City Semester Philadelphia

Questions and Answers for Penn State Students

What is the City Semester Philadelphia Program?

City Semester Philadelphia is a place-based program in Philadelphia intended to provide students with an immersive and rewarding experience focused on social justice issues in an urban setting. The program emphasizes involvement of students in collaborative projects with community-based organizations, non-profit advocacy groups, social service agencies, health care providers, multidisciplinary design firms, socially responsible businesses, and government in Philadelphia. Co-creating solutions to disparity and polarization is the rich terrain on which to build programs for research and learning.  

In the City Semester Philadelphia program you will:

  • Learn about Philadelphia’s communities and the efforts of groups and individuals to improve their neighborhoods and everyday lives;
  • Develop and demonstrate self-reflexivity regarding personal, social, and institutional positionality when entering new communities;
  • Collaborate closely with a community partner in an embedded practicum or internship;
  • Identify and develop skills around the particular social issues that professionals in the discipline confront including the conditions that are likely to sustain or mitigate them.
  • Receive a certificate upon completion of the program that can be listed  in addition to your placement on your resume.

What does the program in Philadelphia consist of?

The City Semester Philadelphia program is slightly different depending on whether you enroll in summer or during the academic year. For all options, there will be a pre-program, virtual orientation and the official program will begin with an orientation in the city.


The summer program is straightforward and open to ALL Penn State students. You will have:  1) an embedded field placement with a community partner and 2) a cohort experience made up of 6 sessions that include trips, group meals, reflection, relevant content, and culminating presentations with community partners.

You can choose whether or not to take part in placements/internships for credit in accordance with your program requirements. Be sure to discuss with your advisor.


a field experience/practicum for a 15-40 hour/week field placement with a local community partner. Your total placement hours will be determined in consultation with the community partner and in accordance with your program requirements if you are participating in your field experience for credit.

6 cohort sessions (in addition to the orientation) that will be scheduled in advance and communicated at the time of your acceptance into the program. These sessions are what distinguishes the program from simply finding an internship on your own!

To apply for Summer 2020, please use this link:


This offering is designed for University Park students. It is typically more complicated. You should expect to have more proactive conversations with your academic advisor in order to determine your courses for the semester. The Fall or Spring program is built on a combination of three components:

1) an embedded field placement with a community partner, 2) reflection sessions through an orientation and culminating presentations with community partners, and 3) a general education course as well as online courses that fulfill major or minor requirements. A full-time course load is possible but not required. With your Advisor, you can explore the options to make up your course load:


3-15 credit field experience/practicum for a 15-40 hour field placement with a local community partner (based on your program requirements)

3- credit general education courseCI185: Principles of Social Justice in Education.

OPTIONAL: 3 – 9- credits of on-line coursework to fulfill major or minor requirements. Check out online courses available via the Digital Learning Cooperative here.

**Student fees also apply. You can use financial aid to participate in this program.

Who is eligible to apply?

Any undergraduate from any major that is in good standing at Penn State University!  Please note differences between summer, fall, and spring offerings.

Summer 2020 applications are being still being accepted on a rolling basis.

Fall and Spring applications are being accepted on a rolling basis.

Majors and Minors

The program is designed with sufficient flexibility to meet the needs of a variety of majors and minors at Penn State. Students who are interested in City Semester Philadelphia are encouraged to meet with their academic advisor to determine how the courses map onto their specific major or minor.

How Do You Apply?

Summer 2020 applications are accepted here. Undergraduate students from all Penn State Colleges and campuses are welcome to apply for Summer.

Details on applying for Fall and Spring semesters are available on the applications page on this website. To apply for Fall or Spring, University Park undergraduate students must submit the following:

  • A personal statement (2 pp.) outlining your area(s) of study and your career interests.  You should explain how your academic work would benefit from the City Semester Philadelphia program, as well as the contributions you feel that you could make to the program.
  • A letter of recommendation from a faculty member/administrator in your major or minor, or an employer.
  • Your resume (PDF) including prior work experience, previous community experience, skills (research skills, web design, analytical skills, foreign language, etc.).
  • Completed application form.

What Does the Program Cost? Is There Financial Aid?

Students enrolled in our summer program are not responsible for tuition unless you want to receive credit for your field experience with a community partner. You should be in touch with your academic advisor to plan your course schedule. Meals, housing, books and incidental expenses are the responsibility of the student. See this page for suggestions for housing:

Students can apply to the Student Engagement Network for engagement grants up to $3000, but please be aware of their deadlines: You should also look into additional student funding opportunities from your academic department, College or campus.

Students enrolled during the Fall and Spring Semester will pay tuition and a program fee of $130 to cover field trips and other activities. Meals, housing, books and incidental expenses are not included in the tuition and program fee and are the responsibility of the student.

Potential financial aid:

  • Pepsi Urban Sustainability Fellowships (Fall and Spring only)
    The Sustainability Institute and Penn State Center Philadelphia invite undergraduate students in good standing to apply for Pepsi Urban Sustainability Fellowships. Pepsi Urban Sustainability Fellows receive a stipend of $2,500 for one semester of study in the City Semester Philadelphia Program. To receive the fellowship, students must be accepted to the City Semester Philadelphia program. To apply, simply check the fellowship box on the program application form.
  • Student Engagement Network Grants
    Awards are contingent upon the availability of funds and the number of applications received. Students are strongly encouraged to seek additional funding sources, including matching funds from their campus, college, department, and/or external sources. Efforts to obtain additional funding will be viewed positively by the review committee. The grant application and review process has been designed to create a fair and equal opportunity for students to receive funding. Any funding requests outside the established application and review process will not be considered. Check the website for deadlines:
  • Students are also encouraged to seek funding within your program and College/Campus.

Why Philadelphia? Why Social Justice?

Networking: In addition to building your professional network through your field placement or internship, you will have an opportunity to network with Penn State alumni. They are excited to meet you and welcome you to the city that they call home.

Fun in the City: Philadelphia is a dynamic city of diverse neighborhoods, each with its own festivals and traditions.  Students are encouraged to take advantage of Philadelphia’s many museums and cultural venues, as well as sporting events, and outdoor activities.

Why Social Justice in the City: World population is growing and is increasingly urbanized. In 2008, for the first time in human history more people lived in cities than in rural areas.   In 2011, another milestone was reached when world population topped seven billion.  By 2050, when world population is projected to reach 9 billion, 66% or 5.94 billion people will live in urban areas.  According to the 2010 census, 80.7 percent of US residents live in urban areas compared to 19.3 percent living in rural areas. This means that for the majority of the world’s population, the effects of climate change will be experienced in urban areas (Rosenzweig et al, 2011). As a result, cities find themselves on the front lines in dealing with the impacts of climate change.  Beyond climate change, cities are also on the front lines in improving quality of life for their residents. They are where the proverbial “rubber meets the road” when it comes to ensuring adequate housing, transportation, clean air and water, waste management, food supplies, education, and jobs for their growing populations.

Philadelphia can be seen as a living laboratory for addressing some of the most pressing problems of the 21st century. The City Semester Philadelphia Program creates opportunities for students to get their hands dirty and gain valuable experience working alongside some of the leading organizations in the city who are tackling problems surrounding equity and inclusion head on.

Who Are the Community Partners?

Each semester, placements will be organized in dialogue with community partners. **There is no guarantee of placement with any particular organization. Please contact Carly Pourzand, Community Engagement Specialist at carly.pourzand(at) or Shivaani Selvaraj, Director of Urban Engagement at shivaani(at) for information about current community partners. 

What is the Deadline?

You can apply at any time. Students are invited to apply NOW. Summer students should apply here. Fall and Spring students should apply here.

Summer 2020 Timeline

Student Application Open: NOW
Student Applications Will Continue to be Accepted:
February 27- rolling until filled.
Student Engagement Network Grants: March 20
Accepted Summer 2020 Students are Matched with Community Partners: May 2020
Fall and Spring applications rolling