Announcements of the program are sent out in the fall to each high school in the state, both private and public, by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the twenty-nine intermediate units. The application consists of four parts. The applicant completes the personal data form, attaching essays. Two teachers, a science teacher and a mathematics teacher, complete reference forms. The applicant's guidance counselor completes a recommendation form and attaches the student's transcript, attendance record, and test scores and class standing, if available.
PGSS typically receives over 500 applications each year from students with excellent academic records, evidence of sustained interest and outstanding performance in science and mathematics, and high standardized test scores. Participants will be chosen from the pool of qualified applicants from all across the state. The competition is very intense. A selection panel, comprised of PGSS administration, Carnegie Mellon University faculty, and state education officials, convenes to read the applications. All parts of the application are taken into account, with emphasis on the student's written expression and ideas conveyed through the essays, as well as the transcript. The teacher and counselor forms are read for evidence of the student's daily work habits, attitudes, curiosity, independence, and reliability.
In order to achieve a broad geographical representation, at least one student meeting the selection standards is selected from each intermediate unit. The balance of students meeting the entrance standards are selected with the objective to provide a reasonable number of students from major population areas, but not denying deserving students from rural areas, maintaining a male/female ratio as close to unity as possible, and including as many under-represented minority students as possible. Nearly all the students selected to attend the PGSS accepted this honor and the scholarship to attend.