Now that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on SAT and ACT testing, and promises to continue to do so for the foreseeable future, that means that extracurricular activities, ranked fourth in importance for admissions officers early last year (see Do Extracurriculars Matter in the College Admissions Process? and How Important Are Extra-Curricular Activities for College Applications?), are now arguably the second most important factor for admissions officers when they’re evaluating applicants who don’t submit SAT/ACT scores. That’s likely to be increasingly true as the selectivity of the schools’ increase, because selective colleges expect students to come with a track record of personal achievements. The most selective schools don’t want students who dream of changing the world: They want students who are already changing the world.
Of all possible extracurricular activities – and there are dozens of good ones – doing research is an important element in creating a stronger application when applying to highly selective universities, especially in STEM fields or as a premed student. Colleges want to see significant commitment to relevant activities outside of school (especially those that are hands-on and demonstrate intellectual curiosity, initiative, and collaboration skills) that strengthen your foundation for success in your chosen area of undergraduate study. Extracurricular activities that support your choice of major or career add more impact, truly enhancing your application.
So, how do students find research opportunities? Start looking is now. One good starting point is an online search. However, you’ll be overwhelmed! Googling “research opportunities for high school students” just yielded 3,360,000,000 “hits.” We can be more specific. Three potentially useful sites for parents and students are:
- https://www.forbes.com/sites/kristenmoon/2019/02/21/summer-research-programs-for-driven-high-school-students/?sh=4e4d079b1d53 (which focuses on biomed)
If you want to know what type of research activities matter to college admissions officers, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the research relevant to the field/major the student’s applying for?
- Did the student actually contribute to the research and take time to understand each step of the process, or was the student just getting coffee, running errands, or doing whatever a grad student told them to do?
- Did the student have to go through a selection process (make phone calls, send emails and a résumé, go through an interview) to get this research opportunity, or was it handed to the student by a family connection?
- Is there someone in the research lab who can vouch for the student by way of a recommendation letter?
- Was the research published, or is it at least on its way to be?
If you can come up with the “right” answers to those questions, then the research experience will very likely to be helpful for the student’s application.
While the process of finding and applying for research positions might seem daunting, over the past 30+ years we’ve helped thousands of students identify and participate in research and other programs that resulted in impressive extracurricular activities portfolios. We’ve here to help you get the same results. Contact us today and read our blogs on this crucial topic.