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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Into Engineering? Check Out Penn’s Engineering Summer Academy

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When you’re preparing for college, it’s important to think outside the box, and this includes academic experiences beyond the standard curriculum at your high school. Top colleges are looking for applicants who have sought out academic challenges and taken time to explore the fields they’re most interested in.


One way to demonstrate your interest in a particular academic field is to study that subject during the summer. Organized academic summer programs and courses provide opportunities to deeply immerse yourself in a particular topic in a way that generally isn’t possible during the school year, and they let you do so within a group of enthusiastically like-minded people around your own age.


The University of Pennsylvania’s Engineering Summer Academy at Penn, or ESAP, is a summer program that offers exactly this type of experience each year for a small group of high school students interested in engineering. In this post, we’ll go over what ESAP entails, how to apply, and everything you need to know in order to decide whether ESAP might be right for you.



An Introduction to ESAP

ESAP is a three-week intensive summer program for high school students who are interested in engineering. It’s held on the UPenn campus, which is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The program’s dates for 2018 have been announced as July 8th through July 28th.


ESAP exists to give high school students a taste of college-level academic work in engineering-related fields. While typical high school courses like calculus and physics offer an essential foundation for students who are planning to go into these fields, it’s less common for high schools to offer advanced courses on engineering-specific topics, so participants in this program get a rare opportunity to immerse themselves in a more specialized environment.


The ESAP student body is divided into six courses, each of which represents a different subfield and is made up of 25 to 50 students. (Each participant stays within one course.) Below, you’ll find the six courses currently offered, a brief description of each course, and the prerequisites required for enrollment.



Scientists in this field use cutting-edge techniques to alter living cells for purposes like producing certain drugs. ESAP participants in this course will learn about molecular biology in the classroom and the lab, and will also get experience in the important task of envisioning and writing research proposals. Applicants should have at least one year each of academic experience in biology and chemistry, preferably including AP Biology.


Complex Networks

In this course, students explore the relatively new field of Network Science and Engineering, which addresses the structure and behavior of networks ranging from online social networking sites to the power grid that keeps our lights on. Applicants should come in with coursework in math and physics, and computer science experience is a plus.


Computer Graphics

Many young people dream of designing video games, producing digital effects, or otherwise using computers to manipulate media. This course teaches students how that’s actually done through hands-on experience in character modeling. Experience using Photoshop or other modeling tools is helpful, but not required.


Computer Science

The ability to program computers to solve complex problems is an extremely useful skill in the modern world, and this course introduces students to the foundations of computer science while also providing practical training in programming. The course is intended for beginners with little programming experience, but even students who have already taken AP Computer Science courses will have opportunities to learn.



Technology that exists on a very, very small level is essential for applications ranging from computing to medicine to materials science. This course includes both lectures and lab and group projects to get students started in the field of nanoscience. Applicants should have already taken courses in chemistry and biology.



This course gives participants a theoretical underpinning for the design and use of robots, as well as practical experience in building, programming, and using these helpful machines. There’s even a culminating competition between robots built by student teams. Applicants will need prior coursework in math (precalculus is preferred), physics, and C programming or Autocad.

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ESAP is a residential program, so when you’re not in the classroom, you’ll be spending most of your time on UPenn’s campus. You’ll live in suites in UPenn’s high-rise dorms, eat in on-campus dining halls, and be supervised by residential assistants who will also serve as the teaching assistants for the academic program. You may also go on group field trips as part of the program.


On the ESAP website, the program is careful to specify that it’s “not a summer camp.” Your time at ESAP won’t be spent relaxing and hanging out; instead, you and your fellow participants will be “immersed in an academically intense, fast-paced college environment” that requires dedication and hard work from you as you approach challenging intellectual material.


If that doesn’t sound enjoyable to you, ESAP is probably not the right match for your summer needs. If, however, the idea of such a focused and demanding environment sounds exciting, ESAP may be the perfect environment in which to explore your engineering interests.



Costs and Financial Aid

The program fee for ESAP in 2018 has been set at $7,635. This fee includes tuition, on-campus housing and meals, course materials, and course-related trips. However, it doesn’t include the cost of travel to and from the program, so that’s something you’ll need to arrange yourself. You’ll also need to bring your own day-to-day spending money for extras like souvenirs.


If you’re accepted to ESAP, you’ll be required to submit a deposit of $1,000 shortly afterward in order to formally enroll and reserve your place in your class. The rest of the program fee will be billed to you later in the spring, and you’ll be sent instructions on how to view and pay this bill.


Obviously, a course fee like this isn’t something that every family can afford. Some need-based financial aid is available to accepted students who qualify. This aid may reduce your overall cost, and the initial deposit you’re required to submit may also be smaller—it depends on your individual situation.


To apply for financial aid at ESAP, you’ll need to submit a financial aid application that provides data about your family’s income and assets, including copies of your parents’ most recent tax documents. (This is similar to the financial aid applications you’ll eventually submit to colleges.) This application and specific instructions for submission are available on the program website. Your financial aid application is due within ten days of when you submit your admission application.


For more information about paying for ESAP, take a look at the program’s official Financial Information page.



Eligibility and Competitiveness

ESAP is open to current high school students who will be rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors at the time the program takes place. You must be at least 15 years old and have completed your freshman year of high school to participate, and students who have already graduated from high school aren’t permitted to apply.


You should know that admission to ESAP is quite competitive. You’ll need to be academically strong, with at least a B average in school, and you’ll need to show that you’ve performed on a high level in challenging STEM courses in the past. When you apply, your academic transcript and recommendations will speak to your academic readiness.


However, other factors are important as well. ESAP is looking for students who show potential to make good use of their time in the program. You’ll also have to demonstrate the maturity and independence you’ll need to function effectively in an intense, residential, college-level program.


If you look at the ESAP website, you’ll see two deadlines listed for the application: a priority deadline of February 26th and a final deadline of April 6th. Given the high profile and selectiveness of this program, you should apply by the priority deadline if at all possible; applications received after the priority deadline are evaluated on a space-available basis, meaning that if you wait, the program may run out of space.



The ESAP Application

You can find the instruction sheet that accompanies the 2018 ESAP application on the program’s website. Here, we’ll briefly go over what this application will ask from you.


If you apply to ESAP, you’ll complete your application online using a system called CollegeNet. The application will ask various personal, academic, and demographic questions, and will include short-answer questions as well as a personal essay. You’ll provide a first and second choice for which ESAP course you’d like to join, though you’ll only end up in one course.


Along with the online application, you’ll also need to submit your official high school transcript, two recommendations, and a nonrefundable $85 application fee. Standardized test scores aren’t required, but if you have them and think they’ll help your application, you’re welcome to include them. (This includes scores from the PSAT.) Detailed instructions for submitting these documents are available within the application.


All applicants who apply to ESAP by the priority deadline will receive an admissions decision by March 26th. If you apply after the priority deadline, you’ll hear back within three weeks of submitting your application, but only if there are still spaces available in the program.



Deadlines and Important Dates

  • ESAP application opens: late January 2018
  • Priority application due date: February 26, 2018
  • Priority applicants hear back: by March 26, 2018
  • Final application due date: April 6, 2018
  • Move-in date: July 8, 2018
  • Program graduation: July 27, 2018
  • Move-out date: July 28, 2018 (by 11 am)


Getting Started

As we’re writing this, the spring semester has barely begun. It may seem like it’s too early to get started on planning your summer, but it’s actually wise to start early, especially if you’re considering prestigious and/or competitive summer opportunities. As we’ve covered in our post Why You Need to Gear Up Now for Summer Programs, many exciting programs have early deadlines or fill up early in the season.


Besides the practical reasons for getting started promptly, there are also some compelling personal reasons. Summer activities can be great for helping you figure out your future academic and career path, and they’re an important part of any application to a competitive college. It’s wise to give yourself time to explore your options, do your research, and choose a summer program that’s right for your needs.


Of course, ESAP is far from your only option when it comes to academic summer programs, even when you narrow it down to STEM-focused programs. Check out these past posts from the CollegeVine blog for more ideas to consider as you research your summer options.



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Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.