VIPER Frequently Asked Questions

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 BSE and a BA. The ultimate goal is to raise innovators in high-caliber research careers who develop sustainable ways to harness, convert, and use energy. 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.

We like to say it is a lot of challenging fun! VIPER students, like any student doing a dual degree with SEAS, must complete at least 46 credits to graduate. As part of these credit units, student complete the VIPER requirements described on the curriculum page, the SEAS requirements, the SAS general requirements, and the requirements for each of their majors.

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. Studying languages, going abroad, and getting a minor could all be accomplished with sufficient planning, but may extend the time needed to complete the program. AP credits can help lighten the workload and make these possible.

The basic VIPER first semester schedule includes a math class (i.e., MATH104, MATH114, or MATH240); a course in chemistry (e.g., CHEM115, CHEM101); a laboratory class (i.e., CHEM053); a physics class (e.g., PHYS150, PHYS170); 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.

Yes, VIPER students take courses that other Penn students take. An overview of the VIPER curriculum is online.

All VIPER students work with the program directors to connect with a research mentor on campus to work with after their first year. The research stipend comes from VIPER funds and covers basic living expenses for the summer. Additional paid internships can be set up with CURF and other Penn resources, and VIPER will help students through this process.

There are two courses specific to the VIPER program, VIPR120 and VIPR121, 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.  

There is also a requirement to take 3 CUs worth of energy-related coursework, which can overlap with the students’ general and/or major requirements; up to 2 CUs of independent study; and 1 CU of a capstone/research portfolio credit. See the curriculum information here for more information.

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.

Yes! In the first year, field trips 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.

Not yet, the first VIPER class graduated in 2016, but you can find more information about Penn Alumni here.

The VIPER program cannot admit students who already have started their undergraduate education at another college or university.

Contact the program manager, Dr. Hughes, at as soon as possible. You can read more about internal transfers here.

You should contact the Managing Director, Dr. Hughes, at

The VIPER program does not charge twice as much as it would to enroll in a single school at Penn. Student Registration and Financial Services publishes a cost-of-attendance overview here.

If Penn is your first choice, applying early decision is encouraged.

The size of the VIPR120 and 121 seminar is dependent on the size of each VIPER class, which has been 10 and 13 students for the first two years, respectively. These classes may grow in size, but will not become larger than 25 students. Other classes at Penn can vary from seminar size (10-20 students) to large lecture classes of 200 students. This information can be found when signing up for classes on PennIntouch.

Yes, VIPER students do research as well as senior design in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.