Admissions FAQ

Whether to Apply

Participants created this model of an inhibitor binding to a fungal enzyme. They did not know how to do this when they arrived.

Q. SSP sounds great except I don’t know anything about either asteroid orbits or enzyme structures. And I’ve never done any research. Should I bother to apply?
A. If you meet the pre-requisites, you have enough background knowledge. A feature of both projects is that no one arrives already knowing how to do them, so everyone is challenged and no one is bored.

Q. Will SSP help me get into a top college?
A. That’s not a good reason to apply. If the idea of working very hard on a research project for most of the summer doesn’t thrill you, then find a different opportunity that does. More on this question.

an evening study group
An evening informal study group

Q. Will SSP help me get ready for college?
A. Definitely. You’ll understand yourself better, and therefore what you should look for in a college. Specifically, you’ll leave with a very visceral sense of whether a STEM major at a selective college is the right path for you, or not.

Q. How many students apply to SSP? Is it very competitive? What are my chances?
A. In recent years the admission rate has been about 10%. Have an alternate plan for the summer. However, every year some applicants are surprised when they are admitted, and some are surprised when they are not. It’s impossible for you to predict how reviewers will view your application compared to others from around the world. Besides the typical criteria of preparation and motivation, we consider how much the experience would benefit you, which is a subjective judgment on our part.

Programming the asteroid orbit determination in Python is a major component of the Astrophysics project.

Q. Is admissions need-blind?
A. Yes. See the Financial Aid FAQs.

Q. I’m a sophomore (in the 10th grade, over two years away from starting college) with perfect grades and test scores. I’m the top student in my grade, and I’d love to do this program. Should I apply this year or wait?
A. Very few sophomores are admitted. We strongly encourage most sophomores to wait, for two reasons:

  1. From our perspective, a) every sophomore we admit is taking a spot from a junior who will never get another chance; and b) every sophomore will be better prepared as a junior next year.
  2. From your perspective, if you are not admitted, you will likely feel too discouraged to apply again next year (that’s human nature), even though your application will be stronger and chance of admission higher.

img_1737If you are a sophomore excelling in math & science courses normally taken by seniors, then consider applying as a sophomore. (But you’ll still have a better chance as a junior.)

Q. I will need to [arrive late] / [leave early] / [leave for a couple of days] because of [Olympiad training camp] / [an important family event] / [final exams] / [an award I’m receiving] / [a concert I’m performing in] or [etc.] Should I apply?
A. No. For various reasons, enrolling students must commit to arriving on the designated day and staying on campus until the designated departure day. Feel free to inquire, but exceptions are rarely granted. We know you’re good at multitasking, but SSP is an all-or-nothing immersion experience.

Going to the freezer for some enzymes. They are kept at-79 degrees Centigrade!

Q. I will need to block out some time because of
[religious observances] / [another project I’m working on] / [etc.] Should I apply?
A. You will not have time to work on another project. For other requests, it depends on the details. Contact us and describe your situation.

Q. I have a chronic health condition, but I am able to manage it and be successful at school. Can SSP accommodate special medical needs?
A. Maybe, depending on the nature of your condition. SSP stresses participants physically, much more than high school or college does, because of its hyper fast pace and intensity. There is no time for making up lost time. Therefore we can only accommodate medical conditions that do not involve low energy, low stamina, low stress tolerance, severe depression, or recurring absence regardless of the reason.

Q. I don’t have any of the test scores listed on your application. May I apply?
A. Yes, assuming you meet the pre-requisites. We don’t require any particular test, nor do we use test scores to rank applicants. We require scores if you have them. If you don’t, you may still apply, but our reviewers may have less confidence in your preparation.

Using tablets in the Biochemistry lab at Purdue

Q. The pre-requisites include precalc. My school does not have a course called that. May I still apply?
A. By “precalc” we mean a course covering trigonometry, matrices, logarithms, complex numbers, etc.

Q. In addition to its host campuses, SSP lists Caltech, MIT, and Harvey Mudd as affiliated colleges. What does that mean?
A. Caltech and Harvey Mudd were in the original consortium that operated SSP for many years. We continue to cooperate with them, and added MIT as an affiliate in 2009. Quite a few SSP alumni end up at one of our affiliated colleges. While participation in SSP will make you a better college applicant, it is no guarantee of admission to any college.

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Financial Aid

vector calculus!
Fun with vector calculus!

Q. How do I apply for aid?
A. Only a parent or guardian may apply for aid, by submitting the Financial Aid Application.

Q. Is there a deadline for the aid application?
A. U.S. applicants may either send the aid application with the rest of the application, or wait until receiving notice of admission. International applicants must include the aid application by the published deadline.

Q. What constitutes “need”? What are my chances of receiving aid?
A. The Financial Aid Application is designed to help the Financial Aid Committee judge how much your family can reasonably afford. Major considerations include income,  educational expenses for you and your brothers and sisters, and special circumstances such as unusual expenses or unemployment. A student receiving reduced price lunch at school is likely to qualify for full aid. Most middle class families are likely to qualify for a discounted fee.

Q. Does financial aid offered by SSP include a loan component that must be repaid?
A. No, never.

Q. My parents could easily afford the program fee, but they do not want to spend this much for a summer program. Should I ask them to apply for aid?
A. Financial aid is “need-based” not “willingness-based.” If your family is well-off, the better approach is to discuss with your parent why and how attending SSP will benefit you. Your parent may contact us to ask questions about SSP.

Q. Is financial aid available to international students?
A. Yes, if the aid application is included with the rest of the application materials. We will need English translations of income tax forms and other documents.

Q. Does aid also cover airfare?
A. Sometimes. Travel aid is limited to $500 per student, usually enough for a U.S. round-trip ticket.

Q. The program fee includes tuition, room & board, supplies, and local transportation. Are there other fees or expenses? How much money should I bring with me to campus?
A. We suggest bringing $100-$200 for incidentals such as snacks and souvenirs. Everything else is included.

Q. Are there other sources of scholarships to SSP?
A. Yes, but not from SSP itself. If you participate in a special college counseling or prep organization such as Questbridge or Jack Kent Cooke Scholars, ask them if funds are available for enrichment programs. Mu Alpha Theta members may apply for a grant. Some students raise money themselves, from part-time jobs, extended family (grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc.), neighbors, family friends, or local civic groups (Rotary, Lion’s Club, etc.) or businesses. Be creative!

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How to Apply

artwork in the computer lab
Student artwork in the computer lab

For basic instructions see How to Apply.

Q. May I apply to both Astrophysics and Biochemistry?
A. No, you must choose one or the other.

Q. I am an exchange student studying in the US this academic year. Which application deadline do I use, US or international?
A. The International deadline applies to anyone who is not a U.S. citizen, regardless of where you currently attend high school, as well as U.S. citizens who attend school outside of the U.S.
Important Note to Exchange Students: if you will return home when the current school year ends, and your current US visa will expire before the end of SSP, you may not have time to apply for and receive a new visa before SSP starts. That may make it impossible for you to attend! Before applying to SSP, make sure you have a plan to solve this problem, assuming the usual delays in getting a US visa in your home country. We do not allow students to arrive late for any reason.

Q. About Teacher Recommendations: I don’t have a current science teacher to complete your form. [or] My math teacher is new [or online] and doesn’t know me personally, may I ask my previous teacher? [or] My math and science teachers are the same person. [or] May I ask my CS or psychology teacher to complete the science teacher form?
A. We prefer your current teachers if you have been in their class since fall. If not, you may include evaluations from any two teachers, and we’ll accept them as meeting the requirement. Try to make it easier for our reviewers to 1) understand your current preparation and interest in math and science, and 2) compare that to other applicants. From that perspective: a teacher is better than a coach, a physics teacher is better than a history teacher, a current teacher is better than one from a prior year, and a teacher who knows you well is better than a teacher who does not.

Q. You allow a third evaluation from a teacher or other adult. What is the format for that?
A. The third evaluation does not have a set format. If it is a teacher, using our form is helpful.

Q. Do you use “rolling admissions”? If I send my application well before the deadline am I more likely to get in?
A. No and no. All applications are considered together.

Q. If my application is a day or two late, will it still be reviewed?
A. Yes, but don’t push your luck. See next question.

Q. All or part of my application will arrive after the deadline. But it’s not my fault! My teacher told me she would send the evaluation directly to SSP and she didn’t. [or] There is a national holiday so the mail is not running. [or] I only heard about SSP yesterday.
A. Doing whatever you need to do to get all required parts of your application to us by the deadline is your responsibility. Confirm with your teachers and school that they sent the required parts, and to log in to confirm that we have them. Don’t assume anything. Once the deadline is passed, we need to move our process along quickly. Unlike many programs, we do not use “rolling admissions”. A late application is a late application; why it is late is not especially interesting to us.

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Login Help

Q. I have registered but now can’t log in, can you help?
A. If you have more than one email address, first please make sure you are logging in using the same address you used to register. If you get an error message when you try to log in, try using a different browser or a different computer to log in. You may also need to clear cookies from your browser, and make sure your browser is set to allow cookies from and  Please do not register a second account, or if you do let us know so we can delete one.  Applicants with two accounts risk having application pieces logged in two different places and not having either application marked complete.  Email for additional help.

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After You Apply

Q. My [SAT or other] test score will come in after the deadline. May I send it when it comes in?
A. Yes, as long as the rest of your application is received by the deadline, you may email a scan or screen shot of your subsequent test report to

Q. I sent everything in, how can I confirm it was received and is complete?
A. From the Admissions tab select Application Status on the left menu to see which application parts have been logged for you. After an application piece arrives, it can take up to a week for us to open, process, and log it, so wait before inquiring.

Q. After I sent in my application, my new test scores arrived [or] I received an important award. How do I add that to my application?
A. Before the deadline, you may log in and enter the new test scores into the online form, and email a screen capture or scan of the score report to admissions [at] ssp [dot] org. After the deadline, you may write a note in the box provided when you check your application status.

Q. Who decides whether I will get in?
A. Each application is read and carefully considered by an Admissions Committee of volunteer alumni and former faculty.

Q. When and how are decisions announced?
A. About 5-6 weeks after the deadline, we will update your application status and email decisions to applicants. Log in to check.

Q. If I end up on the Alternate List, what are my chances of getting in?
A. Everyone on our Alternate List is qualified to attend, and some will be offered admission. But you should have a backup plan for the summer.

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During the Program

Q. Will you provide transportation to and from the closest airport on arrival and departure days?
A. Yes. The airports we use are Denver (DEN), Albuquerque (ABQ), and Indianapolis (IND). Complete travel instructions (and lots of other instructions) are sent to admitted students with their enrollment documents.

Q. I need to spend an hour or two each day
[training / studying / practicing my instrument / napping / meditating / etc.].
Will I have time to do that during the evenings?
A. No. SSP is an “immersion experience”. During the program students stay super busy; there is “unscheduled time” but little “free time”. You can count on carving out no more than about half an hour a day for a purely personal activity. Really. You should arrive with no other commitments to worry about for the duration.

Q. Does SSP have any religious affiliation? Can I attend services during the program?
A. SSP has no religious affiliation or content, and welcomes students of any religious background. On request we will arrange transportation to a local religious service on Sunday mornings. Fridays and Saturdays are problematic since required lectures, field trips, and observations are scheduled.

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After the Program

Q. What will I get to include in college applications?
A. Everyone receives a letter of completion. You may request a letter of recommendation from a faculty member.

Q. Can I submit my research completed during SSP to a competition?
A. Possibly, but everyone at SSP does the same research, each team on a different target. In order to submit to a competition, you would need to extend that research afterward in some way on your own initiative. Some participants have done that, and usually one of the faculty will be willing to help remotely if asked.

Q. Do the benefits of SSP continue after I return home?
A. Absolutely! You’ll be a friend and colleague of 35 amazing people from around the world, and a member-for-life of an amazing network. It’s a like a secret club of high-achieving, interesting people of all ages. You’ll encounter fellow SSPers in college and very likely in your career too. You might return to SSP as a Teaching Assistant and Residential Mentor, or just visit on Open House Day. Hopefully you will volunteer, and donate what you can each year to help the next group of young people have their own “educational experience of a lifetime.”