Research opportunities are a popular choice among extraordinary high school students who are looking for experiences that can further develop valuable critical thinking and analytical skills.
Plus, conducting research is considered a beneficial addition to your college application. However, at Pioneer Academics, we strongly believe that research, like any activity, will not be a differentiating factor in college application unless you can show the quality of your study is unquestionable and you do it out of real interest.
Because of this reason, it’s important to note not all programs are created equal when considering research opportunities for high school students. Programs vary based on their academic reputation, the amount of actual hands-on research experience and research skills you’ll gain, the cost of participating, and if you conduct research completely online, in-person, or a hybrid of both.
In this guide, we’ll help you assess the three main categories of research programs for high school students. We’ll also provide some simple questions you can ask to help you decide which program may be the best fit for you.
3 Different Categories of High School Research Programs
First, to understand and assess online research opportunities, it’s important to understand the three different categories of research programs available for high school students:
- Mentorship-Based Programs
- University/College Research Programs
- Internships at Research Labs
Most online mentorship-based programs tend to be transactional in nature, with the primary goal of connecting students with a mentor or tutor. This comes with the promise that completing the program will assist the student in their pursuit of college admissions – but this isn’t always what actually occurs.
Since the online mentorship space is still new, the history of programs like this is so short that governing rules, regulations, and set academic standards have yet to be created. However, there are some exceptions, such as highly regarded academic programs universities offer online, and Pioneer Academics.
Established in 2012, Pioneer Academics has established its reputation for being highly selective and demands rigorous, high standards of individual research projects so students can learn research skills and receive college credit upon completion (we’ll get to that later on in this blog).
1. Mentorship-Based Programs
The first category of high school research programs is mentorship-based programs, especially online research opportunities that became much more prominent around the start of the pandemic.
Choosing opportunities in a new and unregulated space is a hard job, especially when it involves research. We recommend that you thoroughly investigate all available opportunities for your research project. Here are a few questions to ask as you get started:
Is getting into a research program a better demonstration of my hard work or is there a benefit to creating research opportunities on my own?
The kind of students that most selective universities and colleges want to attract are those who are driven to overcome challenges while pursuing their passion or cause. A research opportunity that is reliably high caliber and selective can reflect a student’s determination and competitiveness. Of course, if students worked their way into getting an internship at a lab, it shows that same drive well.
Has the research opportunity established a strong track record academically? Additionally, is the research opportunity backed by an accredited institution?
We understand this is a hard question for most students to answer as academic research is typically not a common experience in our lives. And there are no established standards or regulations for programs that offer research opportunities for high school students yet. So checking details of the program’s history, the competitiveness of their admissions, and examining the quality of the program’s academic output are the best way to assess quality. Two key questions that reveal how established an opportunity is are: Is there a reputable academic institution backing the research opportunity for high school students? What is the nature of that backing?
Is the program a platform-based, “on-demand” service?
We utilize online services in countless ways these days. They allow us to quickly complete important tasks in real-time. “On-demand” services, either mentorship or tutoring, offer a similar solution to students’ needs quickly and easily. What needs to be taken into account is that simply being a customer does not prove your determination and competitiveness.
Pioneer Academics is an online research institute that carefully selects high-achieving high school students to develop original research papers that meet Pioneer’s high standards. Selected students not only work directly with professors handpicked by Pioneer on an undergraduate-level research project but they also are surrounded by Pioneer’s institutional research resources. By the end of the program, students submit a full-length academic paper about their findings and earn college credit for their work.
There are 30 research disciplines students can choose from in STEM, social sciences, and the humanities.
So in the field of online research programs, what makes Pioneer truly stand out is that we are the world’s only fully-accredited online research program for high school students. Additionally, we follow an exacting approach to our curriculum and for selecting high-caliber faculty mentors.
Faculty Mentor Selection at Pioneer Academics
Here are more examples of how Pioneer Academics’ faculty mentors add additional value to the independent research projects conducted by high school students:
- We select our faculty based not only on their academic accolades but also on their passion for teaching.
- We screen faculty members and provide training on Pioneer’s high academic standards.
- We have a thorough quality checking process for the research papers produced, and our academic collaborator, Oberlin College, administers academic oversight in addition.
Being a Pioneer faculty member requires a commitment to the highest standards that we set forth, as well as providing a personalized mentorship experience for scholars participating in the program.
As you explore other research programs for high school students, here are some pros and cons to keep in mind.
In summary, the Pros and Cons of Mentorship-Based Programs to Consider:
- The online nature of these programs makes it easy to conduct scientific research no matter where you live in the world.
- The attention received from the mentor tends to be higher than in a class setting program.
- It is a lot easier for high school students to get a customized research experience based on their individual needs and interests.
- Most of the mentorship-based programs are still new and not yet recognized.
- The nature of paid mentorship services leaves questions like integrity and validity open unless the provider is well established in the higher education industry.
- Depending on the effort of the student, the accomplishment through mentorships can vary.
2. University/College Research Programs
These programs are hosted by universities and colleges specifically for high school students who want to gain more academic experience, as well as personal development.
They can be in-person, online, or a hybrid of both, many taking place over the summer. Many institutions may refer to these programs as pre-college sessions. Some programs can focus on a specific academic subject, such as a STEM field, or include a variety of classes and sessions so high school students can experience the life of college students.
As pre-college programs have been around for a long time, and they are all backed by the reputation of the institutions, it is a safe choice for ambitious students. The challenge comes from choosing the one that fits you the best. These programs vary a lot in how competitive it is to get in, what the focuses are, and how much they cost.
Check out a comprehensive summary of respected university programs here.
1. University of Pennsylvania
Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology (M&TSI)—Wharton
2. Yale University
3. Cornell University
A vast majority of university research programs are open to both U.S. and international high school students. However, please note that just because you complete a university/college summer program, also known as a pre-college session, this alone does not guarantee any admission advantage when you submit your application.
In summary, the Pros and Cons of University/College Research Programs to Consider:
- You may gain research training experience, as well as take classes in various subjects.
- You can get a firsthand feel of life as a university student.
- You can connect with other high-achieving peers and develop friendships.
- Pre-college programs tend to be more expensive, especially if they are only offered in person.
- Many of the pre-college programs don’t have the flexibility to be customized for students to a big degree.
- As most pre-college programs are scheduled almost like full-time schooling, if you do not like the program, you don’t have an alternative for your summer.
3. Internships at Research Labs
The third category of opportunities is internships at research labs. These labs are housed within universities and colleges, with the principal investigator (PI) being the lead faculty member in charge of the lab and they are the ones who determine what research is done. They also select the post-docs, graduate students, undergraduate students, and interns.
Searching for an internship program at a lab requires you to be specific about the research area you’re interested in so you can more accurately find a lab related to your interest. Once you find some potential labs, you would then reach out to the PI and inquire about existing research projects or perhaps any ideas you have for new opportunities.
Working on a research project in a lab can help generate some valuable experiences, however, it requires a bit more outreach and research on behalf of the student, and there are considerably fewer opportunities to do an online internship program when working directly with a research lab. It’s not impossible, you simply have to make the case!
Pursuing research project internships is like pursuing a highly sought-after job. It requires tremendous research and effort.
Here are some tips for searching for research project internships:
- Research and study the project or the lab thoroughly before you write your cover letter. Do not use a templated cover letter, which shows you are not doing your research.
- Write specifically what you can contribute to the research project. Vaguely talking about how passionate you are won’t work.
- Specify what work or course you have done related to the research project you are pursuing. Reading articles on Wikipedia is far from enough.
- Be persistent! Remember you are creating your own opportunities by reaching out to different PI of the research projects or labs. There is no guarantee with any of those research opportunities, but reaching out to as many as you can certainly increase your chances.
In summary, the Pros and Cons of Internships at Research Labs to Consider:
- You’ll have the opportunity to contribute to current research.
- Depending on the size of the lab, you may have opportunities to interact and learn from the primary researcher (PI) and the staff.
- It’s a prime networking opportunity and a chance to develop connections for future research opportunities.
- It can be time-consuming and difficult to find opportunities available to high school students.
- You may not receive as much direction or mentorship depending on the size and availability of the research staff, and opportunities may require previous research experience.
- It could be a financial burden if you have to travel and/or move closer to a research lab if they don’t offer online opportunities.
How Do You Pick the Right Program?
Now that we’ve covered the three main types of research opportunities and their pros and cons, you may still be wondering how to pick which kind of research opportunities are best for you.
This blog is a great starting point, but as you start to shortlist potential programs here are some key questions to ask yourself to help you find the best research project.
What are the objectives of the research opportunities?
Before taking the time to apply and invest both time and money into the research opportunity, it’s important to understand exactly what you’ll gain by successfully completing the program.
A list of questions you can ask while assessing some potential programs include:
- What is your targeted outcome? Further your knowledge in a field? Understand how a research project/lab is run? Write an academic research paper as a result of your work?
- Will your work merit credibility? Will you gain college credit upon successful completion?
- Do the program activities accurately reflect the proposed benefits you would gain if you complete the program?
An organization that can strongly and clearly state what students gain from their program and how is a good sign that they have your best interest in mind and what you need to be successful.
If you’re looking for an internship at a research lab, the same question applies. You would work with the PI to determine the objectives of your high school internship in advance to assure both of you are on the same page regarding the mutually-beneficial results of your scientific research.
What are the program’s credentials?
Secondly, it’s important to review the program’s credentials, accomplishments, and any other details that can help you determine its reputation, standards, and quality.
For example, Pioneer provides the world’s only online research program granting U.S. college credit for high school students through its unique partnership with Oberlin College. More than 4,000 students from 71 countries and regions have completed the Pioneer program and we are proud to share the caliber of Pioneer Scholars through their college acceptance rates and average ACT, SAT, TOEFL, and IELTS scores.
The same question of credentials applies to internships at a research lab. You’ll want to look at the credentials of the PI and their staff, as well as current research projects. But keep in mind that newer or smaller labs may not have much of a track record, but they could provide the most hands-on opportunities because they need the additional help.
What questions do you still have?
Even after you do all your research, it’s completely OK to still have questions. Don’t hesitate to reach out and speak with someone about the research opportunities available.
There are public online seminars, such as Pioneer’s, hosting informational sessions so students can learn more and ask our staff questions. You can also contact us directly at [email protected] or 1-855-572-8863.
We’ll be here to help you as much as possible so you can make the most informed decision that best matches your values and vision, whether it’s applying to be a Pioneer Scholar or choosing a different path. No matter what your decision, it’s yours to make!