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What Does it Cost to Attend Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus?

Pennsylvania State University is a popular choice for Pennsylvania students, as it offers students the flexibility to transfer to the main campus at University Park after starting college at one of the regional campuses.


But because of the difference in tuition and fees and the local cost of living, you’ll want to be prepared to know what it would cost to send your student to Penn State’s main campus over one of the regional campuses. We’re going to look at what factors contribute to the cost of attendance at Penn State-University Park, and how you can keep the costs down for your family.

Why College Costs Are Highly Variable


You may be surprised to learn that college costs vary from campus to campus of the same institution, but they also vary from student to student at the exact same campus. Although we’re going to go over what the full price of a year of education at Penn State is, you should know that the actual cost of a Penn State education will likely be different for your family.


Instead, you’ll want to consider what the net cost for your family will be. Although averages are a good place to start and we will include them, it’s better to consider the specific factors that will reduce your net cost. Very few families pay full price, and this is due to financial aid from:


  • The federal, state, or even local government
  • The institution itself
  • Any additional private or merit scholarships the student has earned.


A combination of financial aid from these sources will help you reduce your net cost, and we’ll go over what you can roughly expect from each source below.

Pennsylvania State University’s List Price


Although we call it the list price, schools refer to this as the estimated cost of attendance. If you’re wondering why it’s an estimate and not an exact number, it’s because schools tend to average the cost from their current students. Each student has different expenses, from housing to transportation to groceries.


Generally, the cost of attendance includes things like tuition and fees, room and board, and other costs of living like transportation, or even laundry expenses. Because Penn State is a public institution, there is a difference in the tuition and fees for in-state students versus out-of-state students. In the 2016-2017 school year, the total price for in-state students was $35,758, while the total price for out-of-state students was $50,240.


Most families don’t end up paying list price because they qualify for some kind of financial aid, but there are some families who would likely pay list price at any institution. Wealthy families with household incomes over $175,000 usually end up paying the list price, especially if their student didn’t receive any merit scholarships.

What is the Price of Penn State with Financial Aid?


We hope that you’re feeling relieved to know that you’re not likely paying the list price, but you may still be wondering what you can expect to pay if your student attends Penn State. For students who qualify for financial aid, the average price for in-state students was $34,167, and the average price for out-of-state students was $48,649.


Cost Based on Household Income of Penn State-Main Campus


While the averages above are a good starting point for determining your net cost, it’s often more helpful to look at the cost based on household income. Students who come from families with higher need will have a lower average net price, which helps make college more accessible.


Family Income Average Net Price
$0-$30,000 $20,873
$30,001-$48,000 $22,463
$48,001-$75,000 $26,481
$75,001-$110,000 $29,648
Over $110,000 $33,278

What is the Merit Aid Net Price at Penn State?


Merit aid is usually offered to students on a need-blind basis, meaning that students of any income level can receive merit aid. Merit aid is generally offered to the top admitted students with exceptional accomplishments.


At Penn State, about 15.6% of students who don’t qualify for need-based aid receive some form of merit aid (note that there are some students who receive need-based and merit aid). The average merit aid award for a student without need was $653, which reduces the net cost for in-state students to $35,105 and out-of-state students to $49,587.


Although it may not be much, every bit helps, and there are some schools that don’t offer any merit aid. Due to its small average award size, Penn State ranked 807th in a pool of over 1000 schools we analyzed for merit aid generosity.

Loans and Debt at Penn State


Students have to cover the remaining cost of attendance somehow, and a common way that students do that is to take out loans. At Penn State, about 56% of students have a loan to help cover their annual expenses. The average size of the federal loan per student was $7,838 total across all four years.

Outcomes at Penn State


When choosing a school, you should encourage your student to look at the typical student outcomes as a factor in their decision. Although their individual effort and resourcefulness are more likely to secure their post-college success, it’s still good to know if a school provides a conducive environment to students. At Penn State, around 83% of their students graduate within six years. Ten years out of school, the average main campus grad is making $55,300.

Local Cost of Living Considerations


Penn State’s University Park campus is located in the State College municipality, which offers a small-town environment with an emphasis on college activities. The cost of living index for State College is 113, which means that it’s about 13% higher than the national average. Overall, it’s pretty affordable to live near University Park.


All freshman students are required to live on-campus, but students are allowed to live off-campus starting their sophomore year. Here are the average apartment rents in State College:

  • 1 bedroom: $935
  • 2 bedrooms: $1,075
  • 3 bedrooms: $1,520


Although some of the housing options may be cheaper per month, students who live on-campus are required to purchase a meal plan. Many students find that the freedom that off-campus housing provides is worth it, especially because they can easily cook their own meals.


Many students choose to work part-time jobs to help cover some of their living expenses. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the minimum wage in Pennsylvania is the same as the federal minimum wage at $7.25, and the average hourly wage is $22.55.


Other Ways to Save


Aside from traditional saving methods, one of the best ways that your student can help reduce the net cost to your family is to apply for as many scholarships as they can. Scholarships are a form of gift aid that doesn’t have to be paid back, and they are often merit-based. Here are just a few ways you and your student can start looking for scholarships:


  • Applying for institutional scholarships. Penn State has some scholarships that are awarded to students with a separate application, so you should encourage your student to apply for these scholarships instead of relying on what the admissions office automatically considers them for.



  • Looking for private scholarships. Many nonprofit organizations and private corporations offer scholarships to students based on merit. You may even want to check with your employer to see if they offer scholarships specifically to students of employees. Another example is the prestigious National Merit Scholarship. Students who receive the Semifinalist or Finalist designation may find that they qualify for other private scholarships outside of the National Merit Program too.



  • Have your student consider a work-study job. While working and studying might sound overwhelming, finding an on-campus job is a great way to get involved in the school community. Students can often find teaching assistant jobs in their major departments, allowing them to establish stronger relationships with the faculty and their peers. Other jobs include working in the dining hall, checking out books in the library, and supervising the fitness center.


If your student will be considered out-of-state at the time of application, you may want to look into what the requirements are for your student to be reclassified as an in-state student after their freshman year. They should speak directly with a financial aid officer at their school to make sure that it doesn’t impact any of their other financial aid, but it could save your family thousands of dollars each year.


Although we focused on how to make attending the main campus more affordable, you should also know that your family can save money if your student chooses to attend a regional campus. Many students transfer to the main campus after spending a year or two at the main campus; the regional campuses often have lower tuition rates, and if your family lives in the area, they can save even more by staying at home.

Wrapping It Up


With many ways to reduce your family’s net cost, from financial aid to part-time student work, we hope that you have found your student’s dream school to be financially feasible.


If you’re looking for personalized guidance about college affordability, we’ve got you covered. As part of our College Applications Program, our Finances tool shows students the ROI of different schools and majors and help students identify scholarships to apply for. On average, our students earn about $83,000 in scholarships. Find out if working with our Financial Aid Tools is right for your family!


For more information about Pennsylvania State University and financial aid, check out these posts:


What Does it Take to Get into Pennsylvania State University–University Park?

Parents: 12 Must-Know College Financial Aid Terms

FAFSA, CSS Profile, IDOC, Oh My: A Guide to Financial Aid


Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

Short Bio
Gianna Cifredo is a graduate of the University of Central Florida, where she majored in Philosophy. She has six years of higher education and test prep experience, and now works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida and is a proud cat mom.