Does original research look good on college applications?

Would an original research paper in Astronomy help admissions to top colleges?

Yes, it should help as it reflects several qualities that the most selective schools seek in an applicant.

The answer is that yes, it can help, and possibly a great deal.

But you have to understand that most admissions departments have no idea how to rate the quality of your paper. They might send it off the astronomy department for their review, but might not.

Instead, what you really want is some type of external validation as to the quality of the paper. Ideally that would be publication in a high-impact peer reviewed journal. But that can easily take more than a year.

Other ways to get recognition include submission into science competition at the state and national level, such as the Regeneron competitions.

Have you already published your paper on

Upping the “might not” to “probably not” unless it was a very high profile publication

Many, many, many applicants to the super-selectives apply with research experience and quite a lot apply with some form of research publication. Original research, published in a recognized journal/platform, is indeed notable for a high school student (not least because the lag time between completing the work and the review process means that the work would most likely be completed by earlyish in Junior year).

And…I have just taken a stroll through your other posts. Cumulatively they paint a picture of somebody who is hyper-focused on a couple of schools (Harvard, MIT), with some resistance to information that contradicts what you have “heard”- even when it is demonstrated that what you have “heard” is simply wrong.

Even before Covid school this fall was always likely to be harder: in Junior year the standard expected jumps, and it is not uncommon for high-achieving students to encounter challenging work for the first time. It is also when your EC involvement should be taking a jump up, with leadership or higher level participation demanding more from you.

Have you read this, from MIT admissions?

It is the truest thing going, and applies to any of the super-selective schools.

So I don’t need a ton of ECs to get into the schools that interest me?

By the way. What info exactly have I heard wrong?

I am asking this seriously: are you just messing with us? did you actually read the MIT admissions piece?

If you are serious, go re-read the many responses you have gotten on your various threads, paying particular attention to the ones from moderators (like @skieurope) and a bunch of the super-experienced posters (like @lookingforward, @ucbalumnus, @RichinPitt, @DadTwoGirls and @Eeyore123) who have all taken time to give you the same message:

It’s quality > quantity, depth with breadth…

It’s true to you > ticking boxes.

There is no magic bullet.

The kinds of people who get into the kinds of schools that you are talking about are running their own races: pushing themselves to do their best, immersing themselves in things they really care about, figuring out who they are and where they want to go in the world.

Oh my apologies, I know ask to many questions. Thanks for the advice.

Since, as others have mentioned, you seem to be focusing on admissions to MIT or Harvard as though these are your central goal in high school, it is time, in my opinion, to give you The Talk.

The problem is that many students have an idea that they should spend their entire high school years they can build themselves into one of the students that AOs will decide that they need. The point of you time in high school is not to create a profile that the AOs at Harvard or MIT (or Yale Or UPenn, etc) may want more than they want other applicants.

You should not be making your four years of high school into a time where you do your best to fulfill the needs of a small number of colleges. That is ridiculous.

The point of high school is to make sure that you gain the basic knowledge that you need, the basic academic and behavioral skills that you need. It is a time for you to explore your interests, your passions, your strengths and weaknesses. It is a time to start building up the person you will be, the person you want to be.

Focus on figuring out what you want, what you need, what you like doing. Then, when you are applying to colleges, find the colleges which meet your needs and can provide what you want, and those are the colleges to which you should apply. And I am absolutely certain that you will succeed, thrive, and fully take advantage of your four years of college. It will not matter whether those are Harvard, MIT, Yale, or whether they are Tulane, WashU, U Michigan, U Wisconsin, Ohio State, U Iowa, U Nevada, Western Michigan University, or New Mexico State. Maybe you’ll fall in love with Liberal Arts colleges, and find that Bowdoin or Williams is best. Maybe Kenyon or St Olaf’s will be the best fit, maybe Occidental or Pomona or Kalamazoo.

So long as a college fits YOU, that college is The Right College for you. There will also be more than one college in the category of "colleges which fit you.

Do as well as you possibly can in high school (and with your extracurricular activities), and, in the second half of your junior year, use your high school successes and setbacks, your passions and your dislikes, your weaknesses and strengths, and use these, along with your needs, preferences, and limitations, and start building a list of colleges which will provide you with what you need to succeed.

@Sci Fi geek 19, it’s not that you ask too many questions- it’s that you aren’t listening to the answers.

*ps, you asked for an example of what you have heard wrong: “I’ve also read that most of your course schedule should be based on your major” is wrong. You imply that you have heard that you need “a ton of ECs”, which is also not accurate.

The sort of CC kids who try to find the formula…well, they miss the point so entirely. It’s neither a crapshoot nor about some expertise.

It’s about qualities, assets, energies, the right vision and how you pursue that. (And a record of excellence. )

“not to create a profile that the AOs at Harvard or MIT (or Yale Or UPenn, etc) may want more than they want other applicants.”

Distinct problem is most kids have no idea what AOs do want. They think it’s like hs. They skip to this notion there’s a formula, eg, do some research, start some blog, collect titles in hs clubs, whatever. But these colleges aren’t looking for that.

They want a quality of activation. A level of thinking that manifests in your choices. Yup, depth and breadth. Drives, curiosity, as well as committed, challenging, compassionate actions. Evidenced in your choices through hs. And relevant.

Not another bump on a log looking for…formula.

No problem having interests, joining some club just for fun or whatever. Not everything has to have some grand purpose. But to be competitive for a tippy top, it takes more.

Why would a potential history major, as indicated in another thread, be doing astro research?

It is absolutely true that it is extremely difficult for a student to have any level of serious accomplishment in their extracurricular activities if their main drive is “I want to be accepted to a prestigious college”. Very few people, and even fewer teenagers, can fake interest and passion, and without these, there is almost no possibility of any serious extracurricular engagement.

By the way, the use of the term “tippy top”, and other such terminology implies that these colleges only select the objectively Very Best Of The best of all applicants, and that the difference between students who are accepted to these colleges and those who aren’t is based on absolute, objective measures of quality. This is in direct contradiction with the claim that “there is no formula”. A set of absolute and objective criteria in which a students has to rank higher than other students is, by definition, a formula.

The main reason that there is no formula is because the AOs at these colleges aren’t looking for the objectively “best students”. They are looking for the students who are the best for the college during that specific applications season.

Most popular colleges look at the unhooked applicants to fulfill the “bucket” of “academically highly accomplished”, so therefore, unhooked applicants generally need high GPAs and test scores, etc, to be considered.

However, one of the factors which is used by AOs to determined whether to accept an applicant is extracurricular activities. So, while nobody can predict which activities at which levels will increase ones likelihood of being admitted in any particular year, serious engagement in extracurricular activities (including employment) is required for any unhooked applicant (and most hooked ones as well), if they want to be considered.

To an AO, your research is just another EC. If it fits into the story you’re telling and helps paint the right overall picture in the mind of your application reader, so much the better. No AO is an expert in the subject area like astronomy. TBH, no research by a high school student in a field like astronomy is likely to be original enough and deep enough to rise to the level that the AO will send it to a professor in the field. If it is, you don’t need to go to college, any college. So from your perspective, you’re well advised to assume your research is just a very nice EC, but not much more than that.