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Opportunities for the motivated student
akshaj kadaveru
anish karpurapu
nikhil sardana
joshua lee
franklyn wang

Eric Lin
Justin Zhang

Neil Thistlethwaite
Aaditya Singh

John Kim
Mihir Patel





1.1 Disclaimer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1.2 Overview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1.3 The Scope of This Book . . . . . . . . . . .
general rules and guidelines
classes and clubs
3.1 Summer Classes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.2 Skip Tests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.3 AP Physics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
3.4 Other Curriculum Information . . . . . . .
3.5 Activities and Clubs . . . . . . . . . . . . .
carpe diem
5.1 Internships . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
olympiad camps
6.1 Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program
6.2 USA Computing Olympiad Camp . . . . .
6.3 USA Biology Olympiad Camp . . . . . . .
6.4 U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad Camp .
6.5 USA Physics Olympiad Camp . . . . . . .
6.6 Other Camps . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
research projects
7.1 Working in a Lab . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.1.1 NIH Summer Internship Program .
7.1.2 ASSIP . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.2 Research Programs . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.2.1 Research Science Institute . . . . . .
7.2.2 PRIMES-USA . . . . . . . . . . . . .


. .
. .
. .



. .






Independent Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Competing With Your Project . . . . . . . . . .
7.4.1 Siemens Competition . . . . . . . . . . .
7.4.2 Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
7.4.3 Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS)
7.4.4 Davidson Fellows Scholarships . . . . .
7.4.5 Google Science Fair . . . . . . . . . . . .
research vs. camps
standardized exams
resume-boosting activities to avoid
applying to college
11.1 Terminology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
11.2 Early Action & Early Decision . . . . . . . . . .
11.3 In-State vs. Out-of-State . . . . . . . . . . . . .
11.4 Applying to Top Universities . . . . . . . . . .
11.4.1 College-specific Information . . . . . .
11.4.2 The Main Takeaway . . . . . . . . . . .
11.5 Final Thoughts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
factors you can’t control






We are a current group of seniors at Thomas Jefferson High
School (Class of 2018). Given our experiences over the past
four years, and our naive view of high school just a few
short years ago, we wish to highlight some misconceptions
and provide tips to those who may come after us.
This is a terse guide to the sciences at Thomas Jefferson
High School. It is designed for current and future TJ students with STEM interests. This guide focuses on many
of the opportunities available to a TJ STEM student both
inside and outside the classroom.


Take our advice with a grain of salt. Your experiences may
differ. Facts, figures, and statistics will change over time;
their accuracy is not guaranteed. This book is a reflection
of our experiences, which comprise a fraction of the opportunities at TJ. We are not responsible for the choices you
make based on this material, or your admission or rejection
to any higher education institution.
This book is not endorsed or affiliated with TJHSST or
any related organization. It has not been reviewed or edited
by any member of the TJ faculty or administration.


1.2 overview



The layout of the book is as follows. The next chapter is
simply a list of guiding principles that you should try to
follow over your high school career. Chapter 3 provides
information on TJ academic opportunities, and Chapter 4
gives a summary of important STEM clubs at TJ. Chapter 5
gives advice when deciding which activities to pursue.
Chapters 6–8 are the meat of the book. They provide
information on two tracks a STEM student can take through
high school: Olympiad camps and research. Each of the
authors has seen some success in camps or research, and
each provides their insight, advice, and words of warning
for your journey.
Chapters 9–12 turn towards the inevitable conclusion of
your TJ career: college. Since most of your success/failure
in the college admissions process will be determined by
your accomplishments (hence the focus on camps and research in earlier chapters), Chapters 9–12 are fairly short explanations of the other factors (standardized exams, resumeboosting activities, applying early vs. regular, etc). You
shouldn’t start thinking about colleges until the end of junior year, so this information is geared towards rising seniors. However, it may still be helpful for younger students
to skim the material.

the scope of this book

There are plenty of humanities opportunities at TJ. TJ boasts
some of the finest fine arts programs, from nationally recognized orchestra, band, and choir programs, to the awardwinning yearbook and Teknos publication. Hundreds of TJ


1.3 the scope of this book

students play instruments outside of school—from the piano and violin to the saxophone and bagpipes. Hundreds
of others participate in sports, from the relaxed cross country team to the grueling schedule of basketball and football.
This guide makes no attempt to cover any of these opportunities. The authors only have experience and accomplishments in fields of science, technology, and mathematics. This book is a guide for students who enjoy the sciences,
and want to take their academic interests further—into competitions, research, and projects. All of our advice centers
around the basic assumption that you enjoy the sciences,
and want opportunities to further your knowledge and interest in the field. As such, almost none of this book will
be useful for students fully engrossed in the humanities or
athletics. Even our college advice centers around our experiences and knowledge of previous STEM students. We
have no knowledge of which athletic, artistic, literary, or
musical accomplishments and competitions colleges historically prefer.



1. Don’t cheat.
2. Don’t be complacent.
3. Waste a maximum of half your time. No one expects
you to always be productive, but you probably waste
more time than you realize online or playing games.
4. It is important you have time to relax and unwind.
You should not take on more than you can handle.
5. Get sleep. There will be a tendency to stay up later
and later to finish work.
6. Finish work ahead of time. Or, at the very least, by
midnight the night before.
7. Each year, you will become more efficient at completing your work. Congratulations! Unfortunately, your
efficiency will increase solely because of a similar increase in your coursework. Thus, the most important
thing you can do to increase your time for outside activities is to complete your homework as soon as you
get home from school. Unfortunately, you will most
likely be tired and burned-out by the end of the day.
Work through this.


general rules and guidelines

8. Try to enjoy your time at TJ.
9. Play a sport if you aren’t bad at it.
10. Although we encourage students to try many activities outside of their comfort zone, quitting after a season, semester, or year is not an indication of failure.
Don’t flounder around once you realize an activity is
not for you; cut your losses and move on (assuming
you have made no outstanding commitments to others).
11. To a certain extent, grades don’t really matter. Try
to get A’s and A-’s. Don’t worry about maximizing
your GPA. Don’t work harder than you need to for
school. Extracurricular activities are more important.
You will spend far less time on schoolwork if you have
a strong math background and decent writing/BSing



Many of you were interested in STEM in middle school;
that is why you are here! First, we recommend you identify
what subject you find the most interesting. Some possibilities include math, chemistry, physics, biology, engineering
(rocketry, robotics, etc.), or computer science. Students are
generally introduced to STEM fields through either classes
and clubs. Thus, we provide some advice for choosing your
coursework and which clubs to participate in.

summer classes

Don’t take classes you aren’t interested in. The only exceptions occur in the summer before 9th grade. We recommend
you do one of the following:
• Take Research Statistics. This aligns your math schedule with the school year.
• Get your 4th history credit out of the way. You will
not regret it senior year, and it is a great way to meet
your fellow classmates before September.
Do not take summer chemistry after 9th grade unless:


3.2 skip tests

• You know ahead of time you really enjoy chemistry.
Maybe it’s from Chemistry Team or Chemistry Society. Just know that if you liked 9th grade biology,
you’re not necessarily going to like chemistry. They
are very different courses.
• You want to take AP Physics in 10th grade. Physics
in 10th grade is a great opportunity, especially if you
are strong in math or have attended Physics Team.
• You believe you cannot spend your summer in a more
productive manner, such as conducting a research project
or studying for a camp. In this case, summer chemistry can be beneficial (turning an otherwise unproductive summer into a learning experience).
If you only want to take summer chemistry because you get
bored during the summer, see Chapter 5.
Note that you can now take AP Physics in sophomore
year as an elective; instead of taking summer chemistry, you
can take P.E. or a language online (e.g. Spanish 3 online) to
free up an elective slot.

skip tests

If you are bored in your current math class, and want more
of a challenge, you may wish to skip math courses. TJ offers
three options to skip math courses:
• TJ Math 4 skip test (Offered in June to rising freshmen,
in August to everyone else)
• TJ Math 5 skip test (Offered in August to everyone)
• BC Calculus Exam (Get a 5 on the Exam + Have A’s
in all other HS math courses)


3.2 skip tests

If you wish to skip a math course, we recommend taking
the BC Calculus exam, because getting a 5 requires a minimum of 70% correct, and it allows you to skip an entire
year of math. This may be especially helpful to students
who wish to take AP Physics and Multivariable Calculus
concurrently. The other skip tests only allow you to skip
a semester of math, throwing off your schedule. With that
said, you should only skip a math course if you are confident in your mathematical ability. If you can’t excel in a
higher level of math, you probably shouldn’t be skipping
in the first place.
If, as a rising freshman, you are interested in computer
science, we highly recommend skipping ‘Foundations of
Computer Science’. The skip test is available in August,
and a disk of material is sent out in early June. You must apply in May, getting signatures from your math teacher and
counselor. The forms can be found on the TJ CS website.
You must score ≥90% to skip Foundations. This will require you to understand basic programming logic and Java
syntax. You must be motivated enough to learn this material on your own between your acceptance in April and the
exam in August. The primary way to learn this material is
by working through the seven packets given on the disk. It
is more than doable with no prior experience and requires
only time commitment.
If you do not pass the exam or are unable to take the skip
test, we highly recommend taking ‘Foundations of Computer Science Accelerated’, where you will learn Python
for the first three quarters, and then rush through Java in
a quarter. Generally, students who take Accelerated are
already familiar with some Java, but not enough to pass
the skip test. It is still possible to take this class without
programming familiarity, and a few students do so. It is


3.2 skip tests

also possible to drop to Foundations if you find yourself
unprepared. That being said, if you aren’t interested in
computer science, or if you haven’t taken the initiative to at
least dabble in computer science, Accelerated is probably
not for you.
There are no other skip tests available at TJ. However,
if you are advanced enough to take an AP exam in middle
school (AP Computer Science A, AP Biology, AP Chemistry,
etc.), TJ will allow you to skip directly to the Post-AP course
(AI, Neurobiology, Organic chemistry, etc.). This is rare and
extraordinarily difficult unless you are a genius (except for
the APCS test, which is possible to take in 8th grade if you
are introduced to computer science early enough).
Some might ask: Why skip courses when I can enjoy an
easy A? Simply put, you should skip courses only if you
care about learning more than grades. Spending a year in
a class where you already know the curriculum is a waste
of time, so skipping the course allows you to learn more.
Another advantage of taking advanced courses early is to
gain knowledge which can then be applied in competitions
or research projects. Although a TJ education alone will certainly not prepare you for creating research projects or participating in Olympiad competitions, having a solid foundation early from a year-long class goes a long way in your
success. This is why most students who do well in USAPhO take AP Physics C sophomore year, most USACO
campers take APCS freshman year, and most students who
do well in USNCO take summer chemistry. These students
are interested early on in the field, and take steps to accelerate their in-class experience, which greatly impact their
performance in outside competitions.


3.3 ap physics


ap physics

If you are unsure if you want to take AP Physics junior
year, you should keep in mind the following things. If you
are in Multivariable calculus junior year, the topics covered
(gradients, line integrals, flux integrals, etc.) are used in
AP Physics second semester. The vast majority of juniors in
Multivariable calculus take AP Physics concurrently.
If you are in BC Calculus junior year, there are a few
caveats. You should only take AP Physics if you did not
need to study to do well in Precalculus. Math should have
been easy for you through freshman and sophomore year.
In addition, to perform well in AP Physics, you should
learn some of BC Calculus beforehand. The BC Calculus
Blackboard site is open to all; download the material before the end of the previous school year. Work through the
first seven chapters before September junior year. A great
alternative is to simply work through a Calculus textbook;
the Art of Problem Solving Calculus book is highly recommended because it delves deeper into Calculus than the BC
material in a compact 300 pages.
For all students considering AP Physics, know that physics
differs from the previous science courses in that it is essentially applied math. You should enjoy math and problemsolving. You do not need to have enjoyed your previous
science courses.
It will become apparent very quickly whether AP Physics
for you or not. The workload is somewhat intensive and
the first tests are very representative of your future performance. Unless you significantly change your time commitments or studying habits, do not expect your grade to rise
after first quarter. Knowing when to drop is very important.


3.4 other curriculum information


other curriculum information

Freshmen making their course selections for sophomore
year are often presented with the following elective choice:
AP Biology/AP Chemistry or AP Computer Science. Choose
one, or spend half your summer in summer chemistry to
take both. We would like readers in this situation to be
aware that if neither AP Biology nor AP CS interests you,
some of the tech classes (Engineering Design, Prototyping,
Robotics, etc.) may be more suitable, especially if you enjoyed Design and Tech. Few sophomores take these courses,
partially because they do not have a GPA boost (Honors
tech classes vs. AP CS/Bio), but also partially because they
are not emphasized during course selection time. It is certainly true with technology classes that what you put into it
is what you get out—they are notoriously easy grade-wise,
and it is very easy to spend a year without retaining much
knowledge. However, putting effort into technology classes
will result in long-term practical technology skills.

activities and clubs

Even more important than choosing your courses is choosing which activities to participate in. You cannot do them
all. Sorry. It is far better to do 2–3 activities very well than
10 activities with mediocre results.
It’s not hard to choose what you are interested in. There
are a million and a half clubs at TJ—try them! Do not go
to study halls. Waste few 8th periods at TJ. Once you find
a club you like, go to meetings every week. If there are
after school meetings, go to those. If you realize you don’t
actually like that club, then stop going.


3.5 activities and clubs

Note that there will be a tendency to join clubs that align
with your current coursework. For example, joining Biology Olympiad as you take 9th grade biology, Chemistry
Team during your 10th grade, or Physics Team during 11th
grade. Before commiting weekly to a club, consider the following: would you attend the club if you weren’t currently
taking a course on the subject? Joining Biology Olympiad,
then Chemistry Team, then Physics Team, each for a year,
gets you nowhere in all three subjects. Concentrate on clubs
with subjects that interest you; you should not need a class
to motivate you towards a subject which you are truly interested in.
Certain clubs are more valuable than others. Chess Club,
for example, is a great place to play chess with your friends.
However, you can easily do this outside of the club. Don’t
spend every Friday A&B playing chess, even if you really
enjoy chess. Rather, attend clubs that provide experiences
you cannot enjoy readily outside of the club. Sure, go to
chess club, but one block a week suffices.
As with every example, there are exceptions. If you are
training for chess tournaments, and want prolonged periods to play against the best in the school, by all means, attend 90 minutes of Chess Club a week. But for the vast majority, clubs like Chess Club are opportunities to just hang
out with friends.
Certainly the majority of clubs at TJ fall into this category.
There are a few clubs, however, that provide valuable learning experiences. We call these clubs the “legit" clubs. For
example, Physics Team. It is difficult to learn physics independently; Physics Team provides a unique opportunity
for you to learn from experienced physics students. Obviously, 45 minutes a week of physics is not nearly enough
to learn the subject. However, it is certainly enough to in-


3.5 activities and clubs

troduce physics topics to underclassmen well before they
would otherwise encounter them in their junior year. Students who wish to pursue the subject further now have a
year or two head-start on their peers. Thus, “legit" clubs
serve as starting points for students entering a field of science or technology.
By and large, “legit" clubs derive their legitimacy from
national competitions. By this, we mean that the national
competitions drive students to dedicate significant time to
the club year after year, thus creating a comprehensive learning experience for younger members. “Legit" clubs provide
an opportunity for you to hone your skills, and then demonstrate them on a national level. Try to participate in one
legit club. If no legit clubs interest you, that’s perfectly
fine. That probably means there’s no national competition
in your desired field.
List of some “legit" STEM academic clubs:
• Math Team
• Physics Team
• Senior Computer Team (open to everyone)
• Intermediate Computer Team (open to everyone)
• Freshman Computer Team (freshmen only)
• Machine Learning Club
• Biology Olympiad
• Chemistry Team
• Science Bowl
• Computer Security


3.5 activities and clubs

We are certain there are other “legit" clubs. This is by
no means a complete list. However, the authors only have
expertise in the academic fields of math, physics, computer
science, and biology. “Legit" clubs in the humanities fields
(MUN, Quizbowl, Debate, etc.) are outside the scope of this
guide. If you would like to contact the authors regarding
the legitimacy of a club, we are open to suggestions.
Note that you can always found a club if there is no club
in your specific field. We caution against two things:
• Making a “club" version of a niche class. If you are interested in Parallel Computing, there’s already a class.
A club is unnecessary.
• If no national competition exists, it will be very hard
for your club to become “legit". You will have to motivate 30 others to join your interest without providing
them any tangible benefit.
A few further things to keep in mind about starting your
own club:
• Your club should be centered a topic students will
genuinely come to learn.
• You should create rigorous and extensive material to
teach students. This will be a time-consuming process, even with multiple officers. It is far more work
to create a new club than to preside over an existing
• Students are not inclined to learn from their peers.
Lectures will only be attended by students younger
than the lecturers.


3.5 activities and clubs

• The inaugural year of a club is almost always “BS".
It is very difficult to create new club lectures, competitions, or other presentations while simultaneously
completing your school duties.
• Forms and paperwork will result in a shorter inaugural year for clubs. Most new clubs cannot start before
Mid-November as a result.



We provide a brief description of each of the “legit" STEM
clubs from Chapter 3. This information may be especially
helpful to younger students who are unfamiliar with many
of the clubs, activities, and competitions.
Simply attending one of these clubs during 8th period
won’t help you much. If you want to participate or place
well in the national competitions each club offers, you’ll
need to spend significant time outside of school practicing
and learning.
math team
By Akshaj Kadaveru (VMT Captain 16–18)

Math Team meets Wednesday A and B blocks, plus certain days afterschool. At meetings we give lectures, hold
practices, and participate in regional and national math contests. We also travel to compete in many big-name math
competitions. Any TJ student who enjoys math is welcome
to join the team, regardless of skill level.
Competitions we participate in include the Duke Math
Meet (DMM), Princeton University Math Competition (PuMAC),
Carnegie Mellon Informatics and Math Meet (CMIMC), Harvard-



MIT Math Tournament (HMMT), and the American Regions
Math League (ARML).

physics team
By Franklyn Wang (Physics Team Co-captain 17–18)

Physics Team meets on Friday A blocks. Physics Team is
stratified into A team, B team, and C team. A team’s focus
is to prepare for the USA Physics Olympiad exam. B team’s
focus is to prepare for the F = ma exam as well as the AP
Physics Exam. Lastly, C team’s focus is cool demonstrations
to get students interested in physics.
Physics Team competes in the Physics Bowl, Princeton
University Physics Competition, the F = ma exam, and the
USA Physics Olympiad.
Physics Team officers are decided by appointment, NOT

senior computer team
By Justin Zhang (SCT Captain 17–18) and Mihir Patel (SCT Co-Captain

Senior Computer Team (SCT) meets on Friday A blocks.
SCT, unlike the other two computer teams, focuses heavily
on algorithms and data structures, in preparation for the
USA Computing Olympiad. In addition, SCT sends teams
of four to local algorithmic competitions such as VCU, UMD,
and UVA’s high school programming contests.



Meetings are generally split into beginner and advanced
groups, which cover USACO Bronze/Silver and USACO
Gold/Platinum content, respectively. Practice contests are
occasionally held via the Codeforces platform.
In general, if you only have time to participate in one
computer team, and you enjoy learning advanced algorithms
and data structures, participate in SCT: achievements in USACO are generally valued over those of ACSL. Top USACO
competitors go to USACO Camp, and from there the very
best attend IOI.
With that said, SCT requires a lot of initiative. The vast
majority of competitive programming skill is built off of
lots of practice. SCT gives you lots of resources and opportunity, but getting good requires consistent practice and
dedication. The best ways to improve are taking lots of
Codeforces competitions and going through the USACO
training pages.
Prior years’ lectures can be found on the SCT website.

intermediate computer team
By Mihir Patel (ICT Captain 16–17)

Intermediate Computer Team (ICT) meets on Friday B
blocks. ICT primarily focuses on the ACSL competition,
competing in the tier above the freshman team. The lectures
are specifically geared towards content on the upcoming
ACSL competitions and are taught by the officers, who are
almost exclusively juniors. ICT also participates in various
algorithmic competitions.



ACSL is not very prestigious and not useful for resumebuilding. As a result, if you are good at competitive programming, it is not worth your time to come to ICT. With
that said, if you are still getting into it and genuinely like
ACSL’s competition, ICT is a good club to be in.
The primary benefit from ICT is a fun trip to the ACSL
competition if you make the team (in addition to potential
officer positions). Making the team is not too challenging if
you really care, and a bit of practice easily makes you competitive. As for being an officer, that’s far more dependent
on your charisma, dedication, and ability to teach. This is a
decent position and often helps in being elected for SCT.
The ACSL competition focuses on computer fundamentals. Topics include number systems, bit shifting, etc. and
the test is not complex at all. Even 45 minutes of practice
before each test is more than necessary for preparation.

freshman computer team
By Justin Zhang (Participant 14–15)

Freshman Computer Team meets on Friday A blocks, and
is open exclusively to freshman. Freshman Computer Team
focuses on general computer science knowledge in preparation for the American Computer Science League programming contest (ACSL).
Based on contests given throughout the year, the Freshman Computer Team selects a team to represent TJ at the
ACSL All-Star Contest (junior division).
Freshman Computer Team does not have officer positions.



machine learning club
By Nikhil Sardana (TJML Captain 16–18)

Machine Learning Club meets on Wednesday A blocks.
Machine Learning Club teaches students the theory behind
various machine learning algorithms. Topics range from
decision trees and SVMs to Convolutional and Generative
Adversarial Networks. ML Club also holds competitions
most weeks, applying theory introduced in the lectures to
real-world datasets. Many of the topics covered are frequently used in research projects at science fairs and competitions nationally, so Machine Learning Club provides a
solid foundation for burgeoning researchers. In addition,
officers actively mentor students with machine learning research projects at their request.

biology olympiad
By Anish Karpurapu (TJBO Captain 17–18)

Biology Olympiad meets every Friday B block. During
8th periods, the officers teach advanced biology concepts
to help prepare for competitions such as the USA Biology
Olympiad and University of Toronto Biology Competition.
On most Fridays after school from 4–6, Biology Olympiad
meets to provide an additional opportunity for practice. After spending an hour individually working on previous exams, the officers go through the answers and explanations
for each of the questions at the request of the club members.



chemistry team
By John Kim (Chemistry Team Captain 17–18)

Chemistry Team meets every Friday B block (though this
is subject to change due to Mr. Kauffman’s busy schedule). The majority of meetings are spent with lectures that
first briefly review AP Chemistry material and then present
more advanced topics that may appear on the Chemistry
Olympiad and the Chem 13 News exam. Since the USNCO
includes a lab section, a lab challenge is often conducted in
lieu of a lecture so that all members can hone their practical
problem solving skills.

science bowl
By Franklyn Wang (Science Bowl Captain 16–18)

Science Bowl meets during lunches, and is intended to
select a team for the National Science Bowl competition.
At the beginning of the school year, each student takes an
exam. The top few students advance to a buzzer round,
where the team is decided. There is a Regional competition
in late January and a National Competition in mid-May. TJ
has qualified for Nationals for the past 25 years. Teams
which take first or second at Nationals win an all-expense
paid trip.



computer security club
By Neil Thistlethwaite (TJCSC President 17–18)

Computer Security Club (CSC) meets every Wednesday
A and B block. Officers give a different lecture and associated practice problems each week, although the lecture
is the same for A and B block. Topic categories include
File Forensics, Web Exploitation, Binary Exploitation, and
Reversing. CSC members compete in a variety of competitions, primarily Capture-the-Flag (CTF) contests. We also
organize the CyberPatriot teams, and have historically done
very well, netting top finishes in many competitions.

non-traditional clubs
• Sysadmins — Manage/Develop Syslab network and
computer hardware.
• CubeSat — Design/Build TJ’s satellite
Other legitimate activities (which are not necessarily associated with clubs):
• HackTJ — TJ’s annual hackathon. A fun way to spend
24 hours: eating food and building useless applications.
• MIT Battlecode — Month-long AI/battle strategy competition every January; TJ students frequently participate.



Don’t waste your time. If you like a certain subject in
class, look for the 8th period and after-school opportunities.
Don’t be afraid to join a club in the middle of the school
year—it’s not too late, and you can’t go back in time to join
earlier. Look at club websites for lecture information and
talk to the officers to catch up on what you missed. In general, however, try to join clubs as early in the school year as
Whether it is math or biology or chemistry, we recommend finding at least one activity with a national competition (see “legit" clubs section in Chapter 3), and working towards performing well at the national or international level.
For most areas, this will take years of work. Do not participate or try for a national competition which you are not
truly interested in. Not sure if you want to commit so much
time towards an activity? You can always quit later. It’s best
to try and quit than to never try at all.
During the summers, either work towards a camp or complete some research/project. Look to Chapters 6 and 7 for
camp and research advice, respectively. If you have neither
the desire to work towards a camp nor the skill set for research, simply find a friend and complete a project in your
area. You will learn valuable skills and working with a


5.1 internships

friend (in person, not online) is a motivator to hold up your
end of the team and prevent laziness. Long term projects
are as much a test of your ability to solve large problems as
they are a test of planning and execution.


Some students find internships and work at start-ups or
established companies during the summer (especially between junior and senior year). Depending on your field of
interest, you may want to pursue a corporate internship.
For example, if you are interested in web/mobile development, it can be highly beneficial to gain real-world experience creating applications in a corporate environment.
With other fields, however, like pure math or physics, you
are far better off conducting research, working towards a
camp, or simply completing your own project. Few companies have high school internships that allow you to harness
and apply your knowledge of the pure sciences. Regardless of your interests, ensure that you will have a meaningful role and gain valuable experience before accepting any
job offers. Do not waste weeks of your precious summer
slaving away on meaningless busywork for an extra line on
your resume.
In terms of your resume, no one cares if you worked for
 for 7 weeks between sophomore and junior year. Company name matters for internships, but few
established companies are willing to hire high school students. Thus, choose an internship based on how useful the
experience will be to you.
Before applying, contact older students who worked at
the company in previous years. They will offer you advice


5.1 internships

on the application and interview process, as well as what
to expect on the job site. Get multiple opinions whenever



The International Science Olympiads are a group of competitions across the scientific fields open to students across
the world. At each Olympiad, the top 4–6 students from
each country compete against each other. Students can
be awarded Gold medals, Silver medals, Bronze medals,
or Honourable mentions for their performance. Since the
United States is a large country, in general, we perform very
well at the Olympiads. Most United States Olympiad participants walk away with Gold or Silver medals.
Since the United States is so large, simply qualifying for
a U.S. Olympiad team (determining the top 4–6 students in
a particular field) is a rigorous process and attending an international olympiad is a prestigious and rare accomplishment. For example, the last student from Thomas Jefferson
to attend an international olympiad was Joyce Tian (TJ ’17,
IChO Silver Medal 2016). Before that, Janice Ong (TJ ’15)
won Silver at IChO 2015 and Will Long (TJ ’15) won Gold
at the 2014 IBO. Adam Ardeishar (TJ ’19) will attend IMO
2018, the first IMO participant from TJ since Mitchell Lee
(IMO Gold 11–12). In general, a TJ student qualifies for one
of the Olympiads every 1–2 years. It takes years of prepa-


olympiad camps

ration and intense studying to qualify for an international
Although there are more than 5 International Olympiads,
the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO), International Physics Olympiad (IPhO), International Olympiad in
Informatics (IOI), International Chemistry Olympiad (IChO),
and International Biology Olympiad (IBO) are far more prestigious and important than the others. Thus, this chapter
focuses on the U.S. selection process for these Olympiads.
Each Olympiad has a different process, but in general
they begin with a few qualifying tests, each far more difficult than the last, and culminate in a camp, in which the
top 2–3 dozen students are sent off to a university for a few
weeks in May/June to determine the 4–6 team members
who will represent the United States. Thus, the general
process for reaching an international olympiad looks like
Open Exam → Semifinal Exam → Camp → Olympiad
At each stage, perhaps the top 5% will qualify. Some
camps have more than 2 qualifying tests. Others have tests
after the camp to determine the Olympiad team. For most
Olympiads, reaching the “Semifinal Exam" level of the process requires about a year of coursework or studying. However, reaching the camp stage is far more difficult, and
many students study on-and-off for years without ever reaching a camp. The notable exception to this general Exams →
Camp process is the USA Computing Olympiad, which eschews exams for 4 programming tests through the year.
For high school students, attending a camp in their field
means nearing the pinnacle of achievement. The five camps
listed below have rigorous standards to gain admission,


6.1 mathematical olympiad summer program

and just attending a single camp is a significant accomplishment.
Attending the USABO Camp is roughly as difficult as
attending the USNCO Camp. Both are more difficult to
attend than the USACO camp, and both are less difficult
(and therefore less prestigious) than the USAPhO camp.
All aforementioned camps are less difficult and prestigious
than MOP.

mathematical olympiad summer program

By Joshua Lee (MOP 17) and Akshaj Kadaveru (MOP 15–16)

TJHSST dedicates one day in February for the AMC 10/12
A, a nationwide math competition for high school students.
AMC 10 is only open to freshmen and sophomores, and the
AMC 12 is open to all students, but a student can only take
one of the two. AMC 10/12 B is also offered, but this will
be done during an 8th period instead of during the school
Placing within the top 5% on any AMC 12 or the top 2.5%
on any AMC 10 will qualify a student for the AIME (American Invitational Mathematics Examination). The AIME takes
place in March, and around one hundred TJ students participate yearly. A combined USA(J)MO index is then calculated, and approximately 250 students with the top AIME +
AMC 12 indices qualify for the USAMO, and approximately
250 students with the top AIME + AMC 10 indices qualify
for the USAJMO. If a student qualifies for both, they must
take the USAMO. Qualifying for USA(J)MO is already a significant achievement, only done by around 15 TJ students
every year. It is important to know that Olympiad Math


6.1 mathematical olympiad summer program

is proof-based, which means that it is quite different from
other competition math (such as the AMC or the AIME).
USA(J)MO is held for two days in mid-late April. The
top 12 performers of JMO (short for USAJMO) are the Winners, and they qualify for Red MOP. The next top 12 performers are given the title of Honorable Mention (HM), but
they aren’t given MOP qualification unless under special
circumstances (for instance, if a JMO winner is in middle
school and placed in the lower half of the winners, then
the top HM is invited to MOP). The top 12 performers of
USAMO are the Winners, and they qualify for Black MOP,
unless they are a senior and did not qualify for the IMO
team. The winners are invited to a ceremony in DC in
June, immediately before MOP, and the top 3 performers
are awarded scholarships. The next 12 performers are the
HMs, but it really is just a title. Instead, the top 18 performing non-winners who are juniors or younger are invited to
Blue MOP, and the next 15 students who are freshmen or
sophomores are invited to Green MOP.
MOP is the training camp for the USA IMO Team, and
is held for 3.5 weeks in June. MOP is divided into five
colors: Black, Blue, Green, Red, Pink. Black is the highest
level, containing the members of the IMO, winners of USAMO, past winners, and international students (Po-shen invites 10–15 international students to MOP every year). The
next highest level is Blue MOP, serving as a bridge between
Red/Green and Black MOP. The third level is Green/Red.
The two colors are meant to be the same level, with the
difference coming from the fact that Red MOP consists of
JMO winners and Green MOP of high USAMO performers.
Recently, this changed to Red MOP consisting of first-time
MOPpers and Green MOP consisting of returners, although
this rule wasn’t enforced entirely. Rules on Green/Red


6.1 mathematical olympiad summer program

MOP change continuously, but the two levels always have
lectures of similar levels and take the same tests. The last
level is Pink MOP, reserved for the top performing girls on
the USA(J)MO who didn’t otherwise qualify for MOP. Pink
MOP serves to train and select students for the EGMO, and
around 10 girls are selected each year. Pink MOPpers usually attend Red/Green MOP lectures and take Red/Green
MOP tests.
At MOP, students continually take MOP tests, which are
tests similar to the IMO and intended for students to improve both problem-solving and solution-writing. On the
last week, the students are administered the TSTST, and
the top 25-ish contestants are selected to be part of the
TST group for the following school year. These students,
along with the Pink MOPpers, take five additional contests
throughout the school year to determine the national IMO,
RMM and EGMO teams.
Although there are many great books on competition
math out there, there is not one book that will take a student right to the doorsteps of MOP. Qualifying for AIME
can mostly be done by continually solving past AMC problems, and one can get near USA(J)MO qualification by repeatedly solving past AIME problems. A student must
have extensive knowledge in all four major fields of competition math: Algebra, Geometry, Combinatorics, and Number Theory. USAMO qualification barely requires a student
to solve 10 problems correctly on the AIME, but a student
with great understanding of the topics should easily be able
to solve all 15 problems.
Doing well on the USAMO requires slightly different training than for the AIME, as the focus is shifted to proving
a mathematical claim rather than solving for an answer.
There are many resources that can help guide a student


6.2 usa computing olympiad camp

to learn more both online and in text, but there is nothing
more important than practice. One can know everything
they need to about math and still fail to solve the easiest
USAMO problems without any practice. There is an extensive problem archive in AoPS, which offers an endless
number of math problems that a student can use for practice. Varsity Math Team also offers many opportunities to
improve mathematical skills, including lectures and practice contests. Even with these numerous resources, MOP
qualification requires a combination of dedication, talent,
self-confidence, and luck. Do not take improvement for
granted, regardless of how much effort you put in.

usa computing olympiad camp

By Franklyn Wang (USACO Camp 17–18)

The USA Computing Olympiad is the premier computer
science competition at the high school level. There are four
contests every year, in December, January, February, and
March, as well as four divisions, which are Bronze, Silver,
Gold, and Platinum. Each contest is three problems, and
you are given four hours to solve them. All students start
in the bronze division. The ways to get promoted to another
division are:
1. to do reasonably well and wait for the contest results
to come out or
2. solve all three questions and be promoted immediately, allowing you to start with a new clock on the
next contest immediately.
The students who perform the best on the March Platinum
test are typically invited to USACO Camp.


6.2 usa computing olympiad camp

At USACO camp (hosted at Clemson), you are either a
Guernsey (lower division, not eligible for IOI) or a Holstein
(upper division, eligible for IOI). The Guernseys receive lectures and take some of the IOI selection contests (3 problems / 4 hours), whereas the Holsteins take all of the IOI
selection contests.
Students should be able to reach USACO Gold division
in a couple contests with only knowledge from their APCS
classes. Many of the lectures in Senior Computer Team
or standard dynamic programming coursework will help
you reach Platinum in less than a year after APCS. Note
that USACO camp is the easiest to make out all the camps
listed in this document. Most students can make camp with
less than two years of competitive programming experience,
while other camps (like MOP) require far more years of
involvement. In addition, the younger you are, the easier it
is to reach USACO camp; camp selections are not objective,
but rather age-adjusted. Most students from TJ who make
USACO camp do so in their sophomore year.
Starting early is key for USACO success. The majority
of students who do well in USACO contests take APCS
and start attending SCT in their freshman year. See the section on skip tests for more information on skipping Foundations.
Some good resources to prepare for the USACO competitions include,,
and of course Some good benchmarks for USACO skill:


6.3 usa biology olympiad camp

Codeforces Rating



usa biology olympiad camp

By Anish Karpurapu (USABO Semis 15–18)

Every year, TJ allows for students to take the USA Biology Olympiad Open Exam during two 8th period blocks in
February. This exam is open to all students, and signups
occur a month earlier. It is a 50 minute, 50 question multiple choice exam with some questions having more than
one answer. The exam is split among seven topics, each of
which consist a specific portion of the test:
Animal Anatomy/Physiology
Cell Biology
Genetics and Evolution
Plant Anatomy/Physiology

Portion of Exam

Although the exact percentages sometimes deviate, they
generally hold on the whole.
The top 10% of test-takers then advance to the second
round and are eligible to take the USA Biology Olympiad
Semifinal Exam. Usually around 20–30 kids from TJ qualify


6.4 u.s. national chemistry olympiad camp

for this exam every year. This rigorous exam is 2 hours long
and consists of three parts. Both Parts A and B consist of
60 multiple choice questions each, but Part B is much more
difficult in that some questions can have multiple answers
and the questions involve a much deeper understanding of
biology. As a result, each question in Part B is worth two
points as opposed to the one point questions in Part A. Part
C varies greatly from year to year and can range from one
long essay question to numerous short answer questions.
The top 20 performers on the Semifinal Exam are then invited to the USABO National Finals where they undergo 10
days of instruction from professors, researchers, and other
experts in biology followed by two days of rigorous testing.
The practical exam is six hours and tests laboratory skills
while the theoretical exam is a three hour exam with multiple choice questions in the format of Part B on the semifinal
exam. The top scorers from these exams then go on to represent the USA at the International Biology Olympiad.
To study for these exams, it is highly recommended to
study Campbell Biology as majority of the content can be
traced back to this book. Although mastery over this book
should be enough to make the semifinal round, ancillary
texts such as Biology of Plants by Peter Raven and Molecular Biology of the Cell by Bruce Alberts provide much more
depth and specificity.

u.s. national chemistry olympiad camp

By John Kim and Aaditya Singh (USNCO High Honors 17)

Though officially the Chemistry Olympiad begins in March,
this competition is unique in that it restricts the number
of people who can qualify from each school. To this end,


6.4 u.s. national chemistry olympiad camp

TJ runs two multiple-choice qualifying tests for prospective
Chemistry Olympiad participants. The first is held in January, with a focus on rapid problem solving for relatively
less complex questions. The second is held in February
and allows for an ample 90 minutes, but features more difficult problems. Both exams vary in number of questions
from year to year, but the second exam can be expected to
be more questions, but generally easier to complete due to
less computational and more concept questions. The scores
from both exams are added with a 1/3 weighting for the
former and 2/3 for the latter, and only the top scorers are
permitted to take the Local exam. This is usually around
the top 17–20 scorers, depending on how many spots are
available for TJ students on a given year.
The Local exam is a 60 question, 110 minute multiplechoice test. The majority of these questions can be prepared
for simply by paying attention in AP Chemistry; the level of
difficulty and depth of knowledge generally does not surpass that of the TJ curriculum, though there are some exceptions. The local exam will include 1–2 questions regarding
chemical trivia, laboratory techniques, and biochemistry,
which are not as emphasized in the AP curriculum. However, these questions are not difficult and can be prepared
for by taking previous exams, as topics are often repeated.
Another key point is that questions come in the same formats from year to year (i.e. question 60 is always biochemistry and the 55–59 are always organic chemistry). As a
result for trivia questions are past exams. In terms of textbook, the AP textbook (Zumdahl) should suffice, although
most experienced campers recommend Atkins Chemistry
for general chemistry review.
As before, the number of participants who advance from
the Local exam to the USNCO per school is restricted. Only


6.5 usa physics olympiad camp

the top two scorers from TJ on the Local exam will be allowed to take the USNCO in April. As a result, it is essential to be extremely thorough and not make silly mistakes
on the local (practice makes perfect!). From TJ, the difference in qualifiers can often come down to a single question.
Also, the scores from the first two rounds are not factored
in to picking the two students who take USNCO.
The USNCO exam consists of 3 parts. Part I is a 60 question, 90 minute multiple-choice test, very similar in style
to the Local exam (except the questions are much harder).
Part II is a free-response exam, consisting of 8 problems to
be solved in 105 minutes. As with all previous exams, the
range of topics is unchanged; there are few entirely new
topics that must be learned. However, depth of knowledge
is important. //expand. Part III is the lab practical, which
TJ students are often the least prepared for. This consists of
two problems to be solved by designing and conducting an
experiment with given materials. The top 20 scorers of the
USNCO attend study camp.

usa physics olympiad camp

By Franklyn Wang (USAPhO Gold 17)

The USA Physics Olympiad begins in late January, with
the F = ma exam. The F = ma is a 75-minute, 25-question
multiple choice test. This exam is mostly mechanics, along
with some fluid mechanics and wave mechanics questions,
which is ideal for students who just finished their first semester
of AP Physics. The top 10% of scorers, which is usually
about 300 people, advance to the next round. The cutoff is
usually around 16–17 questions correct, but some years it


6.5 usa physics olympiad camp

has been as low as 14 questions, and sometimes as high as
19 questions.
The next round is the USA Physics Olympiad, which
covers many topics, including Thermodynamics, Relativity, Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, and occasionally
Quantum Mechanics. There is an A and a B section. The
A section is a ninety-minute test with four problems, each
worth twenty-five points. One will be on Mechanics, and
one will be on electricity and magnetism. The other two
are usually thermodynamics and relativity, but occasionally
there will be a curveball. The B section is a ninety-minute
test with two problems, each worth fifty points. One is Mechanics, and one is on electricity and magnetism. These
questions are essay questions, and each is graded primarily
on the accuracy of the ideas, rather than the accuracy of the
Of these contestants, about one-twelfth receive gold medals,
one-sixth receive silver medals, and one-fourth receive bronze
medals. Another one-fourth receive honorable mention status. Out of the gold medals (which number thirty to forty),
twenty of them attend the training camp. Multiple factors
are considered, like whether or not they have conflicting
summer camps (like RSI, USACO Camp, or MOP) and their
grade (11th graders are favored).
Finally, at the camp, students take an exam which mocks
the International Physics Olympiad: a theoretical and experimental exam, each five hours long. The theoretical portion consists of three problems, which include all topics
from the USAPhO, as well as basic fluid dynamics. The
experimental portion requires intimate familiarity with experiments.
In order to study for these contests, we recommend taking AP Physics in 10th grade, teaching you the basics of


6.5 usa physics olympiad camp

mechanics and E&M. Ideally, you should be able to make
it to the USA Physics Olympiad in 10th grade and get a
medal. Then, the next summer you should spend time carefully reading the following three books:
1. Fundamentals of Physics, by Halliday, Resnick, and Walker
10th edition.
2. Electricity and Magnetism, by Morin and Purcell
3. Introduction to Classical Mechanics, by Morin
The second and third books are not as gentle as their titles
sounds. The exercises are very important to work through—
you may very well see the exact same problem on a competition! The 1st book is more of a catch-all, and would helpful
to read during 10th grade while taking AP Physics. Chapters 1–13 are the core material for the F = ma, but material
from Chapters 14–17 is becoming more and more frequent,
so we recommend that you read those too. The E&M and
Thermodynamics Chapters are 18–33. There is some cursory introduction to other fields in the later chapters, which
are however deficient.
The second book is recommended for doing well in the
USA Physics Olympiad and beyond. Working through the
problems is incredibly essential, less so reading the content.
The third book is also recommended for doing well in the
USA Physics Olympiad. Other than chapters 9 and 10, the
problems are very good and will be greatly useful in developing good intuition. Furthermore, the relativity chapters
11–14 are the best anywhere.
If you have time, you may also consider reading Thermodynamics by Fermi, since it provides a somewhat different perspective. Finally, in terms of problems, obviously
you want to work through the past USA Physics Olympiad


6.6 other camps

problems, but there aren’t many. We recommend doing the
theoretical portions of the International Physics Olympiad
problems for this. Make sure to look up concepts mentioned in the solutions that you don’t know.
If you follow these instructions, you will definitely be
able to get a USA Physics Olympiad Gold Medal, and probably camp as well.

other camps

You will not find significant following for the other U.S.
Camps/International Olympiads at TJ. If you are interested
in one of the other Olympiads, know the following things:
• They are less prestigious than the above camps.
• You will have to study entirely independently of TJ.
Few in-school resources exist for the other camps.



Whether no Olympiad camp exists in your field, or you simply do not care for competitive math/programming/
biology/chemistry/physics, research projects are a great
way to show your depth of knowledge, problem-solving
ability, and long-term planning skills. Performing well on
the national or international stage of research competitions
is comparable to making some of the more difficult camps.
The majority of research projects are conducted during
the summer. This is because it is difficult to maintain your
schoolwork and a full-time research project concurrently. In
addition, most deadlines for competitions occur in the fall
or early winter, and some require research papers. While
it is certainly possible to write a research paper during the
school year, conducting actual research is better suited to
the summer months.
The first section of this chapter covers lab research and
popular internship programs. The second section focuses
on prestigious research programs, and the third section covers independent research. Lastly, we take a look at popular
research competitions, which allow students to win prize
money and demonstrate the quality of their research on a
national or international stage.


7.1 working in a lab

There’s a lot of information in this chapter, and we barely
scratch the surface of research opportunities available to
you. The main takeaway is this: don’t waste your time. Find
a topic you love, whether its building a drone or writing efficient algorithms or splicing genes, and work for a couple
hours each day (or more during the summer). It doesn’t
matter where you do your project, whether it’s in a lab or
your garage or a prestigious research program. Let your
work speak for itself. If you have the resources, embark on
the project.
That’s not to say there aren’t advantages of working in
a lab or at a research program. A lab will offer you a
more structured environment, multiple mentors, and professional equipment. But your project topic will be at the
whims of your superiors, and you may end up working on
a small part of a much larger research endeavor instead of
your own project.

working in a lab

If you are interested in the biological or chemical sciences,
unfortunately, you will have to work in a lab to conduct research. There is simply no other way for you to have the resources and equipment to conduct significant research. The
JUMP lab at TJ provides resources for underclassmen laboratory resources, but, as mentioned earlier, conducting research during the school year is exceedingly difficult. It’s
possible, but improbable, for a JUMP lab project to be truly
successful. To be fair, it’s difficult for any project to be successful, but having a mentor with years of experience in
the field is generally a good way to choose projects with a
higher likelihood of success.


7.1 working in a lab

We provide information on two popular lab programs:
NIH SIP and ASSIP. A third program, SEAP, is also popular
among TJ students, and provides the opportunity to work
at a local naval research lab. Please remember that your
experiences will differ greatly based on your particular field
of interest, lab, and mentor.
Of course, there is always the option of emailing professors at a local university to see if they are willing to take on
a high school student. Find a professor who’s done work
in an area you are interested in, and keep the email short
and sweet. Since you’re from TJ, they will know you are
somewhat competent, but email quite a few professors regardless, since the vast majority will turn you down.
The tried-and-true saying holds: It doesn’t matter where
you work, it matters what you do there. Keep in mind the
following points when deciding where to work:
• You are truly interested in the project you will be doing over the summer.
• You have a significant role in said project. You should
not be just a lab monkey or data collector.
• Commute time and transportation. A metro for an
hour is far worse than a car for half the time, especially when you have to do it twice a day, every day.
Last of all, if you plan on submitting research to a research competition, think about how the finished project
would fare at competitions, and which parts you would be
allowed to present. You must be the primary researcher
of a project to present it at a competition, or have worked
on a large part of the project. If you have only worked on
a small part of a larger project, you can only present the
part of the project you worked on, which in general does


7.1 working in a lab


not work well. Saying “I pipetted solution for three months
while the rest of the team did the hard stuff" won’t get you
anywhere. A general rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t be
the first author of the research paper, you can’t present the
project at a research competition.
In general, successful biology/chemistry research projects
don’t come from working in a lab with many others, but
rather specialized research programs (like RSI), working
one-on-one with a mentor in a lab, or independent research
after school. That’s not to say that working in a large lab or
a part of a large project won’t give you valuable experience,
it just won’t give you a project that succeeds in research
competitions. Again, all of the advice in this paragraph
only applies if you wish to submit your research. In general,
it is recommended, since research competitions can lead to
prestigious and large awards, but submitting is certainly
not required. Most students do not submit their summer
work to research competitions.

NIH Summer Internship Program

The NIH Summer Internship Program (SIP) is a popular
place to perform biology-related research during the summer. The application process begins early (November–December),
and it is up to you to email researchers and ask them if
they have a position available (best results come from emailing those who have previously taken high school students).
Note that the long commute (>1 hour on the metro, no parking for HS students) and low pay ($12/hour) are downsides
to this program. Some students even work unpaid if the lab
they desire does not have a paid position.

7.1 working in a lab

Most students end up performing wet lab research under a mentor, usually a post-doc or staff scientist in the lab,
rather than directly under the Principal Investigator. The
first week of the internship is primarily composed of literature review and reading past papers produced by the lab
to gain a solid background on the basis of the research performed in the lab. For the next few weeks, students conduct
research, usually performing numerous trials of an experiment after their mentor demonstrates and explains the procedure. A large portion of the internship then consists of
performing these procedures, which can include qRT-PCR,
gel electrophoresis, PCR, western blotting, and so on. The
internship culminates in a poster day where interns present
their research to PIs, staff scientists, NIH employees, and
other students.
If a student’s work is part of a larger project by their
mentor, which is later published, the student may get their
name on the paper. This is a great accomplishment, especially if the paper is published in a prestigious journal.
However, whether a student’s name gets on a paper or not
is largely up to the individual mentor. Some mentors are
nice and slap interns’ names on their papers, others will
only do so when interns have significant contributions to
the research. The vast majority of high school interns at the
NIH do not get their name on a publication.
If you are interested in computational biology (as opposed to wet lab research), working at the NIH may not
be helpful at all. Although the NIH has a supercomputer
(which high school students can access with a bit of paperwork), TJ’s computer resources will generally suffice for
most computational biology projects. In addition, most
datasets are public, so unless your mentor has access to private datasets, you will be working with publicly available


7.1 working in a lab

data (and thus you will have to beat every previous algorithm in order to have novel research). However, the NIH
name lends some prestige, and in general your work will
be interesting. As a rule of thumb, if your sole computer
science interest is in computational biology, then the NIH
may be for you. However, if you are interested in computer
science, and computational biology is just an interesting application of CS, then the NIH is most likely not for you.
The Application Process
The application process is fairly long. Information for the
traditional summer internship program is available here.
Normally it begins in December. You need two teacher recommendations, and you will need to budget enough time
for you to fill out their forms and for them to write the
However, if all you do is fill out the application, you
won’t get anywhere. No one will find you. Instead, you
have to email people at the NIH who did work in the field
you are interested in. Look through the PDF brochure of the
previous years’ Summer Poster days (2017 available here)
to see which investigators took high school students in the
field you are interested in.
Eventually, if your interest is in a niche, you will run out
of people that took high school students and you should
email researchers who may not have taken high school students or who work in tangential fields. Keep in mind that
your greatest chance of success is always with a researcher
who has taken high school students previously.
You won’t hear back from 70% of the researchers you
email. They’re busy people. Roughly 20% will tell you
“Sorry, I’m not looking for high school students", or “Sorry,


7.1 working in a lab

my slots are filled this year". If you are lucky, perhaps 10%
will respond positively to you and you might have an interview over Skype/Hangouts (or even in person). Even after
an interview, you may not get the job (tighter funding during a Republican administration is an oft-cited reason for
lack of available intern positions). In general, it is recommended to email 30–50 people.
After you are accepted, there are numerous forms to fill
out (this is the government, after all). Once you get to the
NIH, make sure you fill out the metro reimbursement form
as soon as possible, or you will be paying hundreds over
the course of the summer just to commute to work.


By Eric Lin (ASSIP 17)

The Aspiring Scientists Summer Institute Program (ASSIP) is a 7.5-week-long summer internship held at George
Mason University (predominantly at the Fairfax campus).
Stretching from the last week of June to the first week of August, student interns work directly under the mentorship of
George Mason professors and post-doctoral and doctorate
researchers. The disciplines range from computer science
and chemistry to the physical and life sciences; there are 19
different fields of study, each with multiple possible professors as mentors. Thus, there is a plethora of possibilities.
However, the wide range and massive size of the program are a double-edged sword. Since there are so many
mentors, their teaching style and quality covers a wide range
as well. Rest assured, all mentors are professors (you won’t
be paired up with a doctoral student), so they will have
decent experience with guiding college students through


7.1 working in a lab

research. Unfortunately, some may view ASSIP interns as
simply interns and not full-fledged researchers, and will
give you simple projects to work on. These may be fun
professors to hang around and work for, but let’s be real—
the reason you’re doing summer research isn’t to primarily
have a fun time. It’s to truly experience research—perhaps
for the first time—and the end goal should be something
tangible—a paper and poster at the very least, preferably
submitted and accepted at research conferences and journals.
The mandatory end product of all ASSIP research projects
is a standard research poster. At the end of the first or second week of August, there will be a showcase of every ASSIP project on stage at George Mason. However, as stated
before, this is the minimum requirement. Thousands of
high school students “conduct research" every year. The
vast majority of this research ends up on a poster. Sure,
a poster looks impressive at first glance; it may look far
prettier than a bland research paper. Yet, in my opinion, a
solidly and professionally written research paper is a must
for all legitimate research. Not only does it present your
work in a professional manner, having a research paper
ready to go is extremely useful for your future—you can
upload it to colleges as supplemental material, submit it
to competitions such as STS or Davidson, and even cite it
during job or college interviews. I highly encourage you
to show initiative and ask your professor in the first few
weeks about your intent on writing a legitimate, professional research paper. This will indicate to your mentor
that you don’t want to be like most high school interns and
piggyback on a graduate student’s project, or run a small,
insignificant experiment, but instead that you truly want to
conduct research and contribute to current research efforts.


7.1 working in a lab

The ASSIP Application Process
Regarding the actual ASSIP application, it is not very long
nor time consuming to complete. If you have completed applications for RSI, SEAP, or similar research programs, the
ASSIP application should be a breeze. First, the entire application is on the website (here) pretty much all year-round,
and the application almost never changes from one year to
the next. Moreover, the deadline is in the first week of
February, which is after most other applications. However,
I would highly recommend starting the application process
much earlier. As with NIH, contacting the researchers—
in this case, GMU professors—is of utmost importance. It
is trivial to search up the emails of professors (all have
GMU-associated web pages) and it doesn’t take long to
send emails to 10 or 15 professors. I suggest emailing either right before or after winter break.
The point of reaching out through emails is to give you
a huge advantage in the application process; the professors
are the ones that select and admit interns. Furthermore,
Stage 2 of the application process is an interview with the
professors, and if you have already corresponded through
emails, it will be much less stressful than talking to a complete stranger. Think about it this way—if you contact 15
professors and 5 like you and would like to take you on
as a student, you have in effect flipped the system. Now,
you get to choose which lab to go to for the summer (this is
similar to the college application process for top students;
in the end they’re the ones choosing colleges, not the other
way around).


7.2 research programs


research programs

Most research programs and camps are useless; you are
better off working on your own. Any research camp where
you have to pay any money (except, perhaps travel costs) is,
in general, not recommended. Perhaps the one exception
is the Simons summer research program, which is a worse
version of RSI, and costs $2,000. Research programs at universities which you may wish to apply to in the future are
useless—they do not meaningfully increase your overall admission chances. However, a couple research programs are
actually useful and prestigious.

Research Science Institute

By Franklyn Wang (RSI 17)

The Research Science Institute, held at MIT, is the most
prestigious high school research program. It annually admits fifty domestic students and thirty international students to do research with mentors in the Boston Area, hailing from Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, Boston University, as
well as companies. Students stay at Masseh Hall, at MIT, for
six weeks. The program is entirely expense-paid.
The Application Process
Let’s be real, knowing about RSI is meaningless unless you
can get in. From what we understand, there are two primary routes to getting in.
1. The first route is the research route. This route likely
requires you to make ISEF as a sophomore or become
published in a journal as a coauthor. Both of these


7.2 research programs

generally require finding a good internship the summer before your sophomore year (although independent projects can certainly find success in these competitions). The research route is generally the route
taken by most people who attend. However, a word
of caution: if you take this route, you must make it
clear in your application that you think you would
get a lot out of RSI, and that you would rather go to
RSI than continue your winning project.
2. The second route is the competition route. This generally requires one to qualify for a camp (or just barely
miss it). You also need a strong recommendation letter from a teacher at TJ.
RSI Itself
During the first week, students are treated to classes from
professors, intended to broaden their perspectives. The
next four weeks are mentorship, where students work together with their mentors on their projects. The last week
is “Hell Week", when students write their papers and presentations. Sprinkled throughout are lectures from distinguished professors, like Pardis Sabeti (Broad Institute Professor) and Eric Maskin (Nobel Laureate in Economics)
Another advantage of RSI is that the adults who direct it
advocate for students to be accepted to the colleges of their
choice. The results show. All but one domestic student
from RSI 2016 who applied to MIT was accepted.


7.2 research programs



By Joshua Lee (PRIMES-USA 17)

PRIMES is an opportunity for high school juniors to experience research in math, computer science or computational biology. Students partner up with mentors, who can
be graduate students, lecturers, professors, or other professionals on the topic. The program is hosted by MIT, and applications are open until mid-November to early-December
to high school juniors (or younger for those who intend
to graduate early). The computer science programs are
only available to Boston students, while the math program
(PRIMES-USA) is available nationwide.
About 20–30 students nationally are selected annually for
the math program, although this number has grown in recent years. A student is paired up with a mentor in midJanuary soon after they are notified of being selected for
the program, and the first few weeks are meant for reading, where the student familiarizes themselves with the
subject. They start doing the actual research shortly afterwards, usually meeting with their mentor at least once or
twice a week, although this number differs greatly from
student to student. There is a convention in May, where all
PRIMES students meet at MIT and present on their problem, as well as their progress and where they’re headed in
the future. The PRIMES program continues yearlong, although students are given great leniency in their schedules
from this point on, so that it doesn’t conflict with any possible summer plans.
Merely being accepted to PRIMES is an indication of excellence, and it is regarded highly when applying to college,
particularly for MIT. However, PRIMES doesn’t guarantee


7.3 independent research

you a ticket to MIT; please don’t apply to the program just
to raise your chances to get into MIT. PRIMES also offers
students exposure to math beyond high school, or an alternative to competition math, which may help guide the student’s choice of career. Lastly, most PRIMES students submit their research projects to competitions such as Siemens,
and often win prizes (as did Franklyn Wang, a contributor
to this book).

independent research

Most labs will be reluctant to hire freshmen or sophomores,
and research programs are geared towards juniors and seniors. For example, PRIMES takes place during your junior
year, and RSI the summer after. Thus, your initial research
will generally be independent. Independent research offers
the freedom to choose your topic, but you will often be constrained by resources.
Some fields of research are more accessible than others
because they require fewer resources. Computer science
research is especially accessible as a TJ student due to the
free high-performance computing offered at TJ. The GPU
and CPU clusters can be accessed via SSH during the school
year and summer. In addition, several cloud computing
platforms offer free credits. Google Cloud Platform gives
a free $300 in credit to anyone with a credit card (the card
is not billed after the credits run out), and Amazon AWS
gives $150 with a .edu email (however, you must be 18, and
they do ask for verification).
The Github student pack is available to anyone (use your email), which gives you free private repos while


7.3 independent research

you are a student. The Github student pack gives additional
AWS credit.
Any computer science or computational simulation project
can certainly be conducted from your own home. Any algorithmic research, mathematics research, or theoretical work
which requires little resources can be done independently
(of course, theoretical work is very difficult to conduct without a mentor through a research program like PRIMESUSA). In addition, if you have the engineering supplies, an
engineering project can be conducted from your own home
(know your equipment and budget restrictions). In general,
any research which does not require large, expensive equipment
can be done in your own home, independently.
However, it should be noted that no matter your field,
without a research partner to keep you in check, it is very
easy to waste the summer away unless you are extremely
motivated or have previous project experience. Therefore,
we recommend meeting with a research partner in person
for a set time every day during the months of your research
You should enjoy whatever project you pick, and the results (awards, prizes, recognition, etc.) will follow. Yes, it’s
true: some topics are far more likely to win awards than others. Projects involving disease diagnosis or water quality or
computational biology generally lend themselves better to
science fairs and competitions than engineering projects or
pure physics or math. But you shouldn’t choose your topic
based on whether it will win awards, since these research
competitions have a high degree of randomness. Projects
that win a science fair with hundreds of competitors often
walk away with nothing at the next. Be creative, be unique,
and do something you enjoy, or you’ll give up when you
inevitably run into difficulties. And whether it’s in a lab or


7.4 competing with your project

your garage or after school or during 8th period, there are
plenty of resources available to you, and you can always ask
a teacher or lab director if you need equipment purchased
or simply a second opinion.
When you embark on an independent project, let your
teachers know, and ask them for advice. If you are trying
to make an algorithm more efficient, talk to your computer
science teacher. They may have experience in the field, or
know someone knowledgeable, or at the very least, encourage and critique your idea. If you plan on submitting your
work to a competition, you’ll need a teacher sponsor anyway (someone to sign off on forms). And when you inevitably need a recommendation a year later, now you have
someone who is familiar with your work and ambitions
outside of their classroom.

competing with your project

Three major research competitions exist. Each of these competitions comes with substantial prizes, and a high place in
any of them is a great achievement. However, all competitions have a certain degree of randomness. Some students
will fare admirably in one competition, only to fail miserably in another with the same project.

Siemens Competition

Deadline: Late September
By Franklyn Wang (Siemens 2nd Place, 17)


7.4 competing with your project

Nota Bene: The Siemens Competition ended in 2017,
and will not be held in upcoming years.
The Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology is a high school research competition. There are both
Individual and Team categories. The Individual category is
open only to seniors, whereas the Team category is available to anyone.
The submission deadline is in mid- to late-September. It
requires turning in a report (which has meticulous guidelines, including citing code, double spacing, and a page
limit of 18 pages), obtaining approval from the principal,
and having mentors fill out forms.
In mid-October, the Semifinalists are announced. Generally speaking, if you’ve formatted your work correctly, you
should be named Semifinalist. Semifinalists are the top 150
team projects and the top 150 individual projects. Then, the
very next day, the Regional Finalists are announced. These
are five projects in both the team and the individual category for each of six regions, so they number sixty projects
total. The Regional Finals occur just in time for the college
early application deadline.
The Regional Finalist stage comes with a $1,000 prize, as
well as numerous goodies. You must make a poster and
slides for your project. These are each due in late October.
Then in November, each of the regional finalists will make
a presentation (via Cisco WebEx) to judges from the sponsor university in their region. In order to ensure lack of
bias, the judges are required to be from different universities than the mentor of the research project. The Regionals
happen at different times, some in early November, some
in late November. The winners of each regional advance


7.4 competing with your project

to Nationals, and recieve an additional $2,000 on top of the
$1,000 prize.
The National Finals are in the very beginning of December. Students are taken to a hotel in Washington D.C., where
they enjoy five days of socializing. Judges look at the poster,
the presentations, and the paper. However, the poster is not
presented to the judges, as the judges view the poster in a
private poster session. The prize structure was changed in
2017, so the prize given to 3rd–6th place in both categories
is $25,000, the prize given to 2nd place is $50,000, and the
prize given to 1st place is $100,000.
7.4.2 Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF)
Forms due: Early January

Reaching ISEF requires succeeding at ISEF-affiliated school
and regional fairs. Forms are due in early January for TJ’s
science fair (or much earlier if your project involves human
subjects or sensitive data). The TJ Science Fair is held in late
January or early February, and all judges are TJ parents.
ISEF (and the affiliated regional and school fairs) differ
from other research competitions in that you are judged
relative to other projects in your category. There are approximately 20 categories, about half of which are biologyrelated (Computational Biology, Biochemistry, Animal Sciences, etc.). Projects can be completed individually or in a
team (up to 3 people per team).
At the TJ science fair, judges do not necessarily have significant expertise in your research field, so good projects
often slip through the cracks and do not win their category.
Only projects that win their category are eligible for the


7.4 competing with your project

Fairfax County Regional science fair. NB: the rules change
every year, this was not true in 2018.
However, if your project was awarded Siemens Competition Semifinalist or Regeneron STS Semifinalist, you are automatically eligible for the Regional science fair. (Note that
you still have to participate in the TJ science fair.) Thus, the
best way to ensure your project will be judged by qualified
individuals at the regional science fair is to submit your
project to the Siemens competition. Of course, this assumes
you have finished the vast majority of your research by the
September deadline.
At the Regional science fair (held in March each year),
there are approximately 400 projects. For the first half of
judging day, judges with expertise in your category judge
all projects in your category. The judges convene, and around
noon, thirty “Grand Prize Nominee" projects are called out,
and the students of the other projects leave. Note that some
categories may not have a Grand Prize Nominee, while
other categories will have multiple. After lunch, only thirty
projects remain, and a series of Grand Prize judges view the
thirty remaining projects. The top 9 projects of the 30 Grand
Prize Nominees move on to Intel ISEF in May. All category
winners (which may or may not be Grand Prize Nominees)
and Grand Prize Nominees move on to the State science fair.
If you qualify for Intel ISEF (top 9), then you do not have
to attend the State science fair. Note that generally, only
2–3 of the top 9 projects are team projects, and the rest are
individual. From TJ, grand prize winners are generally limited to two individuals and one team. If your project wins
your category or “first place" (about 75 projects), but is not
in the top 9, you can still qualify for ISEF through the State
science fair. However, only three to five projects out of the
200 at the State science fair qualify for ISEF.


7.4 competing with your project

Intel ISEF occurs in mid-May each year, and is a weeklong expense-paid event held in Los Angeles, Phoenix, or
Pittsburgh, depending on the year. Most of the week is
spent setting up posters, meeting fellow competitors, and
attending various speeches, events, and parties. Wednesday is judging day, where you will present your project to
16 judges (10 minutes per judge). Unlike previous science
fairs, the judges at ISEF will only allow roughly 30 seconds
for you to go over your project before interrupting your
speech with questions. It is up to you to answer their questions (and follow-up questions) efficiently, and steer the
conversation towards strong points you wish to highlight.
There are more than sixteen 10 minute blocks throughout
the day; you will have resting periods after some judging
After all judging sessions, there is one final session where
no one has any judges scheduled. In this final session,
judges circle back to projects of interest. In general, the
more judges that visit your project during this last session,
the greater your award, but this is not always true. It has
varied from year to year.
Throughout science fair, there are a second set of judges
called organizational judges. These judges are sent by various sponsors and decide who receives corporate cash awards.
At ISEF, these cash awards are generally $1,000 to $2,000—
students often win more from corporations than from their
category placement. Whenever you get a judge, you should
quickly discern whether they are organizational or not. Often, organizational judges have special badges. When dealing with an organizational judge, be careful to not go too
technical and make sure to emphasize your research’s applications. It is very advantageous to tie in your applications
to the company or group they represent.


7.4 competing with your project


Regeneron Science Talent Search (STS)

Deadline: Mid-November

Unlike the other competitions, STS is only open to seniors. STS is the most prestigious research competition.
Projects must be completed individually (working with a
mentor is acceptable, and the majority do), and can be
started anytime during high school.
Note that the purpose of STS is not to find the best research project, but rather to find “scientific talent". This
means that STS judges a person for their scientific thinking and achievement, as well as the project’s merits. Thus,
the STS application is intensive, requiring numerous 300–
500 word essays describing the origin and inspiration of the
project, as well as your view about current scientific problems and developments. Applicants list all research and
awards they have achieved during the previous four years.
Additionally, a recommendation from a research mentor (if
you have one), and a teacher are required. This process
is comparable to, but far more rigorous than, the college
application process.
Approximately 1800 projects are submitted to STS. 300
projects are awarded Semifinalist honors in early January.
Semifinalist selection is based entirely on research papers.
Of those, 40 projects are awarded Finalist honors roughly
two weeks later, based on previous research, essays, recommendations, and other application information. If you wish
to become a Finalist (minimum $25,000 in prize money),
spend significant time on your essays, and have a previous
research award (ISEF Finalist, Siemens Regional/National
Finalist, Davidson, etc.) or extensive previous research experience. Finalists spend a week in Washington D.C. to de-


7.4 competing with your project

termine the top 10 projects. There, finalists not only present
their project, but also answer a series of questions regarding
scientific basics from any discipline, as well as work out solutions to hypothetical scenarios. Thus, after the announcement of finalists in mid-January, many finalists spend a few
weeks before March reading AP review books for biology,
chemistry, and physics, to brush up on basic facts they may
have forgotten. Winners are decided in early March, and
are based on finalists’ projects and how well they answer
their questions.
In terms of the selection process, your paper is ranked
within your category against all the other papers. The top
300 (Semifinalists) are determined by taking the top x percentage of papers from each category. The top 100 projects
are decided in the same way. The judges then look at essays and and other submission material to whittle the top
100 down to the 40 finalists.

Davidson Fellows Scholarships

Deadline: Mid-February

This competition is open to both humanities and science
research. Like STS, it involves far more than just a research
project, as both recommendations and multiple essays are
required. It takes a decent amount of time, so plan on working ahead of time. However, the prizes are fairly large
($10,000+ for 20 students). Note that Davidson Scholarships are also available to students in humanities fields. All
projects must be individual, so most students from TJ apply
their senior year, but the application is open to anyone in
high school. Results come out in July. At TJ, Davidson is


7.4 competing with your project

the least popular research competition, and only a handful
of students apply each year.
In terms of the application itself, you should contact your
recommenders ahead of time. The recommendation isn’t
really about you, but rather your project, so make sure to
give them a thorough description of your project. The recommender form is online so you can look at it before giving
them the information. Besides that, make sure your paper
is very, very thorough. In general, Davidson prefers theoretical research so make sure to give rigorous proofs and
explanations of your work.

Google Science Fair

Submission Window: September to December

Prior to 2016, Google Science Fair was a global science
competition where students between the ages of 13 and 18
submitted projects online between February and May. Students could compete as teams of up to 3 or as individuals, and had to submit a summary of their work, a short
video/presentation, and a research paper. One hundred
Regional Finalists were announced in July. Sixteen Global
Finalists were announced in August, and were invited to
a ceremony in California where the 5 winners (including a
grand prize winner) were announced in September. Winners were split evenly between projects from the two age
categories, 13–15 and 16–18. The Grand Prize Winner received $50,000; the other winners received various smaller
Google Science Fair did not occur in 2017 or 2018. A revamped website now appears at,
and offers little information other than the submission win-


7.4 competing with your project

dow: September to December 2018. The rules, format, procedures, and prizes of the new competition may be different
than previous Google Science Fairs. Nevertheless, this competition may serve as a valuable opportunity for students
now that the Siemens Competition has been discontinued.



Now that you’ve read through many of the research opportunities outlined in the previous chapter, as well as the
Olympiad camp avenues in Chapter 6, you may be wondering which path to pursue. Should I work towards a camp
or conduct a research project?
This is a difficult question to answer. In an ideal world,
you should do both, but as time is limited and you will have
other activities (homework, sports), it is very difficult to be
successful in both research and camps. Students who succeed in both research and camps waste little time and are
extraordinarily motivated. In addition, they tend to pursue
projects in the field of their camp.
Generally speaking, Olympiad camps provide a more
surefire way of demonstrating your knowledge. If you put
in the time, study the books, and do the practice problems
consistently, your performance in qualifying exams will reflect your hard work. Of course, nothing is a guarantee.
In every subject, an exam might focus on a particular area
you neglected, or you might just be unlucky and forget a
formula or a fact or make an arithmetic error. But none of
these unplanned errors even begin to compare to the randomness in research competitions.


research vs. camps

Research competitions contain a great deal of randomness. In lower levels of the science fair, parent judging is
horrendous. Organizers have even said themselves that parent judging is poor. At the regional and state level, judges
are slightly better, seeing through towering poster boards
and unnecessary electronics, but they still make mistakes.
Consider it from their perspective. A single judge will never
view every project in a fair. A judge won’t even view every
project in a category. And how does one compare research
in one field to another? When you view one project that is
clearly better than another, it’s easy to tell them apart, but
at the upper echelons of research competitions, projects all
seem similarly complex and competitors make equally bold
claims. By and large, the projects that win a fair are in the
top 5–10%, but they are not guaranteed to be the best.
For competitions requiring a full research paper, judging
is slightly better, but still contains randomness. At least
you can fully flesh out your ideas, and judges (presumably)
read through your full methodology, results and conclusion.
But even then, when it comes to STS, reading through the
top 300 projects won’t help you pick out the forty best—
which is why judges rely on recommendations, essays, and
past research experience.
At the end of the day, Olympiad camps are certainly
more work to reach; expect a minimum of two years of
work to reach any particular camp (save MOP, which is far
more difficult, since students are exposed to competition
math far earlier than they are to biology or chemistry or
physics). But if you truly enjoy the subject, if you really
have a passion for the field, the work will seem enjoyable,
and the knowledge gained will benefit you greatly in subsequent years, whether you make camp or not. Plus, there
are always other competitions where you can win prizes


research vs. camps

and gain recognition (like the Toronto Exam for biology
students or Chem 13 for chemists), and preparing for camp
will certainly prepare you for these contests.
On the other hand, the majority of research projects (even
winning projects) take less than a year to complete. In addition, most of the work is concentrated in the summer
months, when students are free from their other commitments. But working longer or putting more effort into your
project doesn’t improve your odds of success. Instead, research success relies on a broad set of skills. It requires
an interesting idea with broad implications, the skills and
resources to complete the problem, and eloquent writing
and speaking. Camps require narrower but deeper knowledge, making it nearly impossible for a student to transition
from research to camps, but certainly possible to move from
camps to research.
Younger students often prefer to pursue camps. Since almost no one has any significant biology, chemistry, physics,
or computer science knowledge before 9th grade, freshmen
start off on even footing (except competition math, of course).
Starting early is key for camp success. In addition, younger
students often don’t have the broader skills necessary to
succeed in research competitions, from scientific writing
and poster presenting to basic computer science (many projects
have small algorithmic parts). But by junior year, if you
haven’t made significant headway into your field, it will be
extraordinarily difficult to qualify for a camp, so older students tend to prefer research. Nevertheless, these students’
camp efforts are not for naught. Even if you never qualify
for a camp, the knowledge you gain from studying greatly
expands the possible research projects you have the skills
to pursue.


research vs. camps

We leave you with the following advice. If you prefer
honing your knowledge in a particular field, diving far
deeper than what TJ will teach you, and want to be one of
the best high school students in the nation in your field, pursue a camp. However, if you would much rather apply your
knowledge from coursework and extra readings, if you prefer to learn on the go and think of interesting ideas and
execute them, then pursue a research project. And whenever possible, do both.



Standardized exams should be fairly trivial. We recommend taking the SAT during first semester junior year. You
should not need to take the SAT more than twice. Any
score ≥1540 does not need to be retaken. Any score <800
on the SAT math section is abysmal. SAT math is highly
trivial. The SAT essay can also easily be done by following
the rubric. You should achieve an SAT essay score ≥20. The
SAT essay format (persuasive writing) is also very similar
to that taught by most English 11 teachers at the beginning
of junior year.
Only two (2) SAT II exams need to be taken. Unless you
wish to attend Georgetown, no additional SAT II exams
should be taken. SAT Math 2 must be one of your two
exams. It is highly trivial and should be taken sometime
near the conclusion of the school year (preferably June), as
you will have less coursework at this time. There are two
SAT II Biology exams, and either one should be taken near
the conclusion of AP Biology. The SAT II Chemistry exam
is also trivial, and should be taken near the end of Chemistry I or AP Chemistry. Neither exam will require anything
more than minimal preparation, as the AP courses cover the
SAT II material. However, the Physics SAT II covers material outside the AP Physics curriculum, so you will need to


standardized exams

study for the exam. Thus, it is recommended that you take
the SAT II Biology or Chemistry if you have taken AP Biology or Chemistry. You should achieve an 800 on all SAT II
exams you take. A 780/790 won’t hurt you, but an 800 is
more than doable.
It goes without saying that you do not need any test
preparation outside of taking a few practice tests during
the weeks before an exam. You can find dozens of practice
test books (Barron’s, Princeton Review, Kaplan) at your local library. Any outside services are frivolous, useless, and
expensive wastes of time.


R E S U M E - B O O S T I N G A C T I V I T I E S T O AV O I D

Many students at TJ perform resume-boosting; they engage
in activities solely for the purpose of inflating their achievements when applying to college. Resume-boosting includes,
but is not limited to:
• Founding a non-profit
• Founding a start-up
• Paying for science fair projects (This often takes the
form of research camps that cost thousands of dollars)
• Disingenuous volunteer work
• Giving a TEDx talk
• Internships for the sake of work experience
• Creating a club
• National Honor Society
• Foreign Language Honor Society (membership; officer positions have tasks)
• Exaggerating hackathon projects (presenting 24-hour
work as multi-week affairs)


resume-boosting activities to avoid

Of course, not every non-profit or start-up is founded
for the resume-boost, however, the vast majority of nonprofit organizations and start-ups founded by high school
students go nowhere, and you would be better off joining a
legitimate organization rather than founding your own.
We have already discussed the difficulties in founding
a “legit" club in Chapter 3. Creating a “legit" club is not
resume-boosting, but founding a club that accomplishes
nothing and teaches little while sounding important on paper is certainly resume-boosting. If a club name is excessively long or sounds complicated, chances are it was founded
for the resume-boost and lives on as a useless organization.
Unfortunately, resume-boosting, done thoroughly, actually works. Enough nonprofits and conference talks can
get you into Harvard, nevertheless, you should not take the
path of resume-boosting.
Why, if resume-boosting can get me into Harvard, should
I not pursue it? Simply put, resume-boosting only works
when you pick up news coverage (this does not mean a local paper, like the Fairfax Times, but rather a national publication or technology/science website). Once you have convinced a significant publication that your start-up/invention/
non-profit is a legitimate enterprise, others will follow and
fairly soon articles about you and your project will cover
the first page of Google when anyone searches your name.
This is, of course, rare for a TJ student. It is extraordinarily difficult to convince a legitimate publication to run
a story on a high school “wiz-kid" without connections. If
successful, however, it will be your ticket to Harvard/Stanford.
If you cannot convince a news outlet to run a story on your
project, all your effort creating a non-profit/start-up will go
to waste. At this point, colleges pretty much assume all of


resume-boosting activities to avoid

the activities listed above are BS unless proven otherwise.
And thus, 95% of resume-boosting fails.
Resume-boosting is one reason why Olympiad camps are
significant accomplishments. You cannot boost your way
to a camp, you must achieve the knowledge and skill yourself. Research competitions can be muddied by projects that
were paid for (usually through expensive research camps),
but paid projects for the most part fail in the early stages of
research competitions.



Applying to college from TJ is a competitive process. Numerous students apply to Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale,
and especially MIT early and regular. First, we will cover
non-TJ-specific terminology.


• Early: Refers to applications due November 1st (or earlier). Generally, students apply to 1 or 2 schools early.
Results generally come out the week before December
• Regular: Refers to applications due January 1st (or
around that time). If students do not gain admission
to their top choice during the early application round,
they apply to the rest of their schools in the regular
• Early Action: Applying to a school early action means
you can apply to other schools early. Prestigious and
popular early action schools include MIT and Caltech.
• Restrictive Early Action: You can only apply to other
public universities early. Prestigious and popular REA


11.2 early action & early decision

schools include Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.
• Early Decision: You can apply to other schools early,
but if you gain admission to an Early Decision school,
you must attend the school. Prestigious and popular ED schools include Cornell, Duke, Columbia, and
Carnegie Mellon.
• Deferral: An early application that is not accepted but
not rejected. Deferred applications are reconsidered
in the regular round.
• Waitlist: Students who aren’t quite strong enough for
regular admission are offered a spot on a waitlist. Some
waitlisted students will be offered admission in May.
The percentage of waitlisted students offered admission vary greatly by college, but are generally small
(<10%) for elite colleges.
• Yield Rate: The percentage of students who, once admitted, decide to matriculate and attend that particular university. Schools usually want to have a higher
yield rate, as it comes with prestige and gives them
more control in filling their class (less risk of under or

early action & early decision

Applying Early Decision raises your chances of acceptance,
since fewer people are willing to commit to a school in
November. In addition, Early Decision schools tend to not
be the top institutions, rather, they aim to lock up students
who might otherwise get into a more prestigious university,


11.2 early action & early decision

thus increasing yield rates. For example, Harvard, Yale,
and Princeton are Restrictive Early Action, because these
schools already have high yield rates, whereas the other
five Ivies all have Early Decision programs.
Some schools will have extremely high deferral rates (up
to 80%) for early applicants. These schools are generally
prestigious institutions, such as Princeton, Harvard, and
MIT. Notably, Stanford has a low deferral rate, resulting in
a much higher percentage of deferred applicants accepted
in the regular round (15%). Some students may choose to
send a “letter of continued interest" to these colleges, however, some colleges, like MIT, have a specific “February Update Form” for you to let colleges know of any achievements since November. Nevertheless, due to high deferral
rates, the vast majority of deferred applicants do not receive
From TJ, roughly 12–16 students make MIT, about 8 make
Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, and 5–8 make Stanford, although this varies from year to year. This does not mean
that 41–48 students make these colleges, since the “top 5–
10” students will inevitably gain admission to 2–3 of these
colleges and thus be double-counted in these figures. For
the early round, expect that no more than 8 will make
MIT, and no more than 4 for the other colleges listed above.
Please keep in mind that these figures are all based on recent data (within the last 3 years), but could easily change
in the next few years. It is also worth noting that several
of these students are recruited for athletics, and thus have
near automatic admission.


11.3 in-state vs. out-of-state


in-state vs. out-of-state

A single university can have different acceptance rates for
in-state vs. out-of-state applicants, or for its different schools.
For example, the UVA acceptance rate for in-state students
was 41.3%, as opposed to a 23.7% acceptance rate for outof-state applicants. This benefits TJ students greatly; UVA
admits the vast majority of students with ≥4.3 GPA postjunior year, along with students who have lower GPAs but
significant extracurriculars.
For most universities, the school of engineering tends
to have a lower acceptance rate than the college of arts
and sciences, however, the difference in acceptance rates
between them vary extensively from university to university. Carnegie Mellon, for example, has an extremely strong
computer science program, so its school of computer science (SCS) has a 5–6% acceptance rate, less than a quarter
of its other schools.
Not only do universities have vastly different acceptance
rates for in-state and out-of-state students, the tuition for
in-state universities can be as low as a quarter of the outof-state tuition. This is a major reason why so many TJ
students go to UVA, even though they may have been accepted to a better institution. For them, its not worth the
extra $150,000 for a slightly better education.

applying to top universities

If you wish to attend a top university (without resumeboosting), in general, you should have at least one major
research or camp accomplishment. Note that you don’t
necessarily need to attend a camp, for example, qualifying


11.4 applying to top universities

for USAMO many times is a very significant accomplishment. Some examples of “major" research/camp accomplishments are, in no particular order of prestige or difficulty:
• STS Finalist
• ISEF Finalist
• Siemens National Finalist
• Siemens Regional Finalist (2×)
• Attending RSI
• Participating in PRIMES-USA
• Davidson Fellow
• Attending MOP, USAPhO, USABO, or USNCO
• Attending USACO twice
• Qualifying for an international olympiad
• Making USAMO 2 − 3×
This is by no means a complete list. In addition, some of these
accomplishments are far more difficult than others (attending an international olympiad is far more prestigious than
just attending ISEF or making USAMO a few times, for example), but they all have one thing in common: any one of
these accomplishments, along with decent grades, excellent
essays, good recommendations, and a few smaller achievements, can get you into the college of your choice. Obviously, the less prestigious your main accomplishment, the
better your essays/recommendations have to be.


11.4 applying to top universities

In addition, the more recent your main accomplishment,
the more impressive. This is partially because it is more difficult to make camps as a junior, but also because it shows
growth and a positive trend. Reaching ISEF freshman year
but failing to make it past the regional science fair in sophomore and junior year tells colleges your initial research success was merely a fluke. For this reason, if you have a
particularly successful sophomore year, you may want to
consider applying to colleges as a junior.
If you have multiple accomplishments and projects, your
essays will write themselves. Just think about an interesting experience you had when solving a problem in your research, or at a research competition, or preparing for/attending
a camp, and you will find that your essay will naturally
highlight and show some of your research or scientific ability. (Obviously, don’t do this for all your essays.) When
admissions officers read about your research, and then note
that you’ve won awards for it, they view the project as legitimate, rather than something you’ve made up or exaggerated. This is why it is important to submit your research to
competitions, or to win awards. You generally don’t write
about winning a competition or award, but rather a snapshot of an experience along the way.
Some universities favor camps (MIT, for example, is known
for taking campers), while others favor research (Stanford
accepted 10/10 RSI Early applicants into their Class of 2022).
Simply having a high GPA, a leadership position, and a single varsity sport is not enough to ensure acceptance to the
most prestigious institutions, although it is certainly possible with excellent essays and a bit of luck.
On the other hand, attending an international olympiad
(IMO, IChO, IPhO, IOI, IBO), is a surefire way to guarantee
admission. STS Finalists are also near-guarantees for al-


11.4 applying to top universities

most all colleges. And a nationally-ranked athlete (from TJ,
these athletes are few and far between, and generally swimmers, tennis players, or rowers) will certainly be recruited
to one or multiple prestigious institutions. However, given
you are reading this guide, you probably don’t fit that last
category. A well-rounded student, however, one who succeeds as both an athlete and an olympiad camper/finalist
or researcher, is perhaps even rarer.

College-specific Information

As we mentioned earlier, MIT is known for taking campers,
while Stanford favors research. The vast majority of campers
apply to (and are accepted by) MIT early. MIT is also
known to be the most ‘resume-based’ college—they often
overlook mediocre essays and recommendations for MOPpers and other multi-year campers. Other colleges also exhibit preferences. CMU SCS is known to like cybersecurity
students (CTF competitors, especially top PicoCTF finishers) and math students (USAMO qualifiers, etc.). Harvard
tends to accept ‘famous students’, that is, students that have
articles or news stories written about them. That’s not to
say that Harvard only accepts famous students, or MIT only
accepts campers, just that if you are famous or a camper,
you have a very high chance of getting into Harvard and
MIT, respectively.
You may have noticed we haven’t mentioned GPA, grades,
or classes much in this chapter—that’s because they truly
don’t matter, as long as you have mostly A’s and A-’s. Princeton seems to be the only Ivy school that cares—most of their
acceptances have very high GPAs (≥4.5 end of junior year).


11.5 final thoughts


The Main Takeaway

The main takeaway is this: barring any rare circumstances
(such as being from an extremely under-represented minority), a STEM student who has no major research or camp
accomplishment will have a difficult time getting into Harvard/Stanford/MIT. Princeton, Yale, and other top-tier colleges are a bit more lenient (since there aren’t that many
people with major research or camp accomplishments, and
most go to H/S/M), but you must have excellent essays
and a somewhat unique experience to distinguish yourself
from the horde of other TJ students applying. Again, this
advice is for STEM students; those with humanities accomplishments will have a different experience, since there are a
whole slew of writing/art/fine arts competitions and achievements which colleges weight differently.
Finally, it’s worth noting that there is still randomness
involved. Students who have fewer accomplishments than
others may gain admission to more prestigious universities.
Nothing is a guarantee. Rest assured, at the end of the day,
the vast majority of TJ students are happy and content with
the college they end up at. College admission is not an end,
but rather a beginning. What matters most of all is what
you do at your university, and every college has research
and work opportunities.

final thoughts

At the end of the day, it is impossible to perform well in
research or reach an olympiad camp if your only motivation
is college. You should enjoy the field and your work. Only


11.5 final thoughts

then will you be willing and able to put in the time and
work necessary.


FA C T O R S Y O U C A N ’ T C O N T R O L

Inevitably, your admission or rejection to college is partially
dependent on factors outside of your control. These include:
• Legacy
• Family income
• Race
• Gender
• First in family to go to college
• Residence in a state in the middle of nowhere
In addition, your GPA is dependent on your course grades,
and some teachers are harder than others. You have little
control over your teacher selection, but for the most part
over the course of four years you will have a mix of “easy"
and “hard" teachers.
It is possible to partially control your teachers through
course selection. Obviously, selecting APUSH vs. Dumb
HUM or Singleton Lang vs. Teamed will change your teachers. However, you have some control in other courses. For
example, signing up for Multivariable calculus and AMT


factors you can’t control

will nearly guarantee you Dr. Osborne for both. Selecting
courses with too little interest for even a single class can
guarantee you one of your alternate courses (and you do
not need prerequisites to put down a course as an alternate).



Your experiences at TJ may differ from the book. TJ policies will change over time (generally for the worse), as will
Olympiad camp, research competition, and college admission procedures. Nevertheless, we leave you with the following advice:
1. Find an academic subject you love! Possible subjects
include mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, robotics,
rocketry, computer science, economics, geosystems,
and many more!
2. Delve deeper into the subject. Attend the respective
TJHSST club (or make one, if there is no club!). Go
online and read more about the subject. Sign up for
free online courses or buy books or other material. If
you don’t find learning about the subject interesting, you
chose the wrong subject!
3. Find other areas of interests (academic or nonacademic)
and try to improve at those as well. Again, if you find
yourself not enjoying something, stop doing it.
4. Sign up for a sport at TJ (that you are somewhat decent at) and strive to improve. Exercise helps with re-



lieving stress, which may become an issue (especially
junior year).
5. Be respectful in class, pay attention, and stay on top
of your homework (try not to procrastinate, and use a
planner!). Try to participate in class as well.
6. Give back to the community in some way during your
years at TJ, whether it be through club leadership or
volunteer work. Disingenuous volunteer work (see
resume-boosting chapter) is discouraged.
7. (Optional) Find a friend, and do some sort of research
project in the academic area that you are interested in.
Even though you can enter this project into a competition, the goal here is for you to learn about research in
your field; in the long run, it doesn’t matter whether
or not you actually win the competition.
8. (Optional) Find an internship in an area you are interested in. Otherwise, the internship will be pointless
in the long run. The point is for you to learn how
working in your area of interest will feel like.
9. Don’t fall into the resume-boosting trap! Do not apply
to internships just for the sake of having an internship,
do not do a research project just for the sake of having
a research project, and do not do anything just for the
sake of putting it on your college application! Only
do things you enjoy.
10. Put effort into your college essays, and try to finish
as much as you can in the summer. Have multiple
people (friends, family, or teachers) read your essays
and give you feedback. Rewrite your essays many



11. Know that college admissions results do not define
you or change who you are in any way. They are a
poor indicator of intelligence and ability. Most importantly, remember that it doesn’t matter where you go;
what matters is what you do there.



If you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions, contact
one of the five authors. For some sections of the book, the
author or contributor is explicitly stated. If your question
concerns one of these sections, contact the listed author or
contributor first.
This book was created over the course of six months,
from December 2017 to June 2018. The vast majority of
the book was written during the first and last weeks of this
time frame.
This book was written using the LATEX document processing system. The book is formatted by a modified version of
the classicthesis package. The font is Palatino.
This guide is version 1.0, last updated on June 30, 2018.
The most updated version of this guide can always be found



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