Maximizing College Admissions with Research Experience

High school students who participate in research programs may have a greater chance of gaining admission to top universities, according to a recent study.

The study surveyed 259 students who participated in a research program and found that around 65% of students who wrote about their research in a primary essay were offered early admission. Furthermore, almost half of all students who asked their mentors for a recommendation letter secured positive early decisions.

In the early admissions cycle, students who participated in the research program received offers from 6 out of 8 Ivy League universities and Stanford University. Additionally, 19 out of 113 respondents who applied to top universities were accepted in the early admissions cycle, which makes them 40% more likely to be admitted than the general pool.

The data suggests that successful students don’t just list their research as an activity - they provide context and description either through an essay or by mentioning it in interviews. Additionally, mentors provide great external validation - not just because most of them are from top universities but also due to the unique and intensive nature of their engagement with the student, they are able to offer novel insights into the scholar’s capabilities. A significant number of students asked their mentors for letters of recommendation.

Research also provides a tangible addition to the profile - many students attached their research papers as part of their application. In fact, some students even sent them as STEM supplementals. The data suggests that many of these students had favorable results in the early round too.

Overall, this study suggests that participating in a research program can have a significant impact on a student's chances of being accepted to top universities. It's important for high school students to consider participating in research programs to enhance their college applications.

While the research sample size is not particularly large, the results may offer valuable insights for students looking to position their research in their college applications. The data suggests that including research in a primary essay, asking for a recommendation letter from a mentor, and attaching research papers as part of the application can all lead to more favorable outcomes in the admissions process. These findings are encouraging for students who are currently engaged in research and may inspire more students to pursue research opportunities in the future.


  • Turban, Stephen, and Dhruva Bhat. "Positioning Research in College Applications." Lumiere Education, 2021.

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