MIT PRIMES (Program for Research in Mathematics, Engineering and Science for High School Students) is an elite, year-long research program that gives talented students a head-start in their careers. It’s an exclusive program, with approximately 50 successful applicants each year. Based on a multi-section application, talented high-school students are selected to participate. They’re paired with other students, professors, and graduate students then assigned work on real, in-depth research projects. In a panel discussion with KTBYTE, a group of high-school students that participated in PRIMES shared thoughts on their experiences.
The PRIMES application is comprehensive and covers a different topic each year. To apply to the computer science or computational biology sections, applicants are required to complete a problem set containing CS and general math problems, as well as write essays and acquire letters of recommendation.
KTBYTE students who participated in PRIMES have plenty of advice for would-be applicants:
Advice for Applying to MIT PRIMES
While the application does require the ability to sit and think critically, applicants must immerse themselves in the problem set to succeed. You’re not just allowed, but encouraged to read up on topics and conduct further research into the topic of the application to fill holes in their knowledge.
Unlike other math tests where you either get the answer or you don’t, you’re allowed to leave and return to the application problems over the course of weeks or months if necessary. It’s not a test you complete in one long sitting — it’s more like a miniature piece of research, prepping you for the full course.
Although a strong CS background is beneficial for applicants, attitude is far more important.
“I don’t think you need that much prerequisite knowledge, what you need to be is curious and self-motivated.”
— KTBYTE Panelist
Applicants shouldn’t feel intimidated by not immediately understanding everything. Firstly, you don’t need to get everything correct, and secondly, that’s not what the test is evaluating. Curiosity, dedication, logical thinking, and problem-solving skills are much more important. Struggle is part of the process; when you get stuck (and you will get stuck), you should go out and learn, then return to try new solutions. PRIMES looks not for what you have learned, but what you are capable of learning on your own.