Independent Research Projects in High School

Last updated Jul 25, 2023 

Looking for a way to stand out on your college application and learn more about a topic you love? Independent research projects are becoming an increasingly popular addition to high school students’ college resumes. These projects can be adapted for almost any subject a student would like to explore in more depth: a psychological study of the effects of social media on mental health or a historical investigation into the role of local Quakers in the abolitionist movement, for example. Tackling a research project on your own sounds daunting, especially if you don’t know where to start. Continue reading to learn more about the benefits of conducting independent research in high school, the research and writing process, and the best ways to show off your work. 

What It Is

Independent research projects involve students in the process of answering a research question without necessarily being connected to a specific class or graduation requirement. This sort of research typically requires students to conduct a literature review, gather data or run an experiment, analyze data, and produce a final product that can be anything from a formal research paper to a poster presentation. Students who are interested in taking on an independent research project in high school should start by talking to their counselor who can talk to you about either registering for your school’s AP Capstone program, which includes AP Research, or set up an independent study program for credit. Counselors may also be able to suggest possible mentors at school or in the community.

Why You Should Do It

There are several benefits of completing an independent research project:

  • Dig deeper into a subject or issue that interests you.
  • Create something that you can share with others that offers a new perspective or addresses a problem that matters to you.
  • Develop critical thinking, data analysis, and writing skills that will pay off in college and beyond.
  • Build relationships with mentors and other experts who can inspire you, provide importanting networking links, and write letters of recommendation.
  • Demonstrate sought after qualities like academic ability and work ethic.
  • Stand out during the college application process.

If all of the above sound good to you, and you can honestly say you’re up for the challenge, then seriously consider adding an independent research project to your high school plans.

How to Do It

Once you’ve decided to take on an independent research project, the next step is to start the research process. Although the process will be different for every student because no research project is exactly the same, there are some general steps to follow:

  1. Narrow down your topic. An independent research project is a big commitment, so choose a topic that you’re excited to learn more about. A good topic is one that goes beyond a broad area of study and zeroes in on something more specific. For example, a topic like climate change could be narrowed down to biological methods to reduce microplastics. Read a few non-academic books, magazines, or online articles to get some ideas.
  2. Look for a mentor. Identify a teacher at your school who has a background and interest in the topic you’re interested in researching. If it’s not possible to find a teacher who has the expertise or availability to guide you through the research process, look outside of school at local colleges or consider the idea of working with someone remotely. It’s important to be prepared to reach out to prospective mentors. Be familiar with their background, share the reasons why they were chosen, and clearly articulate your needs and expectations.
  3. Decide on your research question. Take your narrowed down research topic and think about a specific question you want your research project to answer. As you formulate your question, consider a realistic scope for your research in terms of time commitment, available resources, and the limits of your academic skills. 
  4. Review existing research. Although you’ve already decided on your research question, a literature review of prior relevant research will ensure that you begin your research with a solid background on your topic and help you refine your research question in order to guarantee your research will offer something new to your field of study.
  5. Develop a research plan. This is where your time management and organizational skills come in. A timeline with key tasks and a comprehensive list of must-have resources, such as lab equipment or access to primary source documents, will keep you on track on and on schedule. Your plan should also take into consideration how you will collect and analyze data.
  6. Collect data. Data for an independent research project can come in many forms, but the most common sources of data are surveys and experiments. Students conducting literary or historical research are more likely to collect data in the form of works of literature, primary sources, or census data.
  7. Analyze data. The goal of analyzing the data from your research is to answer your research question. This stage of the research process can be a difficult one for students who have conducted quantitative research, but lack a strong background in statistical analysis. Qualitative research, on the other hand, involves methods like evaluating patterns, themes, or the frequency of ideas.
  8. Share your research. Research is usually shared with others in the form of a research paper, a poster, or a presentation.

How A+ Can Help

Curious, creative, and compassionate students who are looking for ways to expand their education outside of the traditional classroom setting should consider independent research as a way to pursue their passions and solve problems. Beyond providing an enriching academic experience that will impress colleges, independent research gives students the opportunity to develop organizational and writing skills while also forming important relationships with mentors and other experts. If you do decide to pursue independent research in high school, A+ Test Prep and Tutoring can provide support with our Academic Tutoring services. Our Executive Function Coaching program is also a great option for those students who are interested in independent research, but who may need some help with organization and time management.

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, we can be reached at 215-886-9188 or email us at


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