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College Admissions: Research and Internship Explanations that Get Noticed

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

 

Photo Credit: iStock

I spend time in January as an application reader for a highly selective college, and many students have done research at a university or internships with a company. That’s terrific and impressive!

Unfortunately, these great experiences are often poorly explained in the application.

I want to know what you researched and what your role was. For example, I might see an entry that says “Intern, Dr. Ko’s neuroscience lab at UCLA.” I am interested, but I don’t know how to consider this without more information. Is Dr. Ko your uncle? Does he have 20 high school interns, or are you the only one amidst seven undergrads and three grad students? Did you find this internship on your own or was it an advertised opportunity, and did you compete for a spot through an application and interview process? What is Dr. Ko’s lab researching? (Sure, I can look that up on the internet, but if I only have 20–30 minutes to spend on your application, do you want me to use some of my time on internet research?) What was your specific task? Did you review hundreds of journal articles and decide which ones his research group actually needed to read? Did you code recorded life narratives that were compared with MRI brain activity? Did you learn to use some specialized equipment or software?

I realize that there is a character limit on your Common Application or school-specific activities list. Use the “additional information” space to write a few sentences that help me understand how you spent your research/internship time. Leaving the reader confused or wondering doesn’t work in your favor.

Here are the basic facts the reader wants to know:

  • Name of lab or company and where it is 
  • What the lab or company does 
  • What you did there 
  • How much time you spent
  • Contact info for your supervisor

 

Here is what that might look like:

Research Example
Oregon Health & Science University 
Lab Assistant at the Brain Institute 
May 2014–present 
Five hours per week in school year; 20 hours per week in summer
Contact: Dr. X at Y email address

  • Examined the impact of drug and alcohol abuse on the adolescent brain through brain imaging and clinical trials
  • Examined the impact of music therapy on subjects with brain-based disorders 
  • Developed curriculum for school-based brain awareness campaign (http://www.ohsu.edu/blogs/brain/2014/10/24/teenagers-brain-neuroscience/)
  • Implemented brain awareness campaign at Riverdale High School; working to spread campaign to Portland Public Schools 

 

Internship Example
Oregon Museum of Science & Industry
Exhibit Intern for “Access Algebra” project (exhibit named “Design Zone”)
Summer 2008, 30 hours per week
Contact: Ms. A at B email address

  • OMSI had a $2.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create a touring exhibit of hands-on math activities
  • I read over 300 academic papers about hands-on math research and noted what had proven effective
  • I prepared, led, and documented hands-on math activities for an exhibit test group of 10–14-year-olds at the local Boys & Girls Club
  • Based on test group results, I drew potential exhibit components for consideration

 

Jodi Walder is the founder of Portland, Oregon-based College Admission Coach LLC, which helps students identify and gain admission to right-fit schools where they will thrive academically and personally. Contact her at [email protected].

 

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