Polygence blog / Research Opportunities and Ideas

Research Science Institute (RSI): Your 2024 Guide to Getting In

2 minute read

hands in blue gloves working in a lab

The Research Science Institute (RSI) appears on a few of our blog posts, including:

This is for good reasons. RSI is very prestigious and well-regarded. If you’re interested in STEM subjects, you should seriously consider applying to one of the top STEM summer programs in the country.

5 Reasons to Apply to RSI 

  • RSI is completely free. Travel, room and board, and research supplies are all covered.

  • Incredible faculty serve as research mentors and guest speakers. You’ll get direct access to some of the best scientists, mathematicians, and engineers in their fields, globally.

  • RSI facilities are cutting-edge. RSI is a 6-week residential program that takes place on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus in Cambridge, MA. RSI takes place and is hosted by MIT, and the program is sponsored by The Center for Excellence in Education (CEE). Depending on your research project, you’ll do your work using state-of-the-art equipment in MIT labs, such as the esteemed Space Systems Lab; area hospitals; or corporate research facilities in Boston and Cambridge, MA. In short, RSI gives you a chance to do what you love with experts using the best possible resources.

  • RSI is a very selective, prestigious, and challenging program. Approximately 80 students are accepted each year, with an acceptance rate of about 5%. RSI participants are called “Rickoids,” which comes from the name of CEE co-founder Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. Because becoming a Rickoid is so competitive, RSI is a network of some of the most innovative, productive, and scientifically/mathematically accomplished students in the world. They will inspire and challenge you. We were also excited to learn that in 2022, the Rickoid group was 55% women, a very exciting trend since there were only 11 women in the program when it began in 1984. Being an RSI alumnus opens many doors with a powerful referral and networking STEM community at your disposal. It also boosts your chances of getting into MIT and other top schools. 

  • The RSI application process is great prep for the college admissions process. Even if you don’t get into the RSI (and, let’s face it, most don’t), the process of taking the PSAT, asking teachers for recommendations, collecting your transcripts, and answering the personal statement questions is very similar to what you will need to do your senior year for college applications. Having thought about and written the RSI essays, you will be ahead of the curve when it comes time to write college application essays later.

6 RSI Application Tips to Help You Get In

Because of it’s competitiveness, the reality is that there’s no single easy way to get in. Getting into RSI may be as difficult as getting into MIT or Harvard. However, there are some basic things you can do to strengthen your RSI application:

  • Make sure you’re eligible! You can’t apply to RSI if you’re already a high school senior. The optimal time to apply is in 11th grade, your junior year. Though some Rickoids have been younger, that is extremely rare. 

  • Complete standardized testing. RSI will accept PSAT, ACT, or SAT scores and are technically looking for:

    • PSAT (preferred over other tests) or the SAT: The math score should be at least 740 and EBRW (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing) score at least 700

    • ACT: Math should be at least 33 and verbal at least 34

Don’t despair if your standardized test scores aren’t at these specific levels or if you don’t have a 4.0 GPA. Extraordinary recommendations, essays, extensive science or math activities in or out of school, published research, and awards and accomplishments will carry more weight than perfect test scores or grades.

  • Give yourself ample time to complete your application. The RSI application is as in-depth as a college application (and great practice for that), so plan accordingly. You want to give yourself plenty of time to ask your favorite science or math teachers for recommendations, write your personal statements, and proofread/edit them.

  • Get stellar recommendations. You can submit up to 3 letters of recommendation from a math or science teacher or research supervisor. This is great practice for college, and you can check out this helpful post about how to ask teachers for letters of recommendation.

  • Show your authentic passion for science, technology, engineering, and/or math in your essay via your research, projects, and extracurricular activities. You’ll be asked to choose two research fields you’re interested in and a subfield for each. For example, biology with a subfield of genetics or physics with a subfield of condensed matter physics. Weaving all of your extracurricular activities on related subjects into your essay response will give the RSI faculty a better sense of your specific STEM research, interests, and experience. 

  • Be active and deep dive into the subject you are most passionate about. This is a tip you should ideally act on well before you even think of applying. RSI likes to see students who “exploit their surroundings in the most positive way”, meaning you follow your curiosity, jump into opportunities to learn more about your subject, and show leadership potential in that area. This can take the form of independent passion projects and inventions, extracurricular courses, competitive outlets such as Regeneron ISEF or math competitions, published works, or any other way you can showcase an extraordinary mastery over your subject. RSI wants to know that you have a genuine passion for scientific inquiry and a deep curiosity about the world around you.

Check out Past Rickoids

A great way to get a sense of what RSI is looking for (and to get inspired) is by looking at past Rickoids and their accomplishments. A few Rickoids also post inspiring and very helpful YouTube videos about their application process. If you’re feeling insecure about your grades and test scores, check out Elizabetyh N.’s first -hand account about the RSI application experience. Granted, anything she may have lacked in the test or GPA stats department, she more than makes up for in intellectual curiosity, technical ingenuity (she is patenting her female financial empowerment device called Etana, employing blockchain tech to create a unique digital identity and wallet with no need for an internet connection or electricity), political activism, and leadership! We love how excited Elizabeth gets about her passions (she’s a huge blockchain fan) and how much she is willing to share about her RSI experience.

Research Science Institute (RSI) Timeline

Middle school to sophomore year of high school: Pursue your passions! Do research and/or pursue a passion project. Compete in math or science competitions (if that’s your thing). Find research mentors who can help you expand your knowledge and develop good working relationships with your science and math teachers. Working closely with mentors and teachers speeds up learning and will be helpful when the time comes for you to seek recommendations. You should also study and keep your grades up. The summer after your freshman year of high school, start looking to register for the PSAT.

October of your sophomore and/or junior year: Take the PSAT, which is a standardized test that’s only offered in October. Taking the PSAT in your sophomore year gives you the chance to retake it your junior year if you want to improve your score. The PSAT is the recommended test for RSI, though you can also submit ACT or SAT scores.

November of your junior year: This is when the RSI application is released. Get started on seeking out up to 3 letters of recommendation from science and math teachers or research supervisors. Request your school transcripts. Start writing your personal statements. Give yourself plenty of time to review and edit.

January of your junior year: Submit your application. The RSI deadline is around January 14th for U.S. students. International students have a deadline of around February 11th. Good luck!

March: RSI notifies all applicants of their admission status. 

End of June to the first week of August: RSI is held on the MIT campus for 6 weeks.

What to Do if You Don’t Get Into RSI

As noted above, getting into RSI is very competitive, and not everyone who applies will get in. If you fall within that group, you can explore other research opportunities for high school students, including independent study with an expert research mentor. Check out some of the incredible passion projects high school students have taken on in various  subjects, including biology and physics, through the Polygence program.

Do Your Own Research Through Polygence

Your passion can be your college admissions edge! Polygence provides high schoolers a personalized, flexible research experience proven to boost your admission odds. Get matched to a mentor now!"

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