Is Penn State an Ivy League School? Understanding Penn State Vs. UPenn

People often confuse Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) and the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn).

Despite having similar-sounding names, Penn State and UPenn are separate institutions. One is public, the other private. One is spread throughout Pennsylvania, the other resides in the heart of Philadelphia. One is an Ivy League, the other a Big 10 school.

Both, however, are highly competitive colleges that offer a variety of athletic and academic opportunities that lead to successful careers. Both are research leaders, especially in the fields of business and computer science.

You may recognize some of the people who graduated from Penn State: Key & Peele comedian Keegan-Michael Key, Afghan Girl photographer Steve McCurry, and Macintosh creator Jef Raskin. Likewise, you might recognize these notable UPenn alumni: Tesla founder Elon Musk, singer-songwriter John Legend, and architect I.M. Pei.

So yes, Penn State and UPenn share an esteemed reputation due to their cutting-edge education and high-profile grads. But in this article, we will break down what separates Penn State from UPenn in terms of acceptance rate, academic opportunities, size, ranking, and more. Then we’ll tell you how to get into Penn State.

Is Penn State an Ivy League School?

Penn State
George Chriss, Penn state old main summer, CC BY-SA 3.0

Penn State is not an Ivy League school — UPenn is.

The Ivy League is made up of Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Brown, Cornell, Princeton, Dartmouth, and UPenn. What started as an athletic conference in 1954 has become synonymous with social and educational prestige.

However, Penn State is one of fourteen Big 10 member colleges. The athletic conference is one of the most dominant in America, especially in football.

Penn State is also a large public university, with a total enrollment of almost 100,000 students across all 24 of its campuses. University Park — also known as “Happy Valley” — is the largest and most selective campus with over 46,000 students and an acceptance rate of 49%.

Penn State’s overall athletic program is one of the most successful in the country, but it particularly excels in football. The Nittany Lions play at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, which has the second-largest capacity of any stadium in the country at 106,000. Alum John Cappelletti won the Heisman Trophy and played in the NFL.

The most popular majors at Penn State are information science, biology, and economics. In fact, Penn State is one of the 10 best places in the U.S. to study information technology. It’s also highly ranked for best Greek life and overall student life.

On the other hand, UPenn is the private Ivy League school in the center of Philadelphia. By comparison, UPenn’s enrollment is just half that of Penn State’s University Park campus, and it ranks #1 in the nation for economics due to the world-famous Wharton Business School.

Comparing Penn State to the University of Pennsylvania

We’ve already begun to discuss the differences between Penn State and UPenn, but here are some more stats.

UPenn enrolls only a fraction (26,000) of Penn State’s total number of students (90,000).

Penn State has an overall acceptance rate of 76% while UPenn accepts 8%.

The typical test scores for each school also differ widely. Penn State looks for SATs around 1070-1310 or an ACT around 23-30. UPenn prefers applicants earn at least 1450 on the SAT or at least 33 on the ACT.

The average GPA of a Penn State applicant should be around 3.6, while a UPenn candidate must get about a 3.9 in order to be competitive.

Penn State is spread out over 24 campuses throughout Pennsylvania, from the College of Medicine in Hershey to Dickinson Law in Carlisle. The university offers over 160 baccalaureate degrees, 90+ associate degrees, and over 190 different graduate degrees. Penn State World Campus also provides 60+ online programs, including an M.B.A., nursing B.S., and master of professional studies in homeland security.

UPenn undergraduates have a choice of over 90 majors across four schools: arts & sciences, engineering, nursing, and business. Graduate programs are even more extensive, with schools like the Annenberg School for Communication, Carey Law School, and Perelman School of Medicine. UPenn also offers online degree and certification programs through all 12 of its schools.

Where is Penn State’s Ranking Among All Schools?

Penn State is a great place to get a public education.

In fact, it is the best public school in Pennsylvania according to The publication, which considers student and alumni reviews and data from the Department of Education, ranks Penn State #18 in their list of 2021 Top Public Universities in America. In particular, Penn State is #6 for student life, #7 for information technology, and #11 for criminal justice. (For the partygoers out there, Penn State is a top 10 party school!)

U.S. News puts it at #23 for best public schools. Penn State’s business and engineering programs — particularly petroleum and industrial — are notably high performers.

Washington Monthly, which ranks colleges based on “what they do for the country,” ranks Penn State #15 for “Best Bang for the Buck” among Northeastern schools. These schools are ranked based on “how well they help non-wealthy students attain marketable degrees at affordable prices.”

If you’re interested in the fields mentioned above, you’d be getting a good deal out of Penn State. Even if your interests lie elsewhere, they can still find a home at this large, sprawling institution. You don’t need to go to the fanciest schools in order to get quality, affordable education.

How to Get Accepted into Penn State

Penn State is not as difficult to get into as UPenn, but there are certain minimum requirements to getting accepted.

SAT/ACT scores and GPA

Penn State admissions says, “The most important piece of our review is your academic record.” This includes academic courses, grades earned, and standardized test scores (optional for summer/fall 2021), with special consideration for first generation college students.

As we discussed earlier, aim for an SAT score in the range of 1070-1310. Specifically, get a 530-670 in Math and 540-640 in Reading & Writing. The range for ACT test takers is 23-30.

Penn State prefers students who are average to above average in high school, with a GPA of at least 3.6. The school’s full profile, including admissions info, can be found on

If this sounds intimidating, remember that the numbers are flexible. College admissions officers are human, too. If your test scores are lower than the ones we specified, a higher GPA could help compensate, and vice versa.


Extracurriculars and leadership experience are crucial in distinguishing you from others with similar grades and test scores.

The activities you do outside of school give admissions officials the best idea of your personality and values. Plus, they want to see if you’ll be able to contribute to campus life when you get there.

For example, if you’re passionate about journalism, get involved with your school or community newspaper and show that you value truth and honesty. They’ll be able to see that you might join The Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student-run news outlet. Better yet if you mention this directly!

If you’ve won awards for a special talent or held leadership positions at school, these experiences will further bolster your chances of getting into Penn State.

Recap: Penn State is NOT an Ivy League School, However, It is a Highly-Ranked Public University

Pennsylvania State University is not an Ivy League school (that’s University of Pennsylvania), but it is a highly ranked public college. It’s consistently ranked in the top 25 public schools in America, especially for studying information technology, business, engineering, and criminal justice.

With hundreds of majors and programs of study to choose from, there’s something for everyone at Penn State. As one of only four U.S. institutions to have land-grant, sea-grant, sun-grant, and space-grant designations, Penn State is a research powerhouse. Studying at Penn State is even more accessible through its extensive online classes.

As the home to one of the biggest football stadiums in the U.S., the Big 10 school values athletic as well as academic excellence. Thus you can expect sports and school spirit to be a big part of student life here.

Getting into Penn State is nowhere near as difficult as getting into UPenn, but make sure you perform above average compared to your high school classmates. Many people choose University Park as their first choice, making it the most competitive campus to get into. But if you don’t get in as a freshman, you can always try transferring there later in your college career.

The college experience is what you make of it — especially at Penn State, where opportunities abound.