Update: Penn State University Park
Two weeks ago I attended the Scholars Day for the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State-University Park. A national model for honors programs that became full-blown honors colleges within a larger university, Schreyer has become an exceptionally selective academic option that is well worth pursuing. Quite honestly, I find it 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.
Founded through generous gifts from former Merrill Lynch CEO and Penn State alumnus William Schreyer, the Honors College provides the rigorous undergraduate experience that you are more likely to find at the most selective liberal arts college. There are honors-level courses in most academic subjects—far more than you would find at a much smaller school. There are research and thesis opportunities that are rarely offered to undergraduates, even at an Ivy League school. There’s also a small ($5,000) merit scholarship for every admitted student as well as honors housing that is well located at the center of campus. The Honors housing faces College Street, perhaps the most trafficked thoroughfare in the Penn State community.
If you get into Schreyer, you must work hard to stay in. A 3.4 GPA is required to continue from year to year. Most admitted students, not only stay in; their GPAs average closer to perfect than borderline. Make it all the way to graduation and you get a medal to wear over your cap and gown. Penn State makes the Schreyer experience available on the main campus as well as the Commonwealth campuses throughout Pennsylvania. Administration and staff services, including academic advising and career development are coordinated through University Park. Miss out on the experience as an incoming freshman? Earn excellent grades, develop a research idea, and you can apply to be considered for the sophomore or junior year.
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 just over 300 in Schreyer. There are honors and scholars programs within majors at Penn State-University Park as well the College of Engineering . But 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. It has demanding essays, short answer questions and a November 1st deadline, if you want to have an optional alumni interview. Penn State moved to the Common App for this year, making it easier to apply to the university as well as to Schreyer. But the volume of applications is also likely to rise.
In prior years the acceptance rate for Schreyer has been around 20 percent. It’s 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.
Outside of Schreyer, Penn State-University Park is big in so many ways: choices of majors, class sizes, the football crowds, the expansive campus, and the traffic congestion in and around it. But Penn State-University Park graduates just over two-thirds of their freshmen in four years, impressive for a school that adds 8,000 freshmen each year. There are other schools that have more students. Big Ten rivals Minnesota and Ohio State quickly come to mind. But pedestrian and vehicular traffic flows from those campuses move into large cities that also have more entertainment and social options. Penn State’s main campus looks and feels like a college town all year round. I’ve met alumni who love it. But this is not a community where you can walk into town to find an internship or a job after graduation. However, this community really loves their football team. Even during a 6-6 season under sanctions in 2012, the Nittany Lions averaged over 90,000 fans for every home game.
Penn State is big when it comes to alumni. You can find nearly 400,000 when you go to LinkedIn.com, and the communities are huge in many cities. Wherever you live in the US you will have no problem finding an alumni club or watch party for a football game. Penn State also has the largest career development center I have ever seen on a college campus. Individual colleges on the University Park campus also have their own, including Schreyer, and their services, from personal experience, are quite good. This is one of the few schools that hosts career fairs that will go more than one day. Work hard, master the bigness of the university, and you might find the same job that you might have gotten had you went to an Ivy.
Penn State-University Park is also big when it comes to costs. Last year the university charged residents $18,500 in tuition and fees, among the highest in the country. Non-resident charges approached $35,000, high but less than you would be asked to pay at Indiana, Michigan or Michigan State. But Penn State also hits you with a price bump at some of its colleges, including the business and engineering schools, when you’re ready to move into the coursework in your major. Merit scholarships, including those offered by Schreyer, do not reach far beyond five percent of a freshman class.
I have visited Penn State’s main campus several times over the past two decades, and visited Schreyer twice. If I compare the opportunities available at Schreyer to those that would be available at the most selective private colleges, Schreyer could fairly be considered one of the best educational values in America, whether you come from Pennsylvania or elsewhere. But if costs are a concern, and you cannot get into Schreyer, there are less expensive public options within Pennsylvania and elsewhere that will do as much for you as Penn State.
Report Card: Penn State-University Park
- Four-Year/Six Year Graduation Rates: A/A
- Freshman Retention: A
- Costs: C (in-state)/B (non-resident)
- Curriculum: A
- Community: A
- Comforts: B
- Connections: A
Want to know more about honor colleges and programs? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 609-406-0062.
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