Meeting today’s new challenge: the Pioneer Academics admission team responds to Covid-19

Pioneer Academics > News > Meeting today’s new challenge: the Pioneer Academics admission team responds to Covid-19

When the pandemic lockdowns shut down virtually all in-person summer enrichment programs for high school students, Pioneer Academics received an unprecedented number of applications for its online program, an increase of over 150% over last year. This presented several challenges to the Pioneer Academics admissions team:

  1. We wanted to offer as many students as possible the unique and invaluable experience of doing college-level research.
  2. We needed to maintain our rigorous admissions standards, assuring that each student accepted to the program was truly motivated, fully qualified, and placed in a setting that encouraged a successful experience.
  3. We needed to do all this quickly, since many applications were received close to the deadline. 

Here’s how we met these challenges. 

Expanding Opportunities for Students

First, we were able to increase the number of places available in Pioneer Research programs by expanding marginally the size of cohorts, if our assessment approves the expansion, and adding Pioneer team members, enabling us to ensure the same level of support. In order to maintain program quality and ensure that the quality of the student experience is not compromised, we did so with extreme care and attention, and in very limited numbers.  While we wish we could open up more spaces for additional students, we chose only to add spaces in a way we felt did not risk the academic experience for our students. 

The Pioneer Research Program’s core value resides in its holistic academic system, which includes the standards Pioneer has developed for both mentors and learners, the research curriculum, and the concrete oversight of each facet of the program. Since any expansion requires expanding every part of the program to assure the quality and integrity of the student experience, we have needed to keep our expansion modest.

Second, we added a creative new program for students who are still looking for an enriching, challenging, and meaningful summer academic experience. POSS (Pioneer Online Summer Study) is a free program open to any high school student interested in working on a research project with a team of peers. Groups will be sponsored by high school counselors and work on independent studies with the guidance of college professors. Students will not receive credit for a Pioneer program, but will have the experience of doing research at a level that will be good preparation for college. Complete information about this innovative new program is available on on our website.

Expanding Our Ability to Process Applications 

Pioneer Admissions officers are a unique team with diverse, highly specialized capabilities. They need to understand students from around the globe, students from different continents. They need to decipher, from the materials in an application, the nature of an applicant’s interest, and they need to be experts on the variety of research concentrations available through the Pioneer Research Program.What is this unique admissions team like? For the first time, we are featuring our admission officers.

Many members of the Pioneer admissions team have a strong background in the field of college admissions. They are experienced in reading student essays and conducting student interviews. They include former college admission officers from Vassar College and Pomona College, as well as a former investment banking recruiter. In speaking of their work, all our admissions officers comment on the holistic nature of Pioneer’s admissions process. One reader put it this way: “We are aware of each student’s educational and social background going into the application and we try to find glimmers of potential in different pieces of the file.”

Here are a few of our admissions staff members, and some of what they have to say about their work. 


Pioneer Associate Manager of Admissions Lara

Lara, Pioneer’s Associate Manager of Admissions, finds she learns most about a student through the long essay. “Each student has a unique story to tell and this can be the component that gives the most insight about a student’s personal and professional motivations.” She is passionate about helping students reach their goals, and this, she says, “is exactly what Pioneer Academics is doing and doing well.” 

Pioneer Admissions Reader Sarah
Pioneer Admissions Reader Sarah


Admissions reader Sarah looks for authenticity. “Applications are always exciting when you feel like students are being authentic. It’s a great opportunity for us as admissions professionals to learn more about a young adult who has incredible potential in their lives—academically, psychologically, and emotionally.” When a student’s genuine interests are clear, the ability to connect that student with just the right research concentration is very satisfying. 




Pioneer Admissions Reader Kira
Pioneer Admissions Reader Kira

Kira, another admissions reader, also enjoys the process that matches students’ interests with research areas. She praises Pioneer’s “fair, thorough, and compassionate evaluation practices,” and enjoys Pioneer’s online landscape, “which allows students to think about their academic interests almost in a vacuum, with laser-like focus.” She finds it exciting that Pioneer’s framework allows applicants to exercise their research skills and gain access to sophisticated research resources “without geographical obstacles.”

Pioneer Admissions Reader Molly
Pioneer Admissions Reader Molly

Reader Molly describes Pioneer’s holistic admissions process in a nutshell. “Our goal is to fully get to know you and not just send students through an assembly line. As you complete the application and interview it is important to stay true to yourself and not just answer questions in a way you think we want them to be answered. One of the greatest things about joining a cohort is to bring your own unique history and perspectives to a process so that every dimension of the research can happen. A strong candidate is one who knows who they are and is willing to share that with our team.”


Expanding Our Commitment

Given the number of applications, our dedicated staff are working around the clock to make sure each student is given our rigorous, high quality evaluation. We have added readers and added times for interviews for students who move to the interview stage. We retain our commitment to discerning whether students are sufficiently interested in their chosen research areas to be “set up for success” when placed in their cohorts. We look for an openness to new experiences that will be essential to participate fully in an international cohort. We look for students who can think on their feet, think critically, and present themselves as mature and professional. And, most importantly, we are looking for students who, refusing to allow COVID-19 to stand in the way of their intellectual pursuit, are genuinely excited about the prospect of becoming a Pioneer Scholar.





Quotes directly from Matthew Pohl

Pioneer’s Respected Selectivity

“There are very few selective summer programs out there that emphasize research. Pioneer is one of very few selective summer undergraduate research opportunities, and that’s something that’s known among college admissions officers at top universities.”

Pioneer’s Leadership mindset

“I believe Pioneer’s system really prepared students for the leadership mindset.”

Credibility through academic system

“Oberlin College is considered one of the top liberal arts colleges in the U.S. If they are partnering with an organization that provides excellent programs to students, then there’s credibility there. Automatically.”

Watch the video

The Pioneer Research Program is the ONLY global college-credit-bearing program in which students conduct
research one-on-one
with a professor online in Pioneer’s rigorous system.

Foundational Research Seminars

Pioneer offers virtual seminars on research methodologies in addition to subject sessions.

Pioneer Writing Center

Pioneer’s writing center follows the highest ethical standards in providing academic writing support to
Pioneer scholars.

Online Library

  • About 400 research databases and journals.
  • Over 100,000 e-books.

Academic Oversight

Pioneer and Oberlin College jointly administer academic oversight.

Accomplishment Endorsed by Pioneer

It is well known that Pioneer holds the highest academic standards. Research accomplishments through Pioneer are trusted and respected.

College Credit

Pioneer scholars earn two college credits and the Pioneer Research Program is categorized as a college course, instead of just an extracurricular activity, on college applications.


  • Pioneer’s tuition is 6,450 US dollars.
  • As part of its social mission, Pioneer Academics dedicates funds every year to need-based scholarships for students to participate in the Pioneer Research Program. These funds are very limited and their use is restricted to cases in which the need of the students’ family can be reliably accredited. Students are eligible for these scholarships in countries where need can be assessed or if they are part of a non-profit organization or an educational institution that can assess need.

Dear educator friend,

In the critical process of preparing students to transition to college, you are key. The
ramifications of your guidance are far-reaching.

The Pioneer Research Program believes that it, too, has a role to play in preparing students of special potential and passion for learning. This is a role we trust you will appreciate knowing about. Our mission is to offer a deep and otherwise unavailable opportunity to exceptionally motivated young scholars who want to learn and research at the college level and to explore their potential for innovation.

What makes Pioneer a unique deep-dive learning experience is not just the mentorship of distinguished professors. It is the rigorous quality controls developed conjointly by Pioneer and Oberlin College. Professors (must) adhere to rubrics for

1) setting learning goals;

2) syllabus development;

3) oversight, feedback and evaluation, and

4) grading standardization.

This rigorous academic system is supported by thorough admission process and a high-minded ethics code. The combination gives students an exceptional learning experience that is brought to fruition in a college-level research paper documenting their findings.

You can follow this link Pioneer’s concrete academic system to learn more about the academic system. Academic quality control and academic oversight assure Pioneer’s focus is on learning and learners, and therefore all of our practices were built upon the following principles:

No conflict of interests Pioneer’s academic ethical standards
Because of its high academic and ethical standards, the Pioneer program has earned the trust of college admissions departments and formed the basis for the ground-breaking collaboration with Oberlin College. Pioneer scholars get two college credits upon completing their Pioneer research.

Click to learn about Pioneer and Oberlin College's groundbreaking academic collaboration.

Pioneer has a rigorous admission process. Students who have genuine academic interests and are highly motivated are a good fit with Pioneer’s values. Pioneer’s founding board insisted that Pioneer commit to a professor-blind policy during the application process, ensuring that applicants have authentic field interest and correct priorities. Consequently, no information about professors is released before admission to the program. This policy is much appreciated and respected by universities. Professor-blind admission policy
On this page is the critical information needed to meet your needs.

If you have additional questions, feel free to let us know how we can help you by emailing or calling 855-572-8863.


Matthew Jaskol

Founder & Program Director