Getting to Know: Penn State-University Park-Again
I’ve been a frequent visitor to Penn State-University Park over the past two decades, but I owe readers an updated profile. 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. You can also check out the photos that I took when I was there last time. Like UConn Penn State came close to making my Public Ivy list. Non-resident costs were the only reason for excluding the university.
While I have rooted against Penn State as an alumnus of two Big Ten rival schools, I know of no other really big university where graduates I personally know profess so much love for their school.
There’s over 700,000 alumni, more than any institution in America, and 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 and 2017 graduated in four years. These numbers are impressive for a school that welcomes over 8,000 freshmen each year.
I wrote about the Schreyer Honors College after my last pre-pandemic visit.
My comments about the Honors College hold true today. However, as college costs keep going up, Schreyer is an increasingly attractive alternative to extremely selective Ivies and Ivy-like schools. As I state in that profile:
Quite honestly, I find it (Schreyer) to be the best reason to attend Penn State, unless you really want to mix the football experience with big-school academics, and you can cover the costs. I’ve got a Pinterest page on Penn State and also one for the Honors College, if you want to take a look.
I listened to a more recent counselor’s briefing for Penn State. It covered not only the main campus, which I will cover here, but also the network of Commonwealth campuses throughout Pennsylvania. Many state university systems have similar networks. But Penn State is still the only system I know that elevates their profile almost to the level of the main campus. There are some pluses to this system:
- 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 extendsthe Schreyer Honors College to some of the residential campuses
It is not exceptionally hard for excellent students to gain admission to the main campus..
Penn State-University Park accepted just over half of the students who applied to be in the Class of 2025. 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. Just under 2,500 applicants were waitlisted, although just under 1,500 were later accepted.
Penn State has recently moved to the Common Application, but there is a 500-word essay that you should submit. 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. About thirty percent of the enrolled students ib the Class of 2025 who took SATs had math scores over 700. Thirty one percent of those who took ACTS had Math scores over 30.
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.
Penn State plays fair with undecided students.
If you come to Penn State undecided on a major, you 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.
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.
Penn State is really spread out. The campus is walkable for most, but it can feel quite crowded when classes change. Campus buses are available. They 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.
Penn State-University Park is a better buy for non-residents.
As an advisor based in New Jersey, a state that college-going students like to leave, 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 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 public university that charges residents more: The College of William & Mary.
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.
About a quarter of Penn State freshmen receive merit scholarships, but they’re not that large.
The average is only $2,500. Those who get into Schreyer get a $5,000 award. But they must maintain a 3.4 to keep it and remain in the honors college. I knew of former students who earned scholarships based on academic progress in their major. But a graduating senior is likely to owe over $30,000 if she took out loans. 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.
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 about a fifth of the student body with 44 fraternities and 27 sororities. I can understand why fraternities are popular, given school spirit, the number of houses and their location near campus. Nineteen sororities have on-campus housing in the university’s South Halls.
Football matters but Penn State is 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. 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. 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 (20i6) under current head coach James Franklin. However, Franklin is only 3-4 in bowl games since he came on board eight years ago.
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 use and enjoy, and they are far from limited to spectator sports. Penn State hosts THONm 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. Penn State students can also make more post-college connections here than at most other schools.
Those who believe that more and bigger is 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 a little more.
Report Card: Penn State-University Park
- Four Year/Six Year Graduation Rates: A/A
- Freshman Retention: A
- Costs: B
- Curriculum: A
- Community: A
- Comforts: B
- Connections: A
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