Niche Resources

How to Beef Up Your Admissions App With an Independent Project

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

Here’s How You Can Make Your Own Independent Project in High School

Have you ever considered creating your own independent project as a high school student? Maybe you’re deeply interested in a topic that’s simply not covered in any class at your school. Or perhaps you’re looking for another way to expand your knowledge and boost your college application.

Making your own project is an excellent avenue for learning, exploring and impressing colleges. Your project may involve scientific research, but that’s not a requirement. Research is necessary and important in just about every field you can imagine. 

It’s possible to gain research experience through existing programs or projects. But if you want the creativity and freedom of making your own independent project, that’s doable too. If it sounds intimidating, don’t worry—this article will walk you through the process step-by-step. 

Benefits of Making Your Own Research Project

In addition to giving you the freedom to explore a topic you’re curious or passionate about, independent research offers plenty of exciting benefits.

You’ll grow intellectually, prepare for the rigor of college coursework, and sharpen your problem-solving skills. Depending on what sort of research you do, you may have the chance to explore a career that interests you and make valuable connections.

Plus, you’ll make a positive impression on college admissions officers. Few high school students have the determination, energy and passion to pursue an independent project, so doing so can set you apart. Colleges will see that you’re a curious learner with the initiative to pursue knowledge on your own. That’s pretty impressive!  

Your research project can strengthen several areas of your application. If your school allows you to do your project for credit, it will show up on your transcript. It’s also an activity to include on your activity list or resume. And if your research is published or receives any honors, that’s a stellar achievement to mention. You may even get some good material for your college essay, and you could work with a mentor who’s willing to write a strong letter of recommendation. 

Does Your School Have a Research Program?

First, consider whether your school already has a research program or another way to link your project to your school’s curriculum. It’s beneficial to collaborate with your school for increased access to materials, mentor and additional support. If you’re able to work with your school, you can also earn credit for your project and more easily fit it into your current schedule and obligations.

Many schools offer research classes that require students to design a project, conduct research, and write a paper that is typically submitted to national competitions. In these classes, you’ll have the freedom to research a topic that genuinely interests you. At the same time, you’ll have help learning to research effectively, write academic papers and submit your work for recognition. 

If this option isn’t available at your school, look into AP Capstone. AP Capstone is comprised of two classes, and the second class is AP Research. One requirement of AP Research is creating an in-depth research project that culminates in a major paper. Alternatively, is your project something you could do for your school or district’s Science Fair? The Science Fair provides a great way to earn recognition and awards for your work.

After exhausting these options, you can talk to your guidance counselor to learn whether your school offers independent study for credit. Independent study gives you the opportunity to create your own course curriculum, which may include a project of your choice. Ask who advises independent study and what the application process is like. 

What if none of these options are possible at your school? You can still do a project, even if you don’t receive credit. And you can still talk to your school for advice.

Is there a teacher at your school who knows a lot about the topic you’d like to explore? Can the school librarian help you with the research process and finding source material? Make the best use possible of the resources available to you.


Here’s What Actually Makes Your High School Resume

Choose a Topic

Once you’re ready to get started, it’s time to choose a topic. At first, you only need a general idea. Begin with a broad area of interest and narrow it as you begin your background research.

You do need a basic premise for your project so that you can find your mentor (that’s the next step) and begin planning your approach.

Make sure that the topic you choose is something you’re genuinely passionate about. You’ll have far more motivation to complete your research—and to complete it well—if you’re interested in what you’re learning.

Find a Mentor

If you’re doing the project formally through your school, you’re likely required to have a mentor who works there. Find someone with expertise, knowledge, or at least a solid interest in the project you want to work on. Even if you aren’t doing the project through a formal arrangement with your school, you may be able to find a teacher who is willing to assist you.

Otherwise, look for a mentor in your parents’ network or in your local community. Contact potential mentors via email or phone. Be prepared to speak knowledgeably about your project, why you want this person to be your mentor, and what sort of support you’d like from them.

Get Organized

Organization is essential for a successful research project. Staying organized will make the process much less stressful and overwhelming for you.

Here are a few tips for organization:

  • Get a calendar that you can use to write important dates and set deadlines for yourself.
  • Create a LinkedIn profile so that you can keep a record of your work and show it to internships.
  • Consider when you will have time to fit working on this project into the rest of your schedule. You can use your calendar to schedule blocks of time that don’t interfere with the rest of your commitments.
  • Choose a system for how you will organize your research notes. For instance, use a different color for each different subtopic. Or use index cards labeled by source. Label any cards with information from your first source A, cards containing information from your second source B, and so on. Include one key piece of information per card, and be sure to write down the page number (if applicable). This system will be extremely helpful as you cite your sources later.
  • Gather any other necessary materials, such as folders or binders, that will help you stay organized.

Conduct Preliminary Research

Begin researching your general topic idea so that you can narrow it down. You can find information in your school library, local library, via Google Scholar, or through databases like JSTOR.

Once you’ve narrowed your topic down, phrase it as a question. Phrasing your topic as a question makes it easier to come up with research keywords and find the information you need.

Check to make sure that there is a good amount of source material available for your topic. If you’re finding too little information, you may need to broaden your topic. If there’s an overwhelming amount of information, narrow your topic some more.

3 Things You Should Learn Before College

Write a Thesis Statement

After completing your preliminary research and deciding on a question for your paper, it’s time to write a thesis statement. You can revise this statement later, but it will give you direction as you dive deeper into your research.

Your thesis statement should answer the question you’re asking. It’s the roadmap for your research paper, as the rest of your paper will focus on providing evidence that supports your thesis.

Gather Materials and Sources

With a clearer direction for your project, gather necessary materials and choose the sources you will use. You should aim for around 10 solid, reliable sources. 

Research should pass the CRAAP test: The information is current and relevant, it’s from a reliable source that has authority on the subject, it’s accurate and supported by evidence, and you understand the source’s purpose (to inform, entertain, persuade).

How will you know if a source is reliable? You may have heard of the CRAAP test for evaluating your research. It stands for:

  • Currency—If your topic requires current information, make sure your sources are up to date. 
  • Relevant—Your sources should answer the question you’re asking and help you support your thesis statement.
  • Authority—Who is the author or publisher of the source? What are their credentials, and why are they qualified to write on this topic? 
  • Accuracy—Is there a way to verify the information? Is it supported by evidence? Has it been peer reviewed? Do you notice any errors that make the information seem less credible?
  • Purpose—What is the purpose of this source: to inform/educate, entertain, sell, or persuade? Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda? Is there any reason that the author/publisher might be biased?

Answering these questions will help you ensure that the sources you’re using will create a reliable and accurate foundation for your research.

Write and Edit Your Paper

Finally, you’ll need to write and edit your paper. Don’t try to write your entire paper in one sitting. Schedule a block of time to write your introduction, then do a couple of body paragraphs at a time, then finish with your conclusion. Proof your paper for grammatical mistakes, clarity and concision. Remove any instances of repetition or unnecessary information.

It’s a great idea to have your mentor and another trusted adult review your work and make suggestions too. Make sure that you use quotation marks any time you quote directly from a source, and cite all of your information properly.

Publish Your Work

Publishing means displaying your final product, however you’d like to do so. If you’re working through your school, you might make a presentation or post your final paper in a forum. Otherwise, you might submit your paper to a formal publication or journal for consideration.

Another option is to enter your project in a state or national competition, which your mentor or guidance counselor can help you find. Whatever you do, it’s important to recognize your work as a finished product of your hard work and persistence.

Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.