top of page
Post: Blog2_Post

The Ultimate Guide to Penn GEMS - Should You Apply?

The University of Pennsylvania offers Philadelphia middle school students an opportunity to engage in STEM topics at a prestigious institution through the Penn GEMS program, designed for Engineering, Math, and Science. With access to resources on campus and networking opportunities, this program allows middle schoolers to explore STEM as a focus of study as they enter their high school to college careers. UPenn's program is a week-long, day program on campus.  

Programs hosted by prestigious universities for middle school students are an excellent way to get a glimpse of advanced education, and build a solid foundation for your college SOP well in advance. 

This blog will guide you through the program, its structure, costs, prestige, as well as a quick list of pros and cons that you should be keeping in mind before applying. 

How is the Penn GEMS program structured?

The GEMS program is a one-week-long program in the summer. For 2024, it is from June 24th - June 28th, 9 am - 4 pm.

The program operates during the day, so there are no overnight accommodations available. Lunch will be provided, but participants must arrange their own transportation. It is expected that students will be picked up and dropped off for the duration of the program.

Who is eligible for the GEMS program?

To apply, you must be in the 7th, 8th, or 9th grade starting in Fall 2024, residing in Philadelphia and within a 60-mile radius of Penn's campus. This does take away some of its prestige, but the applicant pool from this region can be quite hard to beat as well! Some of the requirements for applying include the following: 

  • Waiver Release form

  • Most recent report card

  • 1 teacher recommendation

  • Camp Fee - $650

  • Optional: Financial Aid Form

How much does the program cost to partake?

There is a one-time fee of $650, however financial aid is offered for US residents/citizens.You can find more information about financial aid here. This program is quite affordable, especially if you are just starting out with college-level immersions in a particular subject area, or wish to gain a background in STEM before diving into rigorous independent research programs such as Lumiere Education or Veritas AI. 

Is Penn GEMS prestigious?

Although the acceptance rate for the GEMS program is not officially disclosed, it can be inferred that the program is slightly prestigious rather than highly prestigious. To participate, a payment is required, which contributes to its perceived prestige being lower compared to fully funded research opportunities or paid summer internships. However, there are some limiting requirements in the application that look at an applicant's academic rigor and opportunity to succeed in STEM; therefore, it is still a moderately prestigious program. 

What are some of the topics covered in the GEMS program?

The summer camp offers a variety of activities, although participation in all of them is not guaranteed. Students will be grouped and engaged in various activities. 

Past offerings include - 

1. Glow in the Dark Science: Participants explore cells' functions and engineering innovations to combat diseases.

2. Mechanical Engineering in Action!: Students collaborate to design and construct structures or vehicles, experiencing the engineering process firsthand.

3. It's a Robot: Understanding the principles of robotics technology through hands-on activities with robots.

4. What is Computer Science?: This section delves into computer science concepts and the potential for creation in various fields.

5. Imagination to Animation: Learning basic computer programming skills for animation and game development.

6. Nanotech 101: Experimenting with nanomaterials and exploring their impact on everyday life.

Note: The activities listed are subject to change, and not all participants may partake in every activity.

Check out this link to see what some of the past GEMS program participants partook in!

What are the Pros and Cons of the Penn GEMS program?


1. You will get to experience life at Penn

The program allows middle schoolers to engage in STEM topics at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, providing access to resources and networking opportunities that can enrich your educational experience, as well as help you build a strong network.

2. You engage with STEM early on

You will have the chance to explore various STEM disciplines, such as engineering, math, and science, through hands-on activities and workshops, something that will help you discover your interests and potential career paths.

3. The program is well-structured

The Penn GEMS program is well-structured with a clear schedule and various activities, providing a comprehensive and immersive experience in STEM education during the week-long program.


1. The program is not fully-funded

The program requires a significant fee of $650, which may pose a financial barrier for some families despite the availability of financial aid for US residents/citizens. This cost could exclude students from lower-income backgrounds who may benefit greatly from the program.

2. You will have to arrange for your own transportation and accommodation

Since the program is a day program and does not provide overnight accommodations, students must arrange transportation to and from campus daily. This could pose a challenge for parents or guardians who cannot provide transportation, particularly if they have work commitments or other responsibilities, potentially limiting accessibility for some students.

3. Participation in all activities isn’t guaranteed 

Although the program offers a variety of activities, participation in all of them is not guaranteed. This could lead to disappointment for students who are particularly interested in certain topics but are not able to engage with them during program week. Additionally, the uncertainty around activity availability may make it difficult for students to plan their expectations and goals for the program.

Should you do it? - Our Review

The Penn GEMS program is a fantastic opportunity for students to learn about STEM as a focus for study as they begin their academic journeys. It provides participants with the resources and networking on a college campus and also allows them to engage and connect with their peers and boost students' academic resumes. 

In reflection of the program, GEMS offers middle schoolers a chance to explore STEM at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, providing valuable networking and educational opportunities. However, recognizing the program's limitations regarding financial support and daily transportation needs could pose challenges for others. 

In conclusion, the benefits of applying for the Penn GEMS program are vast despite some technical cons. If you are interested but need to decide if you should apply, reflect on what interests you can explore beyond this program and whether you can take the opportunity to help you grow. 

One more option - The Lumiere Junior Explorer Program

The Lumiere Junior Explorer Program is a program for middle school students to work one-on-one with a mentor to explore their academic interests and build a project they are passionate about.  Our mentors are scholars from top research universities such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale, Duke and LSE.

The program was founded by a Harvard & Oxford PhD who met as undergraduates at Harvard. The program is rigorous and fully virtual. We offer need based financial aid for students who qualify. You can find the application in the brochure

To learn more, you can reach out to our Head of Growth, Khushi Malde, at or go to our website.

Multiple rolling deadlines for JEP cohorts across the year, you can apply using this application link! If you'd like to take a look at the cohorts + deadlines for 2024, you can refer to this page!

Tenzing Dolma is a Masters student specializing in research following the Nechung Oracle and the historical, religious, and cognitive approaches to its presence. She has a bachelors in Neuroscience from Loyola University Chicago and is currently completing her graduate studies at Columbia University. She hopes to help students find their passions through access to programs and organizations the same way she found hers! 


bottom of page