Pioneer Alumni Share a Strategic Approach to Successful Reapplication

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Andrew (neuroscience, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from Canada, was devastated when his first application to the program was rejected. But a year later, he reapplied and was accepted.

Joining Pioneer at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to write his research paper on the neuroanatomy of grief. “When I look back, it’s kind of a good thing I got rejected the first year, because if I wrote something at that time, I wouldn’t have crafted as good of a research paper,” he says.

What made the difference in Andrew’s second application was that he was better able to demonstrate his specific interest in neuroscience.  During that year, he took a course in psychology and medicine at Oxford University and won an award for being the most well-rounded student. He also began work on a short story fusing neuroscience and science fiction.

Many students who initially apply to Pioneer and are not accepted resubmit their applications in subsequent terms or years, and an increasing number of reapplicants are offered acceptance. This past year, nearly 16 percent of the students participating in the program were not admitted the first time they applied.

Resubmitting an application to the program has become very common as admission to Pioneer has grown increasingly competitive. For this summer’s term, Pioneer received 3,016 applications from 64 counties for 703 research positions, an acceptance rate of 23 percent.

Reapplicants to our program are considered in a different light than candidates applying the first time.  When you reapply, it lets us know that you really want to do this – you’re passionate enough about it to try again,” says Dana Silk, Pioneer’s Director of Admissions.

Strengthening Your Application

Students who reapply to Pioneer need to show how they have used the time since their initial application to pursue opportunities in their preferred field of research, Silk says. Students should not simply resubmit their original application because the admissions team compares the newer application with the first one.

“What you want to show in your second application is the progress you’ve made — the difference in your experience that’s related to your research areas of interest,” Silk says. “Those examples should be clearly reflected in your essays.”

Students can demonstrate their interest in their area of research in several ways, including taking an online course, participating in an extracurricular club at school, volunteering in their community, or taking an internship.

When Xinyi (neuroscience/psychology, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from China, applied to Pioneer the second time, she decided to combine psychology with neuroscience, one of her top choices on her first application. After meeting a blind person and observing her speech, Xinyi changed the focus of her interest to cognitive science, specifically the influence of information presentation on comprehension.

“Neuroscience is a very competitive program and I didn’t have that much experience so that’s why I was declined,” she says. “I had another year to think and to explore and to get more experience in other subject areas as well. That’s why the second time I applied from a more comprehensive perspective.

Students who reapply should only choose research areas that they are genuinely interested in because they may be assigned to work on any field that they list in their application. “If you don’t want to do it, don’t apply for it because there is a legitimate chance that this will happen,” she says.

If their overall goal, however, is to have a research experience with Pioneer, the more research areas students list when applying, the better their chances of being admitted to the program, Silk adds. Offering more research fields on their applications allows Pioneer to coordinate students’ interests and qualifications with the availability of faculty who specialize in those areas.

Factors Considered in Applications

When submitting applications, students can choose whether or not to submit test scores because Pioneer believes academic aptitude and language skills can be demonstrated in other ways. “If you have test scores that you feel great about, definitely submit them because that gives us another piece of information to consider,” Silk says. “But applicants are never excluded if they choose not to submit test scores.”

The courses students have taken are considered within the context of their school, since the types of classes that are available vary greatly, especially since applicants come from more than 80 countries.

One area of the application in which students can demonstrate their creativity and passion for their research area is in their essays.  Our admissions staff looks for key indicators including a demonstration of maturity, a strong ability to reason, and a substantiation of interest in the research areas selected.

Silk advises applicants to take advantage of the maximum number of words allowed in the essays to discuss their academic background and explain why they are interested in pursuing a research project at Pioneer. “If you are truly passionate about Pioneer and this is something that you really want to do, it seems to me that you would want every single opportunity to tell us why,” Silk says. “If you have 150 words, my recommendation is that you use all 150. We’re looking to understand your passion and for you to substantiate that passion with any and all applicable experiences.”

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