited about going deep academically, getting inspired by intensive reading, in-depth analyzing, and finding your perspective on a topic that you are passionate about or curious about, you should look at research opportunities.

Why Research?

  • It can be exciting and fun to work on something different
  • It allows you to challenge yourself in new ways
  • It hones your critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • It helps you discover what you want to study
  • It can set you apart in your college applications

UC CAAS student Suhaana researched “How has the implementation of artificial intelligence affected job displacement and entrepreneurship in the United States over the last ten years?” For her, working on this paper was a very different experience. She says, “Unlike my less enjoyable experiences with extended essays and subject-specific internal assessments, working on my paper with my mentor was both enlightening and rewarding. Our weekly hour-long calls not only enhanced my research skills but also introduced me to Python, neural networks, and various aspects of AI. Overcoming obstacles, I crafted an 8000-word research paper covering the economics of AI, its impact on entrepreneurship, and broader economic implications, culminating in policy recommendations.”

What are the research opportunities available to high school students?

  • School curriculum: A research-based curriculum at school can be a good start. For example, the IB program requires students to write an extended essay, an independent research piece. Cambridge International AS & A Level Global Perspectives and Research is a skills-based course where students write a research report. Check with your guidance counselor/teacher if you’d like to discuss some options available for you at your school.
  • University Research Summer Programs: Many pre-college programs are designed for high school students to explore the challenges and opportunities of the college experience. Some examples include Boston University’s RISE Internship, Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists (PROMYS), University of Illinois High School STEM Research Program, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Jump Start Program.
  • Research-based programs: Organizations like Lumiere, Polygence, Inspirit, and Veritas AIoffer young students the opportunity to complete an in-depth, independent research paper or project with guidance from PhD mentors in a specific discipline. These programs are gaining a lot of popularity because doing research with a structured approach through online means is unique.
  • Academic-based essay competitions: A few essay competitions ask students to write an essay based on a subject matter of their choice and typically encourage students to read and research beyond the school curriculum. Last year, UC student Aarshia, participated in the Immerse Education Essay competition and received a 10% scholarship for her performance. Some examples include the John Locke Institute Essay Competition and the Robert Walker Prize for Essays in Law.
  • Build your project: An independent research project provides more flexibility as you can plan your own research topic and timeline. If you’re too nervous to begin, find a mentor at home or an advisor at your school, who can guide you and help you kickstart this journey!

Many of our students who’ve undertaken one of the above have shared how research has helped them understand how to review literature, include citations and references, and work on a thesis statement, among many others.

📌 As UC Berkeley alumna, Khushi Malde, Head of Growth at Lumiere Education puts it, “Research projects can significantly enhance undergraduate college applications, as they demonstrate a student’s hands-on involvement, intellectual curiosity, and deep engagement in a specific field, aligning well with their academic aspirations. Moreover, through research, students contribute to real-world impact while developing highly valued skills like problem-solving and critical thinking. Most importantly, students should be getting involved in research if that is something they are passionate about as then they can authentically showcase their academic curiosity and talents through a research opportunity.”

Conclusion

In conclusion, research can help you understand your subject of interest more deeply and is an excellent way to demonstrate your intellectual curiosity. Right from your school curriculum to university summer programs and research-based internships, there are numerous research opportunities available for high school students to explore.

For any guidance on applications, admissions, or profiles, please reach out to us. The experts at University Connection look forward to assisting you.

Ragini Dangwal

A compelling article by Ragini Dangwal. Read how a research project can be a compelling means of showcasing your creativity, curiosity, and willingness to venture outside of the classroom.

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