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UC COSMOS: an experience

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Art by Afreen Majumdar

This summer, I was shockingly accepted into UC COSMOS, a four-week intensive pre-college STEM summer program with a whopping 7% acceptance rate that year. As you can tell by the name, it’s directly affiliated with the University of California, a program hosted in four distinct UC campuses: UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz, and UC San Diego. Each campus has a variety of “clusters” aka classes that are all STEM based. I personally went to UC San Diego (Go Tritons!) taking Cluster 1, the cluster all about computer science and engineering.

Elaborating more on the application process in case you’re interested, it’s very similar to college applications. It consists of two short essays (200 words each) for clusters, an activities section, a 350-word personal statement, 1-2 letters of recommendation, and a transcript to top it all off. The program does come with a hefty $4700 tuition (as it pays for the dorms, food, activities, and more) but there is financial aid. The application opens around January, and all high schoolers from 9th to 11th grade can apply!

Now moving on to the actual program, the move-in day was on July 9th, a long-awaited day ever since I received the acceptance letter all the way back in March. Going past the hassle of packing and taking a 3+ hour drive to UCSD, I settled in my dorm at Warren College (if you don’t know, UCSD has eight distinct colleges, similar to Hogwarts houses). And thus, the program has begun.

Week One

The first week started off with us having our first meal at Canyon Vista, the dining hall that we’d eat at for the entirety of the program. The typical routine was breakfast at 8 a.m., then class, then lunch, labs, some free time, dinner, more free time + activities, and finally lights out at 11 p.m. (I obviously broke that rule). In the first week, here’s what I learned summed up: intro to coding, Python, web scraping with HTML, sending our own emails through only code, sending emails with HTML with our own code, and even more Python… basically, a lot of stuff. In my experience, the professor that my cluster had was super helpful and taught us well to the point where I (mostly) recall everything. We also had a guest speaker too, talking about data science and how far coding can take you as a career. Besides all the academics, we had a major event that our cluster had to prepare for: COSMOlympics, a collection of challenges like musical chairs and water balloon toss, with the main contest being about skits. Our cluster’s skit was “The Grinch Steals COSMOS”, but in the end, we sadly lost against the other clusters. In the typical routine stated before, there are activities like movie nights, sports, crocheting, bracelets, tours, Target Run (because UCSD is cool to have an on-campus Target), and a bunch more that vary per day.

Random photos. All photos by Cedric Mallari.

Week Two

Next week we learned even more: image processing, binary code, Python, and steganography- moving on, we had the next big event, or rather, assignment: the Ethics Essay, a full-fledged research paper that every single student had to do. Summed up, the purpose for this was basically “with great power comes with great responsibility”, since there are a lot of good things you can do with engineering, but as well as a lot of bad things. This week, we had another guest speaker, talking about circadian/biological rhythms and other projects to once again, show us what we are capable of in the future. After all the hard work, all of COSMOS had a weekend excursion on Saturday, going to either the San Diego Zoo or La Jolla Shores to relax and have fun. The day after, Sunday, we had another huge event, Casino Night. We put on our gambling attire (which I sort of just looked like a middle-aged dad for), gambling, and drinking mocktails responsibly for prizes. To this day, I’m still sad I didn’t win a Lego flower bouquet that was one of the prizes.

More random photos!

Week Three

Third week and we could already feel the end of the program approaching. This time, in our cluster, we dived into hardware rather than software this time, learning about embedded systems and circuits, actuators and sensors, a bunch of physics terminology like voltage & current, another coding language at an incredible rate (C++), and a well-deserving relaxing stroll in the campus. Personally, this was my favorite part of the program, messing with Arduino Unos (which are microcontrollers) and making circuits that control servos for robotic arms, annoying alarms, and many kinds of things from scratch. That week, we also visited a company called Viasat to learn about the experience of working there as well as serving as an internship opportunity. Though I can’t disclose information about what they had to do to prevent random influencers from walking in, I will tell you that it was crazy what they had in the workplace. Besides that, we had a carnival with the opportunity to win even more prizes that I sadly did not get, but there were classic games like ring toss, darts, sack race, and even pieing our RAs in the face. We also had “COSMOS got Talent” that week too, notably a lot of singing, dancing, and oddly enough, a hotdog eating contest. We had another weekend excursion too, this time to La Jolla Shores. Disregarding typical beach activities, we found a spiraling shark egg in the water, since it’s apparently mating season for leopard sharks when we were there.

Even more random photos...

Week Four

Our last weekend before the final week was our last huge event, the COSMOS Prom, which, unsurprisingly, had a star theme (because cosmos). We danced for who knows how long to songs like Gangnam Style and drank way too many mocktails. And then it was Monday: At this point, many students were wrapping up their final projects and rehearsing for presentations. I, personally, was stressing about how long it takes a 3D printer to make a case for my project (which was an ultrasonic security system, but I’ll spare you the details about the process) in EnvisionLabs, a cool maker space that they have with all kinds of equipment like laser cutters and tools for woodworking. This would go on for the rest of the week, and prepping for the presentation. On the last day, we had our last meals at Canyon Vista, bidding farewell to the dining hall and our dorms, and put on our formal attire to go present at a lecture hall. Once we were done, we said goodbye to our lovely professors and teacher assistants, and thus, the program ended.

Last random photos!

In all, UC COSMOS has been undeniably fun four weeks that seemed to pass by so fast. To this day, I still miss my friends and my crazy roommates, and I have learned some very valuable skills from my professors as well as some insight into college life. Keep in mind though that all that I’ve said is merely a tiny fraction of what happened within those four weeks and frankly very broad (dining hall food + dorm life alone would be a whole other article). If you’d like to know more about the UC COSMOS experience, PLEASE read our 2023 student-run newsletter!


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