What is Penn State Known For? Is Penn State a Good School?

Originally an agricultural-focused high school, Penn State came into existence in 1855. In the 1880s, the school expanded its curriculum to include science, engineering, and the liberal arts. 

Fast forward to 2021, and Penn State’s total undergraduate enrollment exceeds 70,000 students focused on an array of disciplines. 

Penn State has a separate World Campus that offers 175 degrees and certificates and enrolls over 20,000 students across the globe. 

The World Campus is a popular option for ambitious students striving to balance work/family life, launch their own businesses, and design a more flexible degree program.

Students enjoy Penn State for its welcoming and inclusive environment – the school recently received five out of five stars for its campus climate in the 2019 Campus Pride LGBTQ Index. 

It is one of the top United States universities hosting international students, receiving more international students than any other school in the Big Ten Conference.

Moving forward, we’ll share more in-depth information about some of Penn State’s most popular majors and programs. 

Next, we’ll transition into special traditions, extracurricular activities, and sports happenings on campus. 

Finally, we’ll review the many reasons why Penn State is a great school for undergraduates.

What Majors & Academics Are Penn State Known For?

Penn State University
Stilfehler, Penn State University Health Services, CC BY-SA 4.0

Most students attend Penn State for its exceptional programs in engineering, business, and marketing. 

Nearly 16% of Penn State students focus their studies on engineering. This department spends over $180 million annually on research, including projects that advance 3D printing technology. 

The Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory is one of the department’s greatest assets, offering hands-on opportunities for prototyping, welding, manufacturing, and more.

At the Learning Factory, Penn State students create projects that have positive impacts for real-world clients and organizations. Almost 13,000 students have completed over 2,700 projects for more than 600 unique sponsors since the Learning Factory was first conceived.

Approximately 15% of all Penn State undergraduates are pursuing a degree offered through the Smeal College of Business. The Sapphire Leadership Academic Program is one special offering available to students admitted to Penn State’s business school. 

Undergraduates in this program have greater access to professional development and leadership opportunities outside of the traditional classroom environment. 

The goal of the program is to provide real-world contexts for skills application so that business students feel empowered to succeed in those same organizations after college.

Penn State’s marketing department is housed within the Smeal College of Business – of every ten undergraduates on campus, one is pursuing a degree in marketing. 

Graduates from this program of study go on to excel in high-power, exciting positions within organizations like IBM, AccuWeather, and the NHL. 

Alumni suggest taking advantage of the opportunities to cultivate relationships and networks on Penn State’s campus and frequently comment on how those connections helped them get their feet in the door at some of these successful companies.

Is Penn State a Good School?

Penn State consistently earns high rankings for various programs and endeavors. They recently ranked #4 in the U.S. and #32 in the world for their commitment to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals

These goals include ending poverty, providing more equitable education opportunities, ensuring clean water, and improving local safety.

The Center for World University Rankings named Penn State #54 in the world when it comes to the quality of education of its students and its faculty’s research prowess. 

15 of Penn State’s disciplines rank in the nation’s top ten list for their research expenditures, and the university is especially devoted to interdisciplinary collaboration.

Penn State is also a great school to learn how to start one’s own business. They were recently ranked #21 in schools offering undergraduate entrepreneurship studies, and #5 in the northeast region, specifically. 

Within the Center for Penn State Student Entrepreneurship, innovative undergraduates can receive assistance from the Lion Launchpad Microgrant Program

If a student comes up with an exciting idea, the LLMP may help fund their initial expenses, which can be used to create prototypes, apply for trademarks, and other tasks.

Beyond academics, Penn State’s student community has an excellent reputation. The school boasts the largest alumni association in the world, with more than 700,000 living alumni! 

There is such an abundance of school spirit that it can barely be contained on campus, and the expansive network of alumni is a great resource for students looking to make career-related connections.

Penn State Traditions

Penn State University Brill Hall
Stilfehler, Penn State University Brill Hall 3, CC BY-SA 4.0

From participating in the Mifflin Streak on the Sunday before spring semester finals to eating a slice of pizza from Canyon Pizza, there are dozens of long-held traditions on Penn State’s campus.

Unsurprisingly, most of these traditions and superstitions revolve around football. 

On certain game days, the majority of fans sitting in the 100,000+ seats of Beaver Stadium can be seen wearing all-white, shrieking the lyrics of “Zombie Nation” at their unlucky opponents. 

Speaking of opponents, when teams like Syracuse come to play, Penn State students commit to guarding the Lion Shrine, a tradition that started back in 1966, when Coach Paterno’s wife and her friend painted the statue orange, angering a large body of students. 

Penn State undergraduates now do their best to prevent other teams from following Sue Paterno’s blunder.

Of course, there are a few traditions that students enjoy participating in outside of the football stadium. On the eve of one’s 21st birthday, attending the Phyrst bar is a rite of passage. 

This dank Irish basement of a pub allows undergraduates to celebrate with a drink at midnight on their 21st birthday, and the bar regularly features cover bands.

State Patty’s Day is a huge celebration that takes place in downtown State College, Pennsylvania. The event draws in thousands of visitors and is often scheduled over the weekend following THON, a major fundraising effort we’ll discuss in the next section.

Prominent Clubs & Extracurricular Activities at Penn State

There are clubs for students of all interests at Penn State, with many of them organized to support THON – a year-long pursuit to raise funding for children battling cancer. 

All year, student organizations put on carnivals, dances, and 5K races to raise funds, and the 46-hour dance marathon occurs every February in the Bryce Jordan Center.

Speaking of funds, the Nittany Lion Fund (LMF) is Penn State’s only student-run investment fund with a balance of over $10 million, serving over 70 investors! 

The fund is managed by the Penn State Investment Association (PSIA), which all students of varying levels of investment knowledge and experience are eligible to join. Club members often go on to fill positions on Wall Street.

Looking to try a new activity? How about Brazilian jiu-jitsu? This club, formed in the spring of 2012, is designed to teach members how to defend themselves using Brazilian jiu-jitsu techniques. Like most Penn State organizations, any student in any year of study may join.

Those who prefer wielding a pen over other weapons may love attending literary events like the annual Shakespeare Festival, organized in part by Penn State students. 

Over the week-long festival, students can watch performances acted out by the National Players and Nitwittany Players (a group of Penn State alumni). The National Players also host workshops in stage speech and movement.

The best way to learn about clubs and events at Penn State is to attend Penn State Day, an annual production that takes place at Penn State University Park. 

Penn State Days are designed to introduce students to the admissions process, academic programs, and extracurricular activities. While popular among first-year students, all undergraduates are encouraged to attend.

What Sports Are Penn State Known For?

Penn State is one of the best universities to attend for thrilling sports matches. The majority of their teams compete at the Division I level within the NCAA. The school is a member of the Big 10 Conference, which was America’s original college athletic conference.

We couldn’t start go further in this section without mentioning Penn State football – the university’s most popular sport among fans and students. 

The Nittany Lions have won two national championships, gone undefeated for 13 distinct seasons, and made 48 appearances in college bowl games!

With such a big fan following, it is no surprise that Beaver Stadium is currently the second-largest stadium in the entire western hemisphere! The stadium offers over 100,000 seats for its enthusiastic fan base.

Readers may be surprised to learn that Penn State is also renowned for its fencing program – the Lions have won 13 national championships since 1990 when the NCAA first started awarding titles in men’s and women’s fencing. Six of those championship victories were consecutive!

One special note about Penn State student-athletes is that they are known for putting the “student” part first. 

Students recently tied their all-time high graduation success rate of 92%, a rate that is significantly higher in comparison to their student-athlete peers at other national universities.

For those not competing at such an extreme level, Penn State offers intramural activities like pickleball, indoor soccer, and squash. Intramurals and club sports are great opportunities for students to socialize and learn new skills – the pickleball club even offers clinics and open play on a weekly basis for those who are new to the sport. 

There are additional opportunities to join ESports leagues. Penn State currently runs leagues for games like Fortnite, Catan, and Rocket League.

Why Penn State?

Penn State is a highly appealing school for students interested in conducting research in the STEM fields, starting their own enterprises, and growing as leaders. Many students note that the supportive, inclusive community is a huge reason why they are pleased with their choice to attend Penn State.

Penn State’s culture is full of excitement and spirit, thanks to the camaraderie surrounding football games, community celebrations, and fundraising events like THON. 

The school’s extensive alumni network acts as a springboard for many creative and driven students looking to collaborate with like minds on revolutionary projects. 

PSU offers scholarships and awards to first-year and transfer students – one such prize is the Discover Penn State Award, a $26,000 four-year value given to students from eligible states who complete the application, select a Commonwealth campus as one of their choices, and submit the FAFSA (there are currently 19 campuses that belong to Penn State’s Commonwealth campus system).

All in all, Penn State is a great choice for students who want to excel in academics, develop strong friendships, and enjoy a quintessential college experience!

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