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Cooper Union Summer STEM Program — Is it Really Worth it?

You’re a young, ambitious high school student interested in STEM, especially engineering, but how do you know if it’s for you? Engineering is an important discipline — and you can contribute to important inventions if you choose to study it — but, as a high school student, it can be daunting to choose an intensive college degree program, especially if you don’t have any practical experience in the subject.

If this sounds like you, then we recommend you check out the Cooper Union Summer STEM Program, which offers introductory and advanced design and engineering classes to freshman, sophomore, and junior high school students, regardless of prior experience.

This program would be a great way to sample college-level activities and would prove demonstrated interest in the subject on your college application.

What is the Cooper Union?

Peter Cooper, an inventor, industrialist, and philanthropist founded the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1859, based on the principle that education was key to “civic virtue and harmony.” Cooper founded the institute after learning about France’s École Polytechnique, a specialized engineering university. The Cooper Union has four schools, The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, the School of Art, the Albert Nerken School of Engineering, and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The Albert Nerken School of Engineering offers the Summer STEM internship.

What is the Summer STEM Program all about?

The Cooper Union Summer STEM Program is a non-credit summer engineering school that gives high school freshman, sophomore, or junior students the opportunity to gain practical engineering experience and also offers advanced engineering teamwork courses to students with prior experience. Classes are held at the Albert Nerken School of Engineering in New York. At the end of the program, students display their work in a final presentation.

What does the program cost?

You pay $1,500 for a three-week course and $3,000 for a six-week course (based on previous years’ fees, though this could change for 2024). Financial aid is available: Cooper Union offers a full tuition waiver for students whose family income is 100% of the New York Area Median Income, and a partial waiver for students whose family income is up to 120% of the median income.

It’s important to note that the program is in-person in New York City, and Cooper Union does not provide housing.

Is the program prestigious?

The program is moderately selective and not very prestigious. The cohort size is between 18 and 22 students, though data on the number of applicants is not available. Additionally, there is no minimum GPA requirement. While the program is not very expensive (up to $3,000) and financial aid is available, the cost does not include stay and it is geared toward students already living in New York. Average monthly rent during the summer in New York City is almost $6,000, nearly twice the cost of the program.

How long does the program run for?

You can choose either a three-week or six-week course to study at the Summer STEM Program.

What are the important dates?

Applications for the 2024 cohort will likely open in January 2024 and shut in March 2024. The program will run between July and August.

What can I study at the Cooper Union?

The course curriculum changes every year. The program constantly reinvents itself to remain relevant and interesting, its courses provide introductions to solving present-day challenges and identify avenues for research that could interest young people. Some of the classes the program offered its 2023 cohort included:

  • Environment-friendly plastic design — research plastic lifecycle and engineering work currently being done to create alternatives

  • Data for New York — explores how critical infrastructure systems impact the lives of the city’s residents

  • Robotics Crash Course — learn the fundamentals of how mobile robotics systems function

  • Race Car Research — understand the different systems of and the research that goes into designing and manufacturing a collegiate-level Formula 1 race car

  • Design and Drawing for Engineering — students develop problem-solving skills. Based on college-level classes at Cooper Union

You can see the entire list of 2023 courses here. Only high school sophomore and junior students can opt for six-week courses.

Who can apply for the program?

All freshman, sophomore, and junior high school students can apply for the program. International students can also apply, though Cooper Union does not sponsor visas.

What documents do I need to submit with my application?

To apply, you need to submit the following:

  • High school transcripts

  • Two essays (the topics will be available once 2024 applications open)

  • A letter of recommendation

  • Proof of family income (if you are applying for financial aid)

What are the pros and cons of the Cooper Union Summer STEM Program?


  1. You get hands-on, practical experience in engineering The Summer STEM Program is open to all students and is a great way to introduce yourself to engineering. You get to work on exciting projects and better understand what you would study in college.

  2. Open to young high school students You can apply if you’re a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior. This can be extremely helpful — you can get hands-on engineering experience at a younger age and make an informed decision early on if you’d like to pursue the discipline in college and beyond.

  3. You can choose from a rich selection of courses geared toward young learners Classes part of the program include creating environment-friendly plastic waste, designing a racecar, and robotics, to name a few. The courses offer a mix of topics of social and environmental importance and pure engineering.

  4. Tuition fees are modest compared to other universities At up to $3,000, the Cooper Union is much cheaper than other paid summer programs in the U.S. For comparison, tuition-based engineering summer school at NYU can cost up to $11,000 depending on your chosen course. Additionally, Cooper Union offers up to 100% financial aid to deserving students to make the program more accessible.

  5. You can build your portfolio with the work you do during the program At the end of the program, students have to present what they have accomplished through their projects. Previous work by alumni includes portable printers, handheld blenders, new packaging designs for furniture, and more. You can view students’ portfolios here.


  1. The program has limited prestige Though cheaper than some other programs, the Cooper Union Summer STEM Program costs up to $3,000. Moreover, it is in-person and does not cover lodging, which could be a significant deterrent to students from outside New York City who want to attend the program.

  2. You will need to arrange for a visa yourself if you’re an international student While Cooper Union accepts international applicants, it does not sponsor visas. This is a significant hurdle if you are not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

  3. You do not earn credits for the program The summer program is non-credit, which could be a deterrent if you’re an ambitious high school student looking to earn credits and use them to skip/ choose other courses in college.

What do we think of the program?

We really like the Cooper Summer STEM Program for its approachability and the introduction it gives young high school students to engineering and design. It has a rich selection of courses to choose from, tuition is not too expensive, and the work you do will reflect well on your portfolio when you apply to college.

That being said, we find the lack of options for housing and its paid nature to be restrictive — New York City is one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in, and many students could be deterred from applying if they do not have a place to stay. The program is non-credit, and international students, even if they can afford the program and stay, may not apply since Cooper Union does not sponsor visas.

Bonus — the Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in doing university-level research in engineering, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, over 4000 students applied for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.

Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.

Kieran Lobo is a freelance writer from India, who currently teaches English in Spain.

Image Source: The Cooper Union

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