Applying to T20s as a bio major with no research experience

I’m applying to T20s as a potential biology major, and all of my internships this summer have been cancelled due to COVID except for an online program with the FDA. Because of this, I have no research/lab experience whatsoever. Do I still have a chance of getting into these schools without any published research papers or significant research projects? Should I even apply? Or should I apply as a less competitive major, like anthropology?

If you don’t get in, it won’t be because of that. So yes, you should apply if you have competitive test scores, high GPA in challenging courses, interesting and meaningful extracurriculars and fantastic essays.

None of the schools that I can think of in that category are places that admit by major for Bio- and anthro would not be an easier admit. Bio is pretty much always a big subject, so ‘getting in’ to the major is not a problem.

The majority of students don’t have research experience when they apply to college- and everybody knows that this summer has been a challenge for students.

Completely my opinion, but especially if you’re Asian and pre-med, applying for Bio at a T20 w/o research is extremely difficult (at least at my school, most that did get in had lots of research experience/science fairs etc.) I didn’t have any research experience either, but I did have a job that was public health-related and had taken some classes in the field, so wrote my essays for public health instead of Bio (you can always double major like me or change your major once you’re admitted at most T20s.) n=1, but I was rejected by all the T20s (Columbia, Cornell etc.) that I had applied for Bio b/c they didn’t have a standalone public health major/in a different school, but the ones that did accept me (Berkeley, Vanderbilt, Brown, and USC) I had applied for Public Health.

What’s most important for selective admissions is the “story” your application’s trying to tell. What major do your essays/interview/letters/extracurriculars etc. show, not tell, you’re interested in? If you’ll have a stronger application for a major other than Bio, then apply for that major IMO (but make sure you’ll be able to switch majors or double major if you want.) Admissions Offices definitely understand that this year is different from others, but many applicants (especially BS/MD ones,) have been conducting research for a few months to years. However, at the end of the day, decisions about your application are yours to make, not anyone else’s.

Hope that helps! Good luck with admissions!

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Thank you guys so much for the insights! I’m an Asian female applying as pre-med, so hearing @PikachuRocks15 's experience is kind of worrisome. I was thinking about applying as an economics/business major instead, since I was planning to double major later on, but the only thing is that most of my ECs are science related (Science Olympiad, Biology Club, HOSA, etc.). The only business-related activity I have is DECA. I did also consider applying as a public health major after my summer program, but I don’t have any activities that are associated with the public policy side of the major. My current Common App essay doesn’t focus on my extracurriculars at all, but rather my curiosity and worldly perspective. Do you have any advice for me that would maximize my chances?

@biobiz Messaged you. :smile:

@PikachuRocks15, what is the basis for your belief that the reason you didn’t get into Columbia or Cornell as a Bio major is that they don’t have a standalone public health major? I fid that implausible, especially for Cornell.

Applying for anything at a “T-20” is extremely difficult. The ones who get in are typically go-getters who have done a lot of whatever they do- whether that is research or something else. Student’s are evaluated in context- if you live in a place with a lot of research options, that’s great- but not everybody does.

@biobiz, be true to yourself: put the pieces of what you have done, and what you think you would like to do together, and tell that story. Gaming majors at schools like Columbia and Cornell misses the point. Those colleges do NOT admit by major (for Bio), and they know that many, many students change their intended major- and that is fine with them b/c it is part of the education process. It’s not a matter of “proving” your credentials for your proposed major- it is a matter of showing that you are a really strong, academically ambitious student who will be an asset to the college community. That can be through amazing major-related ECs- but does not have to be.

@collegemom3717 I stated in my first comment that this is completely MY OPINION. Also, I never said I was rejected from Columbia and Cornell BECAUSE I applied for Bio, only the FACT that I had applied for Biology there (Cornell does have public health in CALS, but I applied to CAS due to other interests only available in CAS) and was rejected, but was accepted at some other T20s where I applied for Public Health.

I did say in the last paragraph of my post that what’s most important for selective admissions is the story your application tells. For me, my story was stronger for Public Health vs. Biology as I had no research experience while those around me who were also applying for Bio at the same schools did. Many of the same applicants applying to BS/MD programs will also apply to top undergrads for pre-med, and these applicants tend to have months, if not years of research during high school. As OP has experience in Public Health from a summer program, I recommended applying to that instead as you’ll have more to talk about in interview/essays, but the final decision’s up to the OP.

Oh boy.

High school students are not expected to have done research in order to study biology at any school. Biology is an incredibly popular major at most colleges. Additionally, colleges know that a huge proportion of students change their majors. A Biology major this year might decide next year to study English. A psych major can decide to study chemistry. A History major can apply to med school.

I know plenty of students at T20 colleges. None did any research in high school. Yes, you have a chance at T20 schools if you are a competitive applicant. And there is nothing wrong with studying anthropology if there is an interest in studying anthropology.

@Lindagaf , I’m of the same mind as you, but I’m not sure anymore. There was a time Id absolutely, positively say that bio, premed, chem majors certainly are not expected to have research experience. I know ever so many who went the most selective programs and schools in the country without any such thing. High grades like among top 3-5 in the class, taking the holy trinity of sciences and at least an AP science, the most difficult curriculum incl Calc if offered, and high test scores with SAT2s or AP test scores up there in the sciences. That would do you.

Now it seems like these kids are doing research projects, some I suspect pay to get to get the opportunity in some university research Lab as part of a team and get their names on some publication, or byline anyways. I know where I lived some highschools were farming out their kids to do any number of research projects, some for the Siemans or other known awards, but all worked with researchers and completed some “original” research.

I don’t know for sure if these experiences are viewed like those junkets abroad doing some 3rd world community service which seemed to be the thing for a while, or if it’s a bump up in what unhooked, advantaged high school kids have to do these days like internships now for college students.

Is There someone in highly selective admissions or who can get info in the such that can let us know?

Ok, I’m going to preface this AGAIN that this is my OPINION, it’s not representative or every school or person.

@cptofthehouse ^This is what I’ve observed over the past few years at my school. It regularly sends 20-30 kids to T20s and most of them (not all) admitted for Bio/pre-med have done research whether through a summer internship or on their own time through science fair. It’s definitely not a requirement, but when a ton of other students from your school have research experience and you don’t have a similar experiential experience, it can be difficult to compete, especially when the private schools are each taking less than 20-30 students across the entire state. At my school, there’s definitely an expectation that if you want to go to a T20, you’ll need to do an internship or something else (like competitions) to SHOW colleges that you’ve explored your major apart from just schoolwork.

@cptofthehouse , yes, I suspect for quite a few students, it’s a paid thing. Or a student does paperwork for a doctor during the summer and calls it research. And there are students who do Science Research as a class at school, which is fair enough.

So perhaps there are kids putting their Sci Research class on their resume or whatever, but are T20 colleges expecting that for Bio majors? Why not start expecting kids to submit research and publications on anything they intend to study? After all, one can research anything. I do hope this isn’t the latest trend, because it’s not like high school students aren’t doing enough already. If that’s the case though, I would love to hear from someone who knows.

@MYOS1634 is quite knowledgeable. Any insight?

I think this is off-center on the causality part. True, the top-tiers want to see how a student has invested themselves in something of consequence, and expect to see achievements above the average.

That can be exploring your academic interests beyond the classroom- but it can be other things as well. As @cptofthehouse pointed, it is a bit of a moving target: highly motivated students / students in competitive secondary schools / students in academically competitive areas figure out that doing X looks good / makes you stand out, and then lots of them start doing X. For a while, it does carry some weight- until a tipping point is reached and either everybody is doing it (eg, the years of start your own non-profit) and/or it gets debased by the way it’s being done (hello “service trips” to poor countries), and the goal posts move again.

For your school, @PikachuRocks15, having good research credentials if you are an aspiring STEM student may be so standard now that not having some would stand out- but we don’t know anything about the OP’s school. There aren’t that many schools that regularly send " 20-30 kids to T20s", so you are swimming in rarified waters to start with. I can tell you that in the last 2 towns/regions I have lived in a student applying with research would be a novelty- the opportunities just aren’t there. Context matters.

My guess and opinion is that colleges are not expecting research and publications in other fields, such as the liberal arts is because Is because it hasn’t become the thing to do. Or, to the opposite extreme, it’s become too common with blogs, zines and other social media that weary AOs just don’t want to deal with it. I’m not seeing the same kind of prevalence Of research/internship/publication in those majors, for whatever reason, and I can confidently say those kids are getting into top schools without that. Can’t say the same about the Natural Sciences because most everyone seems to have some stint in research. I just don’t know

I do know that a lot of the applicants to the Architecture programs, and other portfolio driven applications are doing stints at pre college programs to get the danged thing put together. Kinda unfair to those who don’t know this or can’t afford one of those programs.

I’d like to hear from someone who knows more about this

@collegemom3717 True, context is extremely important, especially for selective admissions. I just wanted to provide my own observations about the importance of research for Bio (I myself had no research experience, but a lot of other applicants do so at the local med school/universities nearby,) especially b/c OP’s questions were research-specific so I assumed that other applicants they knew did research. If an applicant lives in a place w/o access to such opportunities, Admissions officers wouldn’t hold that against them, but if they do have multiple such opportunities, then IMO admissions officers would expect them from applicants b/c the opportunities exist and are more plentiful. The same goes for AP classes: my school offered 20 so most T20 students took ~15, but a school offering 3-4 wouldn’t be reviewed the same way.

Just my 2 cents. :smile:

Thank you all for the input! To clarify for @collegemom3717, @PikachuRocks15, and anyone else wondering; I go to a competitive high school in the Mid-Atlantic region. I’d say my school sends about anywhere from 10-25 students to T20s each year. Normally, research experience is pretty much an expected summer activity, but due to COVID, many of the research internships in our area have been cancelled this summer. I was born in the summer, so I couldn’t participate in many of the research programs offered during previous years due to their age requirements. I guess the ultimate question would come down to whether or not other people are finding ways to conduct research remotely or online, and if colleges are expecting people to actively seek out those opportunities even during COVID. Do you all have any insights?

Original research in high school? Why would you need to go college then (for an undergraduate degree mind you)? Please…If AOs are still falling for this I’m surprised. Anecdotal evidence, n=1 story: back when I was in grad school a couple of decades ago, I took a high schooler under my wing over the summer as a favor to my advisor who was doing a favor to someone else, you get the gist. High schooler was a fine kid but not one I would write a glowing recommendation letter for. My advisor did however, even though he never interacted with said student, and guess where the student ended up…Harvard. Sometimes I read these chance-me threads and think these kids appear more accomplished at 16 than I was at 30. Many of these kids also attribute a B grade to depression and mental health problems. Something doesn’t compute. My first kid is about to apply to college and that is why I have been perusing these threads (lots of great information! Thanks experienced posters). I’m leaning towards advising my kid to not apply to any T20s. The kids that are dreaming (Or rather obsessing) of attending these schools worry me. Sorry for highjacking your thread @biobiz. If you love biology apply for a biology major. Your time for lab work will come. It suits some people more than others. I’m a microscopy junkie myself (not biological materials) but didn’t get to do much of it until grad school. I wish you all the best in your future studies.

@teleia Not original research, but assisting with research through established internship programs is very common at my school for T20 admits (though those going to HYPSM from my school won national awards for their research/science fair.)

There is research and there is research. I do not think that any college is looking for some college-level original research, but more of the AP Research, or a summer working in a lab as a high school “intern”, a high school science fair project, etc - something which demonstrates interest in biological research.

I know that, of the kids from my daughter’s graduating class who were accepted to “top” colleges (some 25 or 30) most were going for STEM, but no more than 5 had anything beyond that high-school level research.

I think that, if their application, a students claims to have deep interest in biological research, but has done nothing proactive in the matter, that can count against them. However, I am also sure that a students who talks about their dream of being a doctor who has volunteered in a hospital will not be considered any less serious of an applicant than one who has done a high school research project.

@PikachuRocks15 my daughter has a friend that “participated” in such an organized/established internship for a HEFTY fee. With that kind of money he could have bought a used microscope (sorry, I love microscopes) and devised and directed his own research. There is the risk in that scenario that (gasp!) he wouldn’t have been able to publish, win anything for his own ideas and nobody would have written a rec letter for him. You can’t be averse to failure and disappointment if you want to do any sort of cutting edge research. And that is why I take the research that your peers conduct with a grain of salt.