Pennsylvania State University – Acceptance Rate, GPA, and Requirements

The main campus of Penn State can feel like a separate town in itself, in the best way possible. 

Penn State has the 5th largest college campus globally and utilizes that campus wonderfully to give students access to any facility a hopeful college student could dream of. 

But in fact, beyond its main campus, Penn State has roughly 20 campuses throughout the state of Pennsylvania, with each campus having its own unique affordances. 

For example, their campus in Altoona is nestled within the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, which gives students the feel of a small college. 

With fewer than 4,000 students in this serene mountain location, it offers a starkly different experience than those offered by Penn’s campus in University Park.

The University Park location has roughly 47,000 students. It has over 1,000 clubs, the second-largest football stadium in the nation, and everything a student could ask for when it comes to that big university feel. 

As such, Penn State doesn’t just offer one kind of college experience, but dozens. 

And they have a unique system to help students explore these different campuses so that by the time a student graduates, they will have experienced multiple college types: large and small, technical and liberal arts, metropolitan and rural. 

The 2+2 plan helps students spend two years at one Penn campus, and then their remaining 2 years at another. 

The question for many, therefore, will not be whether Penn State is the right choice. Instead, many will ask themselves how they might make the most of these diverse learning environments so that their Penn experience is the exact right college experience for them.

But before one begins to use Penn’s unique affordances to tailor a college experience that works just right for them, they have to be admitted. 

As such, this article breaks down the key information which students need to begin their application journey: requirements, application essay information, application tips, and more. 

By the end, students will know all they need to begin their process of becoming a Nittany Lion!

Pennsylvania State University Acceptance Rate

Penn State University
Stilfehler, Penn State University HUB, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Penn State acceptance rate hovers around 56%.

However, Penn has an early action acceptance rate of 67.9%. The early action application deadline for Penn State is November 1st, with students hearing back from Penn around late December.

The standard deadline for applications is December 1st, with students hearing back sometime in late January. 

Furthermore, which campus a student applies to will similarly affect their acceptance chances. Although Penn tends not to release campus-by-campus admissions information, looking at GPA, ACT, SAT, and the number of total applicants at each campus can help to illuminate admissions trends. 

When one looks at test scores and GPAs for University Park compared to these same variables at other campuses, it appears that University Park is, on average, more difficult to be admitted to than many of Penn’s campuses. 

Related to general admissions information is the frequency with which Penn students receive financial aid, as financial aid can frequently decide whether someone decides to attend a specific college. 

Around 68% of Penn students receive some form of financial aid. Penn’s FAFSA deadline is December 1st. 

Pennsylvania State University Out-of-State Acceptance Rate

The out-of-state acceptance rate for Penn State hovers around 42%

Interestingly, although out-of-state students comprise roughly 35% of the overall Penn State student population, at University Park—Penn’s main campus—roughly 45% of students come from out of state. 

That being said, it is essential to note that this is most likely because most out-of-state applicants apply to the University Park campus. 

Although the out-of-state acceptance rate varies from year to year, it is generally a good rule of thumb to assume that the acceptance rate for non-Pennsylvania applicants will be roughly ten points below the in-state acceptance rate.

The prospect of applying as an out-of-state student to Penn State seems to be getting better and better by the year. However, the percentage of out-of-state and international students at a variety of Penn State campuses is steadily growing. 

At the Scranton branch, for example, the amount of out-of-state and international students grew in 2021 from its usual 5-7% of the incoming class to 22%—a significant achievement for the school’s efforts to diversify its campuses. 

GPA for Pennsylvania State University

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

Penn State does not have a minimum required GPA to be admitted, but based on the average GPAs of recent first-year classes one can learn more about what GPA might be considered competitive. 

Because of how many students apply to the University Park campus, Penn provides the average high school GPA for both University Park applicants and all other applications separately. 

The middle 50% of University Park students received a high school GPA ranging from 3.56-3.91. As such, one can assume this is the range a student must fall within to be most competitive. 

For all other campuses, the average GPA ranged from 3.06-3.65. 

Importantly, in a ranking from Penn admission regarding which factors they find most important in an applicant, GPA was the only factor that was ranked as “very important” to an applicant’s chances of admittance. 

SAT & ACT Requirements for Pennsylvania State University

Similarly to GPA, Penn state does not have minimum standardized test scores one must meet to be admitted. 

However, they provide data that gives potential applicants a glimpse into what a competitive SAT/ACT might be considered.

The middle 50% of the University Park campus’s ACT scores were 29-33. For all other campuses, the middle 50% scores ranged from 23-30. 

For the SAT, the middle 50% at University Park was 1280-1450. For all other campuses, the middle 50% was 1090-1300. 

In the same ranking that looked at GPA’s importance, Penn admissions ranked standardized test scores as being “considered” during admissions.

Other Requirements and Admission Tips for Penn State

Penn State Thomas Building
Stilfehler, Penn State University Thomas Building, CC BY-SA 4.0

Besides the necessary GPA and standardized test scores students might seek to attain to be considered competitive, Penn State also requires that students complete a standard array of high school coursework. 

That being said, depending on the college or program one seeks to apply to, there may be specific courses a program requires high school students to have completed prior to admittance. 

Typically, the majors/colleges that require additional coursework are math-heavy majors, and thus require four years of high school math classes instead of the minimum of 3 years. 

Because there is no minimum GPA or standardized test score for Penn State, completing these high school courses is the only requirement for admission. 

That being said, in order to be competitive, one is advised to strive for a GPA above a 3.5, or a 3.1 if one isn’t applying to the University Park campus. Importantly, GPA is the only factor Penn considered “very important.”

The only factor ranked by Penn as “important” is the rigor of one’s high school academic record. As such, it is wise for applicants to target these two factors—GPA and high school course load rigor—if they want to be as competitive as possible when applying to Penn State.

One way to achieve this course load rigor is by taking more courses in a given subject than is required by the minimum admissions criteria offered by Penn. 

For example, students must take a minimum of 2 years in a foreign language to be admitted to Penn, and as such, a student could enroll in 3 or 4 years of high school language courses in order to increase their competitiveness.

Finally, applying by the early action date of November 1st is likely to increase one’s chance of admission by roughly 10%, based on the data regarding the early action acceptance rate compared to the general acceptance rate. 

Essays for Pennsylvania State

Penn State utilizes the Common App system to gather applications, and thus uses the same essay prompts which appear on the Common App system for any given year.

To provide an example of the kind of question which might appear on the Common App, the 2021-22 application offered this question as an essay prompt: “Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?”

On top of the Common App application questions, Penn State has also included in recent years a supplemental essay which is 500 words in length. 

This supplemental essay is very broad in scope, and essentially asks the applicant to tell the admissions team “something about themselves.”

In this essay, students are advised to tie whatever subject they chose to write about back to Penn State so that the admissions team can connect the applicant’s life experiences with how Penn State will be a good fit for them and vice versa.

Is Pennsylvania State University Right for You?

But even after the necessary coursework has been completed, the essays have been drafted and redrafted, and the standardized tests have been taken, an important question still remains. Is Penn State the right choice?

The answer to this question will vary from person to person, but an important factor to consider is just how many kinds of experiences Penn offers a wide variety of students. 

Beyond its many campuses, even at University Park alone, Penn boasts over 1,000 student organizations. 

Through these organizations, any student, regardless of their interest, can find a community of like-minded peers. Finding such a community at Penn will enhance one’s undergraduate education and lifelong career. 

And beyond the wonderful academic affordances (Penn is consistently ranked as one of the top 3% of universities worldwide), when students discuss Penn State, they often discuss it with a focus on just how fantastic the experience of being a student there is. 

This reality is not a surprise, as it’s supported by the data. Nich ranked Penn State as 9th for student life out of all universities in the U.S.

Especially when one considers how Penn State allows students to craft a college experience that is ideal for them by combining the affordances of their various campuses, so many students will discover that Penn State is the perfect choice.