Do you want to research over the summer with the help of experienced mentors? Do you want to meet with peers who share similar interests in the sciences as you? Do you want to explore campus life at MIT?
If you said yes to all of the above, then the Research Science Institute is perfect for you! While it is a highly selective program, this prestigious cost-free summer program hosted by MIT ensures their participants will get to explore their desired research project extensively. Read this article to learn more about the program and how you can get accepted.
What is the Research Science Institute?
First started in 1984, the Research Science Institute (RSI) is an international summer research program for high school students. RSI is sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Education (CEE) and hosted by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts every summer.
During the first week of the program, students will take intensive STEM courses, but during the five weeks afterwards, participants experience the entirety of the research cycle from start to finish. They read the most current literature in their field, create a detailed research plan, and receive guidance from experienced scientists and researchers. During the final week of RSI, these projects are published in a written report and delivered through oral presentations.
Where can I see past RSI projects?
Distinguished written papers and oral presentations in 2022 can be found here. Topics can range from a variety of subjects, such as mathematics, biology, physics, and robotics. Therefore, no matter which area of STEM you want to study, it is likely that you’ll be able to explore that area within RSI.
Is RSI prestigious?
This research program is highly prestigious. RSI is known globally for its excellent curriculum and research opportunities. With the program’s association with MIT and zero costs, the program is eyed by many aspiring high school students in STEM.
Due to its stellar reputation, RSI is very difficult to get into. While they receive over 1,600 applications yearly, only 100 high school students are selected.
In fact, getting into RSI pretty much signals that you’ll be accepted to MIT, along with many top level universities like the Ivy League!
Who is eligible?
The eligibility criteria is very simple: those who are entering their final year of high school are allowed to apply. This typically describes high school juniors, or those in the third year or in grade 11. High school seniors are not allowed to apply.
It is recommended that PSAT Math Scores be at least 740 or higher and the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Score be 700 or higher. ACT math scores should be at least 33 and verbal scores at least 34. Those with lower scores must show strong indicators of potential in other areas of STEM and academics, such as in recommendations, high school grades, and science activities.
Applicants are divided into two categories:
U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents. All U.S. students, including U.S. Citizens studying overseas, with one year remaining before graduation from high school, may apply to RSI. U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents applications are submitted directly to CEE. Students are not nominated or selected by their schools. Successful applicants will have demonstrated superior scholastic achievement in mathematics, the sciences, and verbal arts. They will have shown the potential for leadership in science and mathematics through their activities in and beyond the classroom.
International Applicants. Each participating country has its own selection procedure and selection schedule. Please contact Ms. Maite Ballestero, Executive Vice President of Programs to determine if your country participates. If it does, her team will put you in contact with the appropriate representative at the agency conducting selection for your country. For more information, click here.
What must the application include?
Each student must submit:
Essay responses to the questions in the application, such as his or her goals in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.
Recommendations by two teachers (Math/Science or a research supervisor). Applicants who have participated in a research project of 4 weeks or longer at a university or a laboratory should request a recommendation from the research supervisor.
Maximum of 3 recommendation letters are accepted.
Official high school transcript.
All scores from nationwide standardized tests, including the PSAT, SAT, ACT, and AP exams.
Students planning to apply for RSI are strongly encouraged to take the PSAT.
When is the deadline for RSI?
Applications for the 2023 cohort have closed. Every year, US applicants have a deadline of January 15th, while international students have the deadline of March 15th.
All components of the application, including essay responses, transcript, test scores, and application fee of $60, will need to be submitted by the deadline.
Tips to get into RSI:
RSI can be hard to get into, but with the right preparation, you can show the admissions committee that you are committed to the field of STEM.
Tip #1: Prioritize academics and letters of recommendation.
The first step is to have high grades in your schoolwork. It’s expected that participants of the program are passionate about schoolwork, and therefore, being able to present high grades in your transcript will be useful. Moreover, because of RSI’s emphasis on STEM, students are encouraged to take rigorous courses in math, science, and engineering. It is useful to take AP Physics 1/C and AP Calculus AB/BC, for example.
Not only will this prove your commitment to academia, but also it will allow you to have good relations with many of your teachers, who you can ask for recommendations when you are able to apply. Make sure to pay special attention in your math and science courses to build a good repertoire. Then, at least 6 weeks before the deadline of the application, you can ask for recommendations from teachers that know you best from your sophomore or junior year.
Tip #2: Achieve high standardized exam scores.
The next step is to take standardized exams. While they are not explicitly required, having high test scores can significantly boost your chances of acceptance. If you have taken AP classes, be sure you receive 4s or 5s if possible. Be prepared to register for the PSAT, which is administered only once every year during October. The last year that you can take it before you can apply for RSI is in 11th grade, so it may be helpful to take it in earlier years. SAT or ACT scores may be submitted as well, but it’s not necessary.
Tip #3: Participate in STEM competitions.
Try out STEM competitions. For example, joining your local science olympiad team and excelling in regional, state, and national levels will highlight your skills in science. If you’d prefer engineering, then you may join your school’s robotics club for contests and projects, or you can win medals in coding competitions like the USACO. There are a plethora of other competitions, including but not limited to Chemistry Olympiad, Math Olympiad, the USA Computing Olympiad, Regeneron ISEF, the Harvard/MIT Mathematics Tournament, and the MIT THINK Scholars Program. Find a STEM subject you are passionate about and you’ll definitely find a competition that will match your interests.
Tip #4: Obtain prior research experience.
Example Student Profile: Puja Chopade
Everyone’s application is and should be different, but it may be helpful to see previous acceptee’s profiles – while they shouldn’t be copied, they can serve as an inspiration as to what you can do for your application.
Puja Chopade was a junior at Bob Jones High School when she was accepted into RSI 2022, which accepted only 81 students at the time.
Her achievements included being ranked as the second-place finalist in Pathophysiology at the Future Health Professionals State Leadership Conference in early 2021, and her Science Bowl team claimed the regional title. Moreover, she served as the President and co-founder of Bob Jones Science Academy, which hosts the Bob Jones Science Challenge. She also claimed the title of 2021 Alabama Brain Bee Champion, a neuroscience competition aht is affiliated with the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Moreover, she explored her hobbies in chess. She was an accomplished chess player in Madison City Chess League and was the Assistant Tournament Director of at the 2021 Fall Scholars Tournament. The year prior, she placed top ten in the 2020 Madison City SChools Tournament in the K-12 Open Section and tied for third place in the U1200 section of the Alabama State Chess Champions.
To highlight her strengths and why she was accepted, Puja’s application clearly showcased her competence in science, particularly in competitions that involved physiology. Not only did she win awards, but she held leadership positions as well, which showed her deep involvement and commitment to these communities. Finally, while not directly related to STEM, her hobby in chess proved that she had outside interests and contributed to the admissions officers’ content of her character.
Overall, Puja was strong in many areas. Her extracurricular activities, leadership experience, and diverse range of interests undoubtedly stood out, and led to her acceptance – therefore, adding these elements to your application can help you as well!
All in all, it’s incredibly crucial that you are a student who is deeply interested in STEM in order to highlight your skills to RSI. The advice listed above can provide you with a good framework for not only other summer program applications, but also applications for college when you start applying in senior year. Start early as soon as possible and don’t be afraid to pursue different interests!
If you are interested in doing university-level research or preparing for competitive programs like RSI, then you could consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Also check out the Lumiere Research inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.
Lydia is currently a sophomore at Harvard University, studying Molecular and Cellular Biology. During high school, she pursued engineering activities like attending the Governor's School of Engineering and Technology. In her spare time, she likes to create digital art while listening to music.
Image source: Research Science Institute