Overview of e5

The University of Rochester defines entrepreneurship as “transforming an idea into an enterprise that generates value,” implying that the enterprise outlives the creator and that it positively affects others. The e5 (Experiential-Five) Program, formerly the Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year (KEY) program, offers selected students a fifth, tuition-free year of college to launch a project and engage in an experiential pursuit, whether economic or social in nature.

Qualified University of Rochester undergraduate students may propose to launch an enterprise, intern with a startup, undertake special projects, develop a business plan, research into various facets of entrepreneurship, or analyze how culture and public policy influence entrepreneurial activity. Students may apply from the time that they have been accepted into a major through the first semester of their senior year. The fall application deadline is November 1. The spring application deadline is the first Thursday after Spring Break.

View testimonials from e5 graduates.

View current e5 projects.

View past e5 projects.


Participation is open to all undergraduates in the College and the Eastman School of Music with the following exceptions:

  • Transfer students may not apply during their first semester at the University
  • Take Five Scholars may not apply for the e5 program
  • Seniors may only apply during the fall semester.

Application Process

Qualified students may apply online. Prior to the application deadline, several information sessions are held each semester. Applications are due no later than the first of November in the fall semester or the first Thursday after Spring Break in the spring term. Applications require:

  • Proposed e5 Course Schedule
  • e5 Advisor
  • One-Page Action Plan
  • Essay
  • Resume
  • Two Letters of Recommendation:
    • Academic Recommendation
    • Program Recommendation

    A list of entrepreneurial courses has been compiled and can be viewed online. Students should consult with the faculty whom they plan to study with and/or departmental administrators to ensure the courses they wish to take will be offered and verify that they are adequately prepared for those they intend to take. Each applicant must have two letters of recommendation sent to the e5 Review Board on his or her behalf. One letter should focus on academic preparedness, while the other informs on the proposed e5 program.

    A special review process exists for all proposed courses taught at the graduate level or outside the Colleges of Arts, Sciences, Engineering and Eastman School of Music; such courses are normally not approved. Undergraduate courses taught at the Simon School are acceptable, however.

Criteria of the e5 Review Board

The e5 Review Board assumes that the following criteria will be met:

  • The intent of the proposed program is to create a new enterprise that generates value or to analytically examine such an enterprise, the value it created, and the processes involved.
  • The additional courses, internships or other University activities will normally be spread throughout the student’s remaining terms at the University, not taken in a single semester or after the completion of degree requirements.  Typically, this will delay the completion of degree requirements.
  • The proposed e5 courses and University activities will relate to one another; most if not all of them will be above the introductory level.
  • The proposed program will not be used to obtain an additional major or degree.
  • Study Abroad programs must be completed by the end of the fourth year.
  • The proposed courses cannot be used to complete Rochester Curriculum requirements, major requirements, or to obtain a graduate or additional undergraduate degree.
  • Credits earned during the tuition-free semester(s) cannot be applied toward the 128-credit hour degree requirement.

Applications will be judged on:

  • The coherence of the applicant’s program of study:
    • How do the proposed courses fit together?
    • How do they demonstrate progress toward the achievement of the student’s proposed enterprise?
    • What value can be expected to be gained by the success of the venture?
    • Is the enterprise undertaken or studied in keeping with the University’s definition of entrepreneurship?
  • The added value of creating or studying the enterprise at the University of Rochester.
  • The quality of the writing.

Important Information

E5 applicants should be aware of the following:

  • Fifth-year students are unlikely to be eligible for undergraduate housing, although they may serve as Residential advisors. The Off-Campus Living Program will guide students in the process of obtaining off-campus housing, if necessary. Students are responsible for all costs, other than tuition, associated with their fifth year of study (this includes any start-up costs). Students should contact the Financial Aid Office as soon as possible to determine what sort of aid, if any, they are eligible for in their fifth year.
  • Upon acceptance to the program, international students will need to submit two forms to update the I-20 with ISO, Extend/Shorten Program Completion Date Form and Financial Update Form. Financial documentation for expenses not covered by the tuition scholarship is required with the Financial Update Form (off campus students $14,796)*.  Please submit these two forms with financial documentation to your program manager/advisor.
  • Degrees are awarded and diplomas issued after the completion of the e5 semester or year, and only after all e5 courses are completed.
  • Grades for courses taken in the fifth year will be included in the GPA, and the final (end of the fifth year) GPA will be used to calculate Latin Honors.
  • e5 courses cannot be audited or used to repeat previous coursework. However, one course per semester may be taken on the S/F option.

Additional details about Commencement, yearbooks, etc. are available in the e5 Program Acceptance Manual distributed to each student after being accepted into the e5 Program. A link to the PDF of the Program Acceptance Manual is also linked on the righthand side of this page.

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For academic and curricular questions, contact e5 Program Coordinator Mackenzie Zelinger via email, or make an appointment with her via Calendly.
For entrepreneurial support, contact Heidi Mergenthaler of the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
View Current Projects
View Past Projects
View the e5 Brochure
e5 Acceptance Manual

Success isn't measured by your project outcome—KEY takes the pressure off performance and instead emphasizes trial and error, and experiential learning. It's about doing and learning and less about the outcome.

Nicole Podoloff ’15

Working with fellow students who were also in KEY that I would not have met (probably) outside this connection because it brought so many different disciplines together.

Caitlin Powalski ’09

KEY fostered an appreciation for entrepreneurship that I never knew I possessed. I've applied that baseline regularly in my social entrepreneurship work since, and am more thankful for my KEY experience than I ever thought I would be when I applied.

Bradley Halpern ’13

[The program] put me at a leg up for interacting with those different from my own background and teaching to this same population.

Benjamin Wainblat ’15

I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in KEY. What sets KEY apart from the Take 5 program is the fact that it is project driven and therefore, you're going to walk away from the year with a project that you can talk about and from which you've likely learned a great deal.

Nicole Podoloff ’15

KEY helped me become confident with starting a small business.

Andrew Richardson ’11

I feel indebted to this program for fostering my entrepreneurial spirit and providing me with the skills that I need to succeed.

Brynn Wilkins ’15

Have you ever had an idea and thought 'that's really good, someone should do this!' E5 lets you become that person. Through e5 I added a year of Web Development on top of my Math and Physics majors to create an interactive Math reference for students. The skills I learned in working with a team I formed has been a major talking point with employers and graduate schools. It is definitely the highlight of my time here.

Mark Auden ’18