How to Get into COSMOS Summer Program

Farah Weheba
Farah Weheba

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COSMOS summer program is a California-based STEM activity course, held across 4 participating UC schools. Similar to college courses, the rigor is high. Likewise, you can expect to engage in lectures on niche STEM topics, field trips, group discussion, and group research projects. A pricey investment, however, COSMOS isn’t the only way to deepen your STEM research experience. Read on for the full scoop…


Established in 1998 by the California legislature, the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) gained popularity over time. COSMOS is a four-week California-based summer residential program for students interested in developing careers in STEM fields. They aim to nurture the next generation of mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. The program also aims to connect high school students with a network of academics, industry leaders, and research facilities. In fact, everyone from those who will be 9th graders through folks who will be in 12th graders are all welcome to apply. COSMOS primarily caters to students who live in the state of California, although they can admit up to 20 out-of-state students each year.  

What’s more, admitted participants can expect to meet mentors like faculty, researchers, and scientists. So, you can expect to explore niche and advanced STEM topics that you haven’t explored in school before through project-based labs. Additionally, participants pick up new techniques, technical process know-how, and learn about new emerging applications across different industries beyond the usual spread available at school. 

What to Expect from a COSMOS Summer Program

The COSMOS curriculum covers a range of topics. For instance, you can learn about almost any STEM subject. You can expect:

  • A variety of academic courses called clusters, across 4 University of California campuses. 
  • Clusters are distributed across UC Irvine, UC Davis, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Cruz
  • Courses are taught by UC faculty and researchers. 
  • Students engage hands-on labs, field activity, lectures, and group discussion. 
  • Students work on research projects. 
  • Expect about 18-24 students per cluster. 
  • Clusters topics from quantum mechanics to skeletal growth and repair; plus, a plethora of specific STEM topics are available.

    Cluster topics span engineering disciplines, biomedical sciences, computer science, ecology, marine science, materials science, mathematics, physics and astronomy, robotics, game theory… did I mention skeletal growth? See the full list of clusters by topic here.

Who Gets into COSMOS Summer Program? 

Each of the 4 participating UC campuses can accommodate about 160-200 participants, so selection is competitive. In fact, a competitive COSMOS candidate has a GPA of 3.5 or above. In making admission decisions, COSMOS admissions officers consider the following factors:

  • Good grades, particularly in math and science courses
  • Math, science, STEM teacher recommendations
  • A personal and thoughtful, humanized response to the personal essay question

In order to succeed, I recommend asking your STEM teachers to write your rec letters. Also, we recommend you submit the optional second rec letter. Essentially, go the extra mile!

How Do I Write a Good COSMOS Personal Statement Essay? 

In your essay, explain the central mission that drives you and your goal-orientation. For example, what sort of niche STEM topics interest you that you can’t learn much about in your current science classroom? On the other hand, how have you attempted to explore those topics of interest? Have you read books about them? Perhaps published journal articles or a Coursera online class or a community college class? What applications of that research topic intrigue you and how do you see yourself contributing to the field of scientific knowledge?

Further, demonstrate how you make the most of the resources available to you to drive a passionate purpose you’ve carved out for yourself. The admissions officers know that a student who lives in a rural area has different constraints than a student in the heart of Silicon Valley. Demonstrate how you’re being resourceful and leveraging opportunity with what you’ve got. 

What You’ll Need to Submit to Apply to COSMOS

  • Fill out the online application
  • Write your personal statement essay 
  • 1-2 STEM  teacher recommendation letters  
  • Unofficial transcripts uploaded directly to the application prior to submission 
  • 8th and 9th graders: submit your 7th and 8th grade report cards
  • Parent/guardian eSignatures
  • A $30 application fee 

Check the COSMOS application deadline each year for an updated date; it usually falls in February.

Applicants can expect to hear whether or not they were admitted to the COSMOS Program on by late March. 

Associated Costs of COSMOS

  • For In-state (California) students:  $4,128
  • For Out-of-state students: $6,500
  • Out of state applicants are not eligible for financial aid. 

Financial aid application is available for reduced tuition; but, for California students only. Supporting documents are due with the rest of your application – so, you can expect the same deadline. 

To apply for financial aid, you’ll need to gather: 

  • Gross annual family income 
  • Total number of dependents 
  • A tax transcript from the IRS of copies of a 1040

Reduced tuition covers four weeks of dorm lodging, daily meals, and all materials. Additionally, admission is need-blind, meaning applying for financial aid won’t affect your chances of being selected. 

“Prestige, if you please”

Free STEM summer programs offer super strong payoff in the college admissions process for STEM field college-bound applicants. Since COSMOS is not free, and carries a hefty price tag especially for out-of-state applicants who don’t qualify to apply for financial aid, the college admissions impact for just being admitted and participating is modest. 

What You Do Next with Your Research Matters

Say for instance you continue to work with the grad students or professors you met through COSMOS throughout fall and winter to further develop the research you started over the summer.  Perhaps you get mentioned as a co-author or as a research assistant in a resulting publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal: that’s definitely more impactful than attending COSMOS in a vacuum. Additionally, with that ongoing research, you could enter prestigious science competitions, building upon the foundational admission star power and deepening your STEM content knowledge along the way. 

Therefore, be sure to swap contact info with professionals and peers you’d like to keep in touch with to start building your professional network. Also, send out thank you notes after the conclusion of the program to express your gratitude professionally. 

Compete with This!

Original research that a student begins with a professor or grad students can be later used to enter amazing science competitions such as:

Whether you started your research with COSMOS or independently, you can take your findings to compete in science fairs and other math or science-based competitions. 

I Didn’t Get into COSMOS. What Do I Do Now?  

If you don’t gain admission, you can try to simulate the experience. In other words, you can participate in similar programming on your own to parallel the COSMOS summer program benefits. Plus, you might get bonus points for independent initiative, resilience, and growth mindset!

In fact, independent research conducted with a college professor or grad students is incredibly valuable for STEM-bound applicants. Independent or group research that results in a published journal paper (where the student is mentioned as a co-author, or even credited as a research assistant) is a huge achievement. As COSMOS immerses students in research, you can create that opportunity for yourself! 

Aim to pursue a research topic that will match up with the STEM field that you plan to pursue as a major. You may need to cold email several professors and/or lab directors at universities before you get a response that your research assistance is needed. As a result, we recommend you cast a wide net, and don’t be disheartened. Create and use a virtual bulletin board to keep track of emails you’ve sent, and set deadlines within board cards for when you should follow up on the thread or escalate by calling the department and leaving a message with the department secretary. 

Present at a Conference

You can bookmark the IEMS conference, which happens annually in March in Clearwater, Florida. This conference accepts high school students in the fields of Industry, Engineering, Management Systems, and related STEM fields. Not only that, IEMS hosts professors and scholars in Industrial Engineering, and branches out into related applied fields and industries. On the whole, the conference directors believe in preparing and empowering high school students to share their innovations and network with other academics. This leads them to add a unique high school and undergraduate student presenting track! 

Track fields include, for example:

  • Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing and more!),
  • Automation and Modeling,
  • Business Analytics,
  • Computer Integrated Manufacturing,
  • Corporate Governance,
  • Data Analytics,
  • Engineering Innovations,
  • Healthcare Systems,
  • Human Factors & Cognitive Engineering,
  • Leadership & Diversity,
  • Quality Planning & Process Improvement,
  • Supply Chain Management, etc.

See a full list of tracks in the Call for Papers

By the way…

You’ve got this! Summer, here we come. An Empowerly counselor can help you chart out a dynamic and rigorous summer. Click below to schedule a consult by phone to learn more. 

Questions? Let us know!