Why Attend The California State Summer School for Math & Science (COSMOS)

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A female student having thoughts while looking at the horizon is holding a pen.

Why Attend The California State Summer School for Math & Science (COSMOS)

COSMOS is a four-week, immersive summer residential program for high school students interested in the fields of STEM. It’s designed for talented students from 8th to 12th grade who show promise in STEM fields. 

Participants engage in advanced STEM topics that go beyond the standard high school curriculum in California. They work alongside renowned faculty, researchers, and scientists in top-notch facilities, gaining hands-on, lab-intensive experience. The program helps students develop their skills and increases their awareness of educational and career opportunities in STEM.

Students can apply to one of the five University of California campuses hosting the program: UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Cruz. Each campus offers a unique curriculum that leverages the expertise of its faculty and research facilities. The program is highly competitive, typically accepting 160-200 students per campus, and usually looks for students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher who have demonstrated academic excellence.

Group of students in the library with their group leader discussing the task.

COSMOS History

COSMOS, the California State Summer School for Math & Science, was established by the California Legislature in 1998 to enhance STEM skills among bright students through an intensive study program. It was inspired by the California State Summer School for the Arts, founded in 1987. 

The program first launched at the University of California (UC) Irvine and UC Santa Cruz campuses in 2000. Due to its popularity, UC Davis was added in 2001 and UC San Diego in 2004. These four campuses currently host the program, with potential for expansion to more campuses in the future.

two engineerings working together

California State Summer School for Math & Science’s Mission and Goals

A major goal of the COSMOS program is to encourage a sense of community among its participants. The program strives to create an inclusive environment where students feel like they are part of something larger. It encourages active engagement in an academic setting with renowned teachers, educators, experts, and scholars. Students are urged to use their imagination and participate fully. COSMOS aims to inspire the creative minds of future leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to use their skills and passions to positively contribute to society.


The COSMOS program allows students to focus on specific STEM subjects through “clusters,” each guided by expert faculty at University of California campuses. Each cluster covers a unique topic, such as quantum mechanics or computer science, and includes courses with about 18-24 students. Participants engage in field trips and activities that enhance their learning and understanding of college admissions. The program also offers awards that can boost resumes and provide valuable career advancement opportunities.

UC Davis
Cluster 1: Quantum Mechanics and Applications to Nanotechnology
Cluster 2: Physics & Engineering: From the Scientific Method to Technological Applications
Cluster 3: Introduction to Engineering Mechanics
Cluster 4: Introduction to Astrophysics (Not Offered in 2024)
Cluster 5: Computers in Biophysics & Robotics
Cluster 6: Mathematics
Cluster 7: Introduction to Plant Microbiology(Not Offered in 2024)
Cluster 8: The Internet of Things
Cluster 9: Mathematical Modeling of Biological Systems
Cluster 10: Sustainable Transportation: Engineering, Environment, & Policy
Cluster 11: Future Foods: Sustainable Aquaculture & Aquaponic Food Production (Not Offered in 2024)
Cluster 12: Introduction to Machine Learning
UC Irvine
Cluster 1: Exploring the Application of Data Science in the Health Sciences
Cluster 2: Computation and Machine Learning: Physics, Big Data, and Our Understanding of the Universe
Cluster 3: Tissue and Tumor Biology and Mathematical/Computational Modeling
Cluster 4: Exploration of the Expanding Universe and the Subatomic World
Cluster 5: Sustainable Aviation Systems
Cluster 6: Genes, Genomes, and Skeletal Muscle Dystrophies
Cluster 7: BioEngineering Your Brain: Controlling the World with Your Brainwaves (Not Offered in 2024)
Cluster 8: BioEngineering and Characterizing Human Skin Organoids
Cluster 9: Stressed Out Bugs: How Bacteria Respond to Changing Environments
Cluster 10: Sustainable Infrastructure and Structural Engineering
UC Los Angeles
Cluster 1: Brain-Inspired Computing: Learning in Biological; Artificial Neural Networks
Cluster 2: Ecosystem Responses to Climate from Plants to Planet: Analyzing and Presenting Data from Lab and Space Sensors
Cluster 3:Exploring the Evolution of Animal Form: from Fossils to Embryos
Cluster 4: High Success: Hydrogen Is Green Headway to SUstainability, Carbon Capture, Energy-transition, and SuStainizability®
Cluster 5: From Mini Robot Cars to Rockets: Introductions to Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering through Mechatronics
Cluster 6: From Medicine to Hollywood: Artificial Intelligence for Speech and Imagery
UC San Diego
Cluster 1: Computers in Everyday Life
Cluster 2: Engineering Design and Control of Kinetic Sculptures
Cluster 3: Climate Change
Cluster 4: Structural Engineering: Building Better
Cluster 5: Photonics: Light-based Technologies in Everyday Life
Cluster 6: Biodiesel from Renewable Sources
Cluster 7: R4US Robots for Undersea Science
Cluster 8: Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine
Cluster 9: Music and Technology
Cluster 10: Robot Inventors
Cluster 11: Introduction to Autonomous Vehicles
Cluster 12: Machine Learning: Can We Teach a Computer to Think?
Cluster 13: Video Game Programming and Game AI Design
UC Santa Cruz
Cluster 1: Number Theory and Discrete Math
Cluster 2: Nanochemistry and Nanotechnology
Cluster 3: Bugs and Bones: The Biodiversity and Ecology of Vertebrates and Invertebrates in the Monterey Bay Region
Cluster 4: Quantum Information Science and Engineering
Cluster 5: Video Game Design: From Concept to Code
Cluster 6: Introduction to Smart and Sustainable Power
Cluster 7: Shining a Light on the Future: The Photonic Revolution in Healthcare, Energy, and Information Technologies
Cluster 8: Practical Applications of Chemical Principles
Cluster 9: Molecular Biology Investigations
Cluster 10: Semiconductor Materials and Devices Engineering
Cluster 11: Fundamentals of Machine Learning in Robotics
Cluster 12: Exploring the Structure of Quantum Materials by X-ray and Neutron Scattering

California State Summer School for Math & Science’s Campuses

The COSMOS program is available at four University of California campuses, each offering a specialized STEM education curriculum. These campuses are well known for their challenging programs and partnerships with faculty and students from the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges, which help make the program more accessible.

UC Davis: Located in Northern California, close to Sacramento, this campus provides a convenient option for those in or near the state’s capital.

UC Irvine: Situated near Newport Beach in Orange County, this campus is about 40 miles south of Los Angeles, making it ideal for students in the southern part of the state.

UC Santa Cruz: Found in Northern California, this campus is an hour south of San Francisco, offering a scenic coastal environment.

UC San Diego: Located in the southern part of the state in La Jolla, close to the vibrant city of San Diego.

a group of forensic science student wearing their complete laboratory outfit and working inside the lab

Who Can Apply

Participating in COSMOS is a competitive accomplishment due to the sheer amount of applications compared to how many people are accepted into a given program. Eighth graders going into the 9th grade through rising 11th graders (those who will be in 12th grade) are eligible to apply for the program. 

Each of the four campuses can accommodate around 160 to 200 participants. If you can make it into the program, it can be a fantastic asset for your college application process. 

Usually, COSMOS  students have a GPA of 3.5 or above. COSMOS does not consider SAT or ACT test scores for making admissions decisions or awarding financial aid.

All applicants must complete an online application as well as one personal statement. You’re required to have at least one teacher recommendation but a second one is highly suggested. It’s preferred if you have a recommendation from a STEM teacher since it’s a STEM program after all.

There’s an application fee that you can pay online or via check as well as a parent or guardian e-signature required. The personal essay is an integral part of the admissions process so check your spelling, grammar, and punctuation to make your essay stand out.

Those who have already been admitted into COSMOS aren’t eligible to apply for a second round. 

Submit all the required fields on time to avoid being late and missing the deadline. The cluster faculty reviews all the applications to compare to ensure all prerequisites are met.

You can apply to only one campus at a time, selecting a first-choice and a second-choice cluster for your application. To determine if your high school classes meet the prerequisites for a cluster, you should contact the campus directly or review the cluster information available on the campus websites.

The participating faculty reads the essays, recommendation letters, application materials, and student activities and extracurriculars such as math or science fairs, robotics competitions, and leadership clubs. They even comb through courses such as Honors and AP and look for high grades in math/science classes rather than an overall high GPA. 

COSMOS is exclusively available to high school students in California. Your California student identification number, or CASSID, is required during the application process. If you are unsure of your CASSID, please consult your school registrar or counselor. 

Once admitted, living on campus is mandatory as the residential experience is an integral part of the program.

The application fee of $42 is non-refundable. All payments made to COSMOS are non-refundable after the specified due date, as stated on the program’s policy page.

Life on Campus

The California State Summer School for Math & Science (COSMOS) offers a unique four-week residential experience where students live in residence halls supervised by resident assistants (RAs). Students live independently from their parents, helping them adapt to dorm life with structured support for those who might experience homesickness.

COSMOS provides trained staff to help students adjust, offering activities to ease the transition. During a designated family visitation weekend, parents can visit the campus, engage in social activities, and get a taste of their child’s life at college. Students live in a community setting, dine in cafeteria-style settings with meal cards, and receive keys to their rooms. Special dietary needs are accommodated on a request basis.

An average day for a student might look like this:

  • 7:30 – 8:30 AM: Breakfast
  • 8:30 – 8:45 AM: Morning Update
  • 9:00 – 10:30 AM: Cluster Lecture Topic #1
  • 10:45 – 11:45 AM: Cluster Lab Topic #1
  • 12:00 – 1:00 PM: Lunch
  • 1:15 – 4:00 PM: Cluster Lecture Topic #2
  • 4:00 – 6:15 PM: Free Time / Dinner
  • 6:15 – 8:00 PM: Study Time / Free Time / Suite Meetings
  • 8:00 – 10:00 PM: Recreational / Programming Activities
  • 10:00 – 10:30 PM: Students must be in the residence halls
  • 10:30 – 11:00 PM: Students must be in their own rooms
  • 11:00 PM: Lights out

The schedule is flexible, with the exact details provided on the first day of the program. This routine includes ample opportunities for both structured academic sessions and personal time, allowing students to explore campus resources like the library and teaching labs.

Roommates are assigned based on a questionnaire and age group, fostering a supportive environment. Students are encouraged to communicate openly and work through differences respectfully, much like in a professional setting. Accommodations are available for challenging roommate situations, but the expectation is for students to collaboratively resolve issues.


The application fee for COSMOS is $42 and is non-refundable. Once admitted, students will participate in a four-week residential program costing $5,007.

This fee covers housing, meals, orientation, field trips, activities, and on-site support, and is also non-refundable.

For payments made by credit card, there is a 2.5% transaction fee, which is charged by the third-party processor and not by COSMOS. This fee applies to the program costs only and not to the application fee. Please note, that this transaction fee is non-refundable, even if the payment for the program is canceled, refunded, credited, or charged back.

According to university banking policy, you will need to make two separate payments: one for the program costs and another for the transaction service fee.

a student smiling looking at her laptop

Final Thoughts

COSMOS aligns with California’s goals to boost its standing in both the U.S. and global economies by cultivating the next generation of industry leaders. Unlike traditional academic courses, COSMOS offers a hands-on learning experience in a college campus setting, without the pressure of grades or exams. 

Living on a university campus, students work closely with some of the state’s top experts, diving deep into their interests and collaborating on innovative projects. Although the challenge of being away from home might seem scary at first, it is a rewarding experience that promotes personal growth and sparks inspiration. Participants leave the program with new skills and potentially life-changing projects like robot-building or app development. For any young enthusiast eager to explore STEM fields, COSMOS is a stepping stone to a future filled with possibilities!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is COSMOS?

COSMOS is a four-week, immersive summer residential program for high school students who are interested in STEM fields. It is designed for students from 8th to 12th grade who show promise in these areas. The program offers advanced STEM topics that extend beyond the standard high school curriculum, providing hands-on experience in a collegiate environment.

2. Who is eligible to apply for COSMOS?

The program is open to students entering 9th grade up to those who will start 12th grade. Applicants typically have a GPA of 3.5 or higher and demonstrate academic excellence. It’s important to note that SAT or ACT scores are not considered in the admissions process.

3. What can participants expect during the COSMOS program?

Participants live on campus in residence halls and engage in a daily schedule that includes lectures, labs, and group studies in their chosen cluster topic. They also participate in field trips and recreational activities. The program is structured to mimic college life, helping students prepare for future academic and living environments.

4. How much does it cost to attend COSMOS?

There is a non-refundable application fee of $42. Once admitted, the program cost is $5,007, which includes housing, meals, orientation, field trips, activities, and on-site support. This fee is also non-refundable. Payments made by credit card incur a 2.5% transaction fee.

5. What are the living arrangements like at COSMOS?

Students are assigned roommates based on age and answers to a questionnaire. Living on campus is mandatory, and the program provides a supportive environment with resident assistants and trained staff to help students adjust. Special dietary needs are accommodated upon request, and there are designated weekends for family visitation.


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