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Engineering Summer Academy at Penn (ESAP) - Our Review

If you’re a highly ambitious and motivated high school student looking to pursue higher studies in STEM, especially engineering, then you should focus on gaining hands-on experience and getting a head-start on college-level coursework. 

A great way to do this is by attending a summer program. Depending on the university, faculty teach summer programs and lead laboratory sessions, giving you essential practical experience. You can even complete a research project during a summer program, which goes a long way toward showing demonstrated interest in a subject on your college application. 

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, we recommend applying to the Engineering Summer Academy at Penn (ESAP). In this blog, we will review the program, give you the important dates to apply, eligibility criteria, and curriculum, and end with some pros and cons of applying to the program.

What is the Engineering Summer Academy all about?

The University of Pennsylvania’s engineering school organizes and runs ESAP. It is aimed toward ambitious high school students looking for an intensive engineering program and who want experience working with the latest cutting-edge technology. The program is residential and runs in July for three weeks. ESAP offers courses in AI, biotechnology, complex networks, computer graphics, computer science, nanotechnology, and robotics, all taught by Penn Engineering faculty and assisted by teaching assistants. 

How much does the program cost?

ESAP costs $8,500, which includes food and housing. Financial aid is available.

Is the program prestigious?

The program is moderately prestigious and selective. ESAP is expensive ($8,500), though financial aid is available. That being said, U-Penn is an Ivy League college and its engineering school ranks among the top 20 in the U.S. ESAP has an average student-to-teacher ratio of 1:19.

What are the important dates?

Applications for the 2024 cohort have shut. Generally, applications open in January and close by March 1. The program dates for 2024 are July 7 to July 27.

Who can apply for the program?

Local and international high school students are eligible for the program. To apply, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a rising high school sophomore, junior, or senior

  • Be at least 15 years of age

  • Have a minimum GPA of 3.0; recommended strong grades in math and science

While academic excellence is important to get into ESAP, the program favors students who can demonstrate critical thinking skills, who work well independently and in teams, and who are motivated to study college-level coursework.

What is the application process like?

To apply, you need to fill out the online application here. Your application must include: 

  • Two essays detailing your motivation to be a part of the program and what you would like to study

  • Two letters of recommendation

  • High school transcripts (to be submitted directly by school officials)

  • International students must submit proof of English proficiency (TOEFL, IELTS, etc)

Optionally, you can also submit test scores PSAT, SAT, ACT, etc).

What can I study at ESAP?

ESAP offers students seven courses:

  • Artificial Intelligence: Here, coursework will focus on regenerative AI and neural networks. Students will study the core principles of AI and machine learning and use this information to build their own AI. At the end of the course, students must present an independent or team research project.

  • Biotechnology: Students interested in this course must have completed at least one year’s coursework in biology and chemistry. Here, you will study the fundamentals of molecular biology and gene editing and use this knowledge to conduct cloning experiments. You will also attend lectures by Penn faculty, participate in a journal club to discuss published scholarly articles, and formulate a group research proposal that tackles a problem in biotechnology.

  • Complex networks: This course investigates the field of network science and engineering, which covers social networks like Meta, X, etc, infrastructure networks like the Internet and wifi, and energy networks such as the electrical grid. You will learn how to analyze network systems and investigate the practical applications of this field. 

  • Computer graphics: Learn about how game and animated characters are modeled, beginning with clay models and progressing onto industry-standard software like Maya and Alias. This course will cover design, anatomy, rigging, programming, and finally animating characters. You will visit U-Penn’s LiveActor motion capture studio and Human Modeling and Simulation Center, and also participate in field visits.

  • Computer science: This course will impart computational thinking: you will learn the basics of computer science and fundamental concepts of programming such as objects, loops, arrays, and abstractions to understand how highly complex machines work. You will undertake multiple small programming projects as part of lab work, which faculty will grade as not yet functional, functional, and complete.

  • Nanotechnology: Through lab work, lectures, and projects, you will learn the fundamental concepts of nanotechnology and also study nanofabrication techniques, imaging nanostructures, ethics, and the real-life applications of nanotechnology. ESAP recommends students have a background in physics and chemistry, but it is not compulsory. 

  • Robotics: Learn about the design, manufacturing, and automation stages of building a robot, and cover topics like sensing, actuation, control, and programming as part of the curriculum. In groups, you will build a functional robot and test it against other groups’ creations in a specially designed course.   

What are the pros and cons of ESAP?


  1. You join a prestigious program at a leading university UPenn is among the world’s best universities and its engineering school is highly rated. Participating in ESAP would add significant prestige to your CV! In 2019, they received over 650 applications from around the world for just 230 spots in the program. It’s fair to assume that the process has only gotten more competitive over the years!

  2. You can learn under Penn Engineering faculty Faculty members, all leading researchers and practitioners in their chosen specializations, teach the different courses. 

  3. You get to experience college life The program is residential and you will be living on the UPenn campus. You can interact with enrolled students, visit different departments, and access college facilities.

  4. You get to study college-level coursework The courses offered by ESAP draw heavily from freshman undergraduate coursework, which will give you a deeper understanding of the expected workload if you decide to major in a particular field.

  5. You can undertake an individual/group project Depending on the course, you can do research and complete a project, which would add value to your student profile and show demonstrated interest in a subject. Past projects include developing an algorithm to market a fast-selling product, developing games, and building an autonomous robot.

  6. The program is open to students around the world International students can apply for the program, and UPenn staff help with the visa process.


  1. The program is quite expensive At $8,500, ESAP is likely unaffordable to most. If you do not live nearby, travel to and from Philadelphia could also be a significant expense, especially if you are an international student. 

  2. The program is only residential Offering a commuter option or even holding some courses remotely could have helped deserving students, especially those who live abroad, attend the program. 

Our review — what do we think of the program?

If you can afford it, ESAP is a sound option to gain a theoretical and practical understanding of engineering. You can learn from Penn Engineering faculty, undertake research projects, and make use of U-Penn laboratories. ESAP offers a wide selection of courses for you to choose from based on your interests, and your participation in the program would reflect well on your college application.

If you’re looking to build a project/research paper in the field of AI & ML, consider applying to Veritas AI! 

Veritas AI is founded by Harvard graduate students. Through the programs, you get a chance to work 1-1 with mentors from universities like Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and more to create unique, personalized projects. In the past year, we had over 1000 students learn AI & ML with us. You can apply here!

Bonus — the Lumiere Research Scholar Program!

If you’d like to participate in a rigorous research program open to high schoolers, you may want to consider the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded by researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply 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. Last year, we had 150 students on full need-based financial aid!

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

Image Source: UPenn logo


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