How to Find Research Opportunities as High School Students

Many students are excited by working on research. However, they find themselves stuck when it comes to getting started. Where should they go to find research opportunities? What should they be looking for? In this post, we’ll outline various ways to get into research, as well as how to use it in your college admission process.

Why do research in high school?  

Research is becoming increasingly common for high school students to take part in. As a director of the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a high school research program, I’ve seen students gain a world-class level of knowledge in the field that they are interested in.

I’ve seen students in their research projects investigate how to identify the strongest machine learning algorithm to detect cell nuclei, how to develop a novel way to detect ocean health on the high seas, or a novel comparison of 14th-century Japanese and 19th-century Impressionist art. In each project, students left with a uniquely deep understanding of the area they explored. 

When students apply to universities, this unique understanding comes in handy. In a recent poll of students who completed research in high school, 99% of those who applied for early admissions used their research in some way.

Furthermore, students who conducted research were 26% more likely than the average candidate to get accepted to an Ivy League university’s EA/ED program. As researchers, we must be cautious not to infer a causal relationship between the two. However, it is true that students who are accepted into elite schools are more likely to conduct research.

Read 25 Passion Project Ideas for High School Students to Improve College Admission Chances.

How to find research opportunities as a high school student? 

So, if research is so valuable, how do you find opportunities to do it? Unlike in college, where research universities often provide opportunities for students to get involved, high schools rarely provide research opportunities in the curriculum (AP Research or the IB extended essay being notable exceptions). With this in mind, there are two main ways to get research experience in high school.

Participate in a Research Program

The first is to take part in a research program designed for high school students. There are several options to consider, based on the kind of research you want to conduct as well as the experience you are looking to have with the program.

These could range from highly competitive national programs like Research Science Institute – a prestigious program hosted by MIT for those with an interest in STEM, to research programs based on laboratory study and hands-on experiences such as NYU’s ARISE program, a combination of lab research and college-level workshops in fields such as robotics and engineering.

If you are looking to work one on one with a research mentor, online research programs like the Lumiere Research Scholar Program can be a good fit. But if you’re looking to work with a larger research team, a program like the Simons Summer Research Program, where students can join research teams and consult faculty members, might be an option.

To help you with more options to choose from, here’s a list of 30 research programs that are available this upcoming summer that you could consider. 

Cold emailing professors/networking 

Another alternative for conducting research is to personally contact a faculty member. This can be an excellent approach to finding a research mentor and participating in a study. This is generally the most successful initial step if you have any links to faculty members through family or your school.

This usually indicates that the faculty member and the student have already established a level of trust, making it more probable for the researcher to take you on. The other option is for you to cold-email faculty members. To do this, you need to create an example email that shows why you are interested in working with the faculty member and what you would add. Here’s an example outreach email for a professor who has done research on open offices:

Cold Email Example

Subject: Helping your research – Rock Bridge High School Senior

Hi Professor Smith,

This is Stephen – a rising junior at Rock Bridge High School. I recently read your research paper on Open Offices in the Harvard Business Review, was fascinated, and wanted to reach out. Would you have 15 minutes to discuss how I could help out with your research?

For a bit of background, I’ve spent the past three years working on my skills in python and data analysis. I know that your research involves a lot of quantitative work, so I wanted to see if I could help out with that – or anything else that needs some work!

Long-term, I’m hoping to become a researcher like you. So, I’d love the opportunity to work with a researcher that I admire like yourself!


Three quick pointers to remember when cold emailing professors: 

  1. Cast a wide net 

While the email above is my tested approach to having faculty members respond to outreach emails, the reality is that what matters most is the number of professors you reach out to. Many faculty members just won’t have time, so it is important to spread out who you reach out to. I recommend reaching out to at least 25 faculty members or PhD researchers to get started.

  1. Show the value you can add to the professor

Note how above, in example #1, I talk about how I have some skills with Python that I could use to help Professor Smith’s research. I also try to draw a connection between the researcher and myself by talking about my long-term ambitions to be a researcher!

  1. Be concise and follow up

The key to the email is to keep it short, easy to read, and to the point, and remember to follow up. Sometimes (AKA a lot of the time) researchers are busy, so they might miss your first email. Don’t feel awkward following up. They will appreciate the persistence that it shows.

How do I show research experience in my college application?

So, let’s say that you’ve done the research – now what? How can you show it to potential schools? There are numerous ways to use research in the application process, from showcasing it on the activities list to writing about it in some of your main or supplementary essays.

In our most recent survey of ED admits, we found that students who were accepted ED/EA were 33% more likely to ask their research advisor for a letter of recommendation.

The key is to use the research as one piece of evidence in a larger narrative about you and your passions. The research should be related to what you wish to study and what you’ve done previously.

One of the students that worked with us on research completed an astrophysics study, for example. She went on to mention in her undergraduate essay that she used to ponder about some of these same astrophysical principles while working as a stocker at a local grocery store, and how they related to the consumer movement in the shop. Making the research an evidence point connected to other proof points of the type of student you are is the key.

One other option – Lumiere Research Scholar Program

Consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded by Harvard and Oxford researchers. The program pairs you with a full-time researcher to develop your own independent research project, in any discipline of your choice. Last year over 1500 students applied to 500 slots in the research program! You can find the application form here.

Stephen Turban

About Stephen Turban:

Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere Education and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.

You can connect with Stephen on LinkedIn

Featured Image Source: CollegeVine

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