Back to Visit: Penn State-University Park
I’ve been a frequent visitor to Penn State-University Park over the past two decades, but I owe readers an updated profile. You can also check out the photos that I have collected. Given that I Iive in New Jersey, a state that college-bound students often opt to leave, Penn State-University Park is one of the most important schools that I follow. So, this will be one of the longer posts that you will read at Educated Quest.
I won’t devote space to covering where Penn State is ‘good academically’.
There’s over 275 majors and a long list of rankings that you can check out. It’s really hard to “lose” on an academic program at Penn State. Career services among the best that you will find at any big school. However, students are likely to see some huge lecture classes at the start, unless they get into the Schreyer Honors College. Sixteen percent of all classes taught during 2021-22 had more than 50 students. However, that was a bit better than Rutgers-New Brunswick (19%) and the University of Maryland-College Park (17%).
Penn State’s main campus has over 40,000 undergraduates, second only to Ohio State within the Big Ten
This comparison is interesting because Ohio State is located in Columbus, the largest city to host a Big Ten university–unless you consider Northwestern to be in Chicago–while Penn State is the main reason for a town to exist in Central Pennsylvania. State College, host to the university, is just over three hours from Philadelphia and two and a half hours from Pittsburgh. College students could do without a car at Ohio State. Penn State students would more likely want to have one, but forget about driving to classes. Walk, bike, skateboard or ride a bus.
Penn State has the largest physical campus in the Big Ten and it’s really spread out.
The campus is walkable for most, but it can feel quite crowded when classes change. Campus buses become a necessity in very bad weather, commonplace in this rural area. Penn State has many attractive buildings and a great Creamery for ice cream. Sports venues, museums and performing arts facilities were constructed on campus with the greater community in mind. The largest, Beaver Stadium and the Bryce-Jordan Center, are placed at the edge of campus.
I revisited the Schreyer Honors College.
As college costs keep going up, Schreyer is an increasingly attractive alternative to extremely selective Ivies and Ivy-like schools. Schreyer was among the first public honors colleges in America that was incorporated into a large university. Penn State, like some peer schools, already had an honors program. But it was a leader in building honors into a residential learning community. Longevity has brought other benefits. Schreyer has 17,000 living alumni, and many remain actively engaged with students. It also has access to over $2 million in grants to support students in research as well as study abroad. Those who stay in Schreyer graduate with an average GPA of 3.85. Forty-three percent of Schreyer graduates go on to further education right after college. Nationally, this number is closer to 30 percent.
There’s no real downside for the brighter student who can get into Schreyer. though the honors colleges at other schools, including Rutgers-New Brunswick, offer larger scholarships.
The Schreyer population does not reach too far into a freshman class at Penn State-University Park. A class of approximately 8,000 freshmen will have about 300 in Schreyer. There are honors and scholars programs within majors at Penn State-University Park as well the College of Engineering . The university also has several other living-learning communities. Penn State also offers a highly-competitive Millennium Scholars program to high-potential candidates who are interested in later pursuing PhDs the sciences. This is a tight-knit academic community, much like Schreyer, with a summer bridge opportunity. However, accepted students need a 3.5 to stay in the program versus a 3.4 in Schreyer. Similar opportunities reach down further into the freshman classes at other schools such as Rutgers, the University of Maryland-College Park and the University of Delaware.
If you want to go to Schreyer, treat the application as you would an application to the most selective private college, although admissions are test blind.
There are two demanding essays, five short-answer questions and a November 1st deadline, if you want to have an optional alumni interview. In prior years the acceptance rate for Schreyer has been just under 20 percent. Last cycle, nearly 4,000 students applied for 300 available seats. The acceptance rate likely to be lower for this admissions cycle. But if you get into Schreyer and you are also admitted to either Penn or Cornell, you will get a more personalized education in Schreyer, combined with Penn State’s resources and alumni base. It’s worth it to pass on the larger Ivies.
I dropped three photos, one exterior, two interior, of Atherton Hall, one of the two Schreyer residences, below.
The exterior shot is from College Street, the main shopping/dining street in downtown State College. Schreyer has 30 administrators and support staff to help students to navigate Penn State and succeed academically. The level of support that Schreyer students receive is extraordinary for a public university.
Penn State is still the only public university system I know that undersells its main campus.
There are some pluses to this system with 19 Commonwealth campuses across Pennsylvania.
- Admissions numbers (grades and test scores) are lower for the Commonwealth campuses
- Every student and alumnus at every campus is a Nittany Lion, even if they never set foot on the main campus
- It’s easy to balance classes and work if you go home for the summer or go on co-op
- There are 2+2 options to start your education at a lower price before transferring to the main campus
- Penn State extends the first two years in the Schreyer Honors College to some of the residential campuses
I understand the appeal of the campuses for families in Pennsylvania.
The university is making it possible for people who live practically anywhere in the Keystone State to earn a Penn State degree. That’s a great complement to the mission of a state university system, and it certainly helps to build a loyal alumni base. However, with few exceptions, it does not work well for non-residents who had hoped to begin a Penn State education at University Park. In addition, it helps to know someone who is already enrolled at University Park who can help to find housing near campus.
It is not exceptionally hard for excellent students to gain admission to the main campus..
Penn State-University Park accepted 55 percent of the students who applied to be in the Class of 2026. The university is shopped against so many other schools including other state universities and the more selective private colleges, so the yield rate–the percentage of accepted students who deposit–is just under 20 percent. Nearly 3,800 applicants for the Class of 2026 were waitlisted, although just over 400 were later accepted.
Admissions continue to be test optional, the scores are Considered in the admissions process.
However, a high math score would be expected for the business and STEM programs. Just over thirty percent of the enrolled students ib the Class of 2026 who took SATs had math scores over 700. Slight less than 35 percent of those who took ACTs had Math scores over 30. Penn State moved to the Common Application, but there is a 500-word essay that you should submit instead of the 650-word essay requested by most other schools.
Those who are insistent on going to University Park might be offered an opportunity to start their Penn State journey during the summer after high school graduation. This is a great way to get a head start on your education, taking two college courses before tackling a full course load in the fall, while becoming more acquainted with campus life.
Penn State plays fair with undecided students.
Students come to Penn State undecided on a major can enter the Division of University Studies (DUS) and take courses to plan to transfer into one of the degree granting undergraduate schools. DUS is actually the largest undergraduate division of the university.
Admissions from DUS to engineering have more reasonable requirements than I have seen, for example, at Michigan or UC-Berkeley. Nursing requirements are reasonable, too, though there will be enrollment limits tied to lab space and clinical assignments. Going from DUS into the Smeal College of Business is easier than it would be to get into the business school as a sophomore is easier than it is at Indiana or Michigan. A 3.2 with completion of core courses will get you into any major in ther business school except Finance, where you need a 3.5.
Most who get into the main campus tend to stay.
Penn State-University Park has retained no less than 92 percent of every freshman class since 2011. Seventy percent of the classes that entered in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018 graduated in four years. These numbers are impressive for a school that welcomes over 8,000 freshmen each year.
Penn State-University Park is a better buy for non-residents.
As an advisor based in New Jersey, I have to consider out-of-state costs for state schools in other states. Penn State will charge non-residents just under $39,000 in tuition and fees. That may seem high, but other schools like the University of Maryland-College Park and the University of Michigan charge more.
Penn State is the second most popular out of state destination for Garden State students after the University of Delaware. When you add tuition and fees, room and board together Penn State and U Del will charge about the same. Pennsylvania residents, however, are charged just over $19,000 in tuition and fees. I know of only one public university that charges residents more: The College of William & Mary (VA). However, the estimated charges for room and board are just over $12,000, low for a flagship state school.
In addition, Penn State students are hit with a price bump in their junior year. The largest bumps will be for students in business, earth and mineral sciences, engineering, information science and technology and nursing. This covers costs for career services for these schools, among other additional services that students get in the upper-class years.
Only five percent of freshmen receive merit scholarships, but they’re not that large.
The average is just over $5,000. Those who get into Schreyer get a $5,000 award, and that amount is the same as it was five years ago. But they must maintain a 3.4 to keep it and remain in the honors college. I also knew of former students who earned scholarships based on academic progress in their major.
Graduates in the Class of 2022 who borrowed owed, on average, over $44,000. Over a fifth took out private loans from lenders other than the federal government. It is quite possible for a very bright Pennsylvania resident to pay less to go to a private liberal arts college than it is to go to Penn State. The brightest might also qualify for full tuition at Rutgers.
Get to know your housing options before you come.
I toured only East Halls and Schreyer’s residence hall during past campus visits, so I recently watched student-produced YouTubes about the other residence halls. East Halls is exclusively for first-year students; the other halls will mix them with other classes, mainly sophomores. If you live in East Halls, you’re close to the sports venues. But it’s quite a schlepp downtown. If you live in the South Halls or Schreyer, you’re close to downtown, but you’ll be tired before you get to the gate for sports events. Penn State-University Park is the only school where I hear about renovated and un-renovated rooms in the same residence hall complexes. Rooms are small in most halls where freshmen live. Your decision should be based on location more than anything else. I also suggest looking at the costs of apartment rentals in State College. Apartments close to downtown are going to be more expensive than one might think for a school in an isolated community.
Greek life attracts less than a fifth of the student body, but there are 42 fraternities and 28 sororities.
I can understand why fraternities are popular, given the limited on-campus housing, school spirit, the number of houses and their location near campus. Nineteen sororities have on-campus housing in the university’s South Halls. However, I had to really work to find information on Greek life. The university did not put that information into a Common Data Set. In addition, it appears, as of this past spring, that the university is shifting away from some oversight over the Greek system.I recommend that parents click that link.
I know of no other really big university where graduates profess so much love for their school.
Penn State students can also make more post-college connections here than at most other schools.. The university also hosts THON, the largest dance marathon in the country for pediatric cancer. It takes most of the school year to plan for THON, and students organize their own events around the planning. THON raised over $15 million during the last academic year. Over 700 dancers danced a full 46 hours.
More remarkable, alumni come back to fill a huge stadium that’s nearly three hours from any large city.
Penn State’s Beaver Stadium seats 106,572 people, though most of the seats look uncomfortable from the YouTubes I watched. Beaver Stadium’s capacity is second only to the University of Michigan. It’s also the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania on game days. While watching YouTubes, I really got the mystique of the place. The home crowd will be loud and intimidating for any opponent. I cannot imagine that a high school student who is a football fan, especially one from Pennsylvania or a neighboring state, would want to go to another school if they saw a game at Beaver Stadium on a nice day.
Nittany Lion student fans pay–big time–for their football seats.
A student season ticket costs $246 for seven home games and it’s a Taylor Swift dash to get seats before they’re gone. Among major public football powers Ohio State charges a little less ($34 a game for six home games). But Penn State charges students much more than Michigan, or even the more successful programs such as Alabama or Georgia.
Football and football recruiting dominate sports news, but the Nittany Lions have won only two national championships (1982 and 1986). Joe Paterno, aka ‘Joe Pa’ was a living legend for most of his coaching career, and much loved in the community. He might be the only football coach in American history whose name appears on a main university library. He and his wife, Sue, raised nearly $14 million towards construction costs. Paterno was at the height of his powers when football recruits had to stay for four years. Although he won only two national titles, Penn State also had five unbeaten and untied seasons where they won a major bowl game. The Nittany Lions also won three Big Ten championships, the last one in 2008.
While Paterno was fired in the wake of a sex scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator, and died shortly after, Penn State has won one Big Ten title (2016) under current head coach James Franklin. However, Franklin is only 4-4 in bowl games since he came on board nine years ago.
Penn State is also quite good at other sports.
Penn State plays 31 sports, more than most universities in America. The fencing, field hockey, gymnastics, men’s lacrosse, rugby, volleyball and wrestling programs are among the nation’s best. The men’s basketball team had an impressive run to the NCAA Tournament last season with two players chosen in the NBA draft, only to lose their head coach to Notre Dame after the season ended. Fifteen sports offer free admission to students. Surprising to me, women’s basketball and wrestling are two of them. However, a student who is a football fan and a men’s hockey or men’s basketball fan will shell out over $400 for both sports.
If there were two words that aptly described Penn State at the main campus, they would be “more” and “bigger.” There are more activities and student-oriented facilities than any student could ever hope to enjoy, and they go far beyond spectator sports. Those who believe that more and bigger are better will love Penn State. This school has given a lot to a lot of people for a long time. But it also asks most of them to pay or borrow more.
Report Card: Penn State-University Park
- Four Year/Six Year Graduation Rates: A/A
- Freshman Retention: A
- Costs: B+ (Pennsylvania residents and non-resident admitted to Schreyer)/B (all other non-residents)/C (residents)
- Curriculum: A
- Community: A
- Comforts: B
- Connections: A
Check out this talk: What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
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