VIPER Frequently Asked Questions

Please click the headings below to read the frequently asked questions (FAQ) in each section or click the "Expand All" button on the right to expand all sections.

What makes VIPER different from other programs?

The VIPER program engages students in energy research early on, enabling them to perform graduate level work as undergraduates. Upon successful completion of the program, students receive two degrees: a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) and a Bachelor of Arts (BA). Our program strives to develop the next generation of innovators and leaders to tackle the world's challenges in energy science. The VIPER program has faculty and staff dedicated to advising the VIPER students and meet one-on-one with each cohort member. Cohorts bond, study, work, and get involved in research starting their first year at Penn!

How big is each VIPER class?

VIPER admits 25 to 30 students per class. The size of the VIPR-1200 and VIPR-1210 seminars will depend on the incoming class size for that year. Other classes at Penn can vary from seminar size (10 to 20 students) to large lecture classes of 200 students. This information can be found when signing up for classes through Path@Penn.

How do I apply?

The most common way for prospective students to be admitted to VIPER is through their college application process. Prospective students can indicate a preference for VIPER when they first apply to the University of Pennsylvania as a high school senior. The application can be found here. Students can also list their preferences for other programs or majors at Penn. For the 2020-2021 application cycle, students can choose to apply Early Decision (which is binding) by November 1, 2020 or Regular Decision (non-binding) by January 5, 2021. 

First-year Penn students can also apply to VIPER via internal transfer and are encouraged to apply by the end of the Fall semester of their first year. 

Should I apply early decision or regular decision?

Your decision to apply Early Decision (ED) or Regular Decision (RD) will depend on several factors, including how you feel about your different college options and if you feel you have a clear number one choice. Students who apply and get accepted ED make a binding agreement to attend that school, so they are confident that they want to attend that school. VIPER reviews applications on the same timelines for ED / RD as all other Penn applicants, and you can see the statistics for the Applicant Pool and Admitted Class of 2023 for all Penn students, including information on RD and ED applications.

Some additional things to note: 1) If students aren’t accepted into VIPER but list a second preference (ex. single degree Engineering major), they will go on to be considered for their second preference at Penn, and 2) if students aren’t accepted into VIPER during the Admissions process but still choose to attend Penn, there are options for first year Penn undergraduates to apply to transfer into VIPER.

If I apply to VIPER early decision and don't get accepted, am I considered for my second choice at Penn early decision too?

In the application to Penn, it will ask for a primary and secondary school/program choice. To the question: “If we are unable to admit you as an ED candidate to your primary program of choice, do you wish to be considered under the binding Early Decision agreement for your secondary school/program choice?” and you can say Yes or No.  For example, if a student selected No and only wanted to apply to VIPER under Early Decision conditions, then they would be deferred to Regular Decision for their second choice preference. 


Do I have to pay more to be in a dual-degree program? What is the cost of enrolling at Penn?

It does not cost twice as much to enroll in VIPER as it would to enroll in a single school at Penn. Student Registration and Financial Services publishes a cost-of-attendance overview. Additionally, you can calculate your personal estimated costs of attendance. The tools for estimating cost are only approximations, and Penn would only be able to provide a fully accurate assessment after students are admitted.

What is the course load like for VIPER students?

VIPER is a rigorous academic program that integrates courses required for both science and engineering degrees. As part of the curriculum for the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) degree, students take a liberal arts approach and explore a wide breadth of classes for their general education requirements (including foreign language, society, cross cultural analysis, etc.) in addition to classes for their major. For the curriculum for the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) degree, students take engineering classes in addition to technical electives, social sciences and humanities classes, and classes in which students work on senior design engineering projects. To get a better sense of the VIPER curriculum, check out the sample schedules and VIPER curriculum overview.

Keep in mind, however, that a dual degree doesn’t mean double the work. Many courses between the SAS and SEAS double count, but there is somewhat less flexibility with electives due to the requirements involved in completing two degrees. Careful and early planning is key in VIPER, and each student's academic plan will depend on their individual interest and choices. Pursuing accelerated master's degrees and/or minors, going abroad, or doing summer internships are all possible with sufficient planning, but may extend the time needed to complete the program. External credit that students may bring to Penn (ex. AP or IB credits) can also significantly lighten the workload.

Do VIPER students take courses with other Penn students?

Yes, VIPER is a specific program at Penn, and as such, VIPER students have all of the resources available to all Penn students and take classes with other students at Penn. The only courses that are VIPER-specific are VIPR-1200 and VIPR-1210. Otherwise, as students advance in their curriculum, they will be taking more classes with other students in their majors.

What do you do in VIPR-1200 and VIPR-1210?

There are two courses specific to the VIPER program, VIPR-1200 and VIPR-1210, taken in the spring of the freshman year and fall of the sophomore year, respectively. These courses provide an introduction to doing scientific and engineering research. VIPER classes (or cohorts) take these classes together. They complete many other courses together as well, collaborate on projects, and work together inside and outside of class. They study together in the VIPER student room and have a shared experience in the program that makes for a supportive and collaborative group.  

What does a VIPER first semester look like?

The basic VIPER first semester schedule includes a math class (ex. Calculus I, II, or III); a chemistry class (ex. General Chemistry I or Honors Chemistry); a laboratory class (ex. General Chemistry Lab); a physics class (Principles of Physics I or Honors Physics); an introduction to their engineering major; and a writing seminar. VIPER students receive additional curriculum advice and consult with faculty and staff the summer prior to entering Penn. An overview of the VIPER curriculum can be found here.

How does summer research work?

All students work with the VIPER leadership team to connect with a research mentor on campus to work with after their first year during the VIPR-1210 spring course. VIPER provides a generous housing stipend, supplemental research funds (upon request from faculty advisors), and supplemental funds for conference-related travel to support summer research at Penn. For more information about the general overview of research at VIPER and the seminar series that serves as an on-ramp into research, click here. For more information about summer research at Penn, click here. Additional paid internships can be set up with CURF and other Penn resources, and VIPER can help students through this process.

Where can I find information about potential research mentors?

There are faculty on campus who do research relevant to the science and technology of energy. Students are encouraged to look for researchers in the following departments on campus: Mechanical Engineering, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy, Mathematics, Biology, Biophysics, Earth and Environmental Science, and Bioengineering.

Are there field trips?

While Penn currently looks quite different due to COVID-19 and is operating virtually, field trips will be planned once it is safe to do so. Past field trips have included visiting power plants, solar fields and wind turbine manufacturing plants in the Fairless Hills; a hike in the Wissahickon Valley; and a trip to the Chemical Heritage Foundation and Reading Terminal.

Where do VIPER graduates go?

VIPER graduates have gone to a wide range of opportunities after Penn. Many alumni are currently pursuing Ph.D. programs at Universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Caltech, and MIT. Several alumni are pursuing their Master's degrees at Penn and the University of Cambridge. Many alumni leverage their technical expertise as engineers or research scientists in industry and several alumni who have started their careers in entrepreneurship by founding their own ventures. Several VIPER alumni have used their knowledge in energy science to go into energy consulting. Additionally, we also have alumni in the fields of medicine, law, and finance – the possibilities are endless!

Is there a VIPER alumni association?

VIPER is a relatively new program and our first VIPER class graduated in 2016. As such, we are in the beginning stages of building our VIPER alumni association this year! This initiative is being spearheaded by members of our driven and committed VIPER alumni, and we're excited to see what the future will bring!

Contact us

We are happy to talk to you about the program! For any questions about VIPER, please contact us at

Meet Us

We love meeting prospective students, so if you are interested in applying to the program, please reach out to us at to schedule a one-on-one meeting with the Managing Director, Dr. Michelle Hutchings. Additionally, if you're interested in meeting with one of our Faculty Co-Directors, Professor Andrew Rappe or Professor John Vohs, please let us know.

Join a VIPER Information Session

You are welcome to join our VIPER Information Sessions where you will be able to learn more about the overview of the program as well as hear from the perspectives of current students. To see all upcoming scheduled events and to register, please click here. We hope to see you there!