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

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Pennsylvania State University–University Park accepts 43.3% of applicants. What does it take to get in?


Located in—you guessed it—University Park, Pennsylvania State University–University Park is ranked #20 in the nation for top public universities and #59 for overall best universities, according to U.S. News and World Report. Penn State prides itself on being a top school that prioritizes accessibility, with nearly a quarter of their students being first-gen students, commitment to nontraditional students, and providing exceptional graduate and professional programs.


With so much going on for it, Penn State remains a popular choice for high-achieving students. But with only 43.3% of applicants being accepted, Penn State does not make getting in easy, even for highly qualified students. Keep reading to learn more about the tips that have helped CollegeVine’s students get into the school that’s perfect for them.


Applying to Pennsylvania State University–University Park: A Quick Review


Students have several application options to choose from. You may apply using MyPennState application portal, the Common Application, or the Coalition Application. Although we generally recommend the Common App because more schools use it, ultimately you should choose the application format that you’re comfortable with. We’ve written extensive guides on the last two of these options, so be sure to check out The Common App: Everything You Need to Know and The Coalition App: Everything You Need to Know.


Students choose which campus and degree program they’d like to be admitted to—University Park is the main campus, and while you can set that as your first choice, be sure to include one of the regional campuses as your alternate choice. If you aren’t selected for University Park, you’ll be considered for the regional campus you selected and you may be admitted there and allowed to transfer to University Park after two years.


Students may apply by the November 1 Early Action deadline or by the November 30 recommended regular deadline; after January 31 Penn State will review applications on a rolling basis, and it will be more difficult to be admitted to your first choice campus. If you’re unsure about whether you should apply early, check out our post Early Action vs. Early Decision vs. Restricted Early Action.


To apply, be sure to send in all of the following:


  • A complete application via MyPennState, the Common App, or Coalition App
  • Supplemental essays
  • Self-reported academic record (SRAR) via MyPennState
  • ACT or SAT scores
  • $65 application fee or fee waiver


For international students: You will need to submit an official copy of your secondary school report, as well as a line-by-line translation if the documents are in a language other than English. If English is not your first language, you’ll also need to demonstrate your English proficiency through one of the following:


  • TOEFL score of 80 or higher
  • IELTS score of 6.5 or higher
  • SAT Evidence Based Reading and Writing section score of 570 or higher
  • ACT English section score of 24 or higher
  • GCSE or GCE Score of A, B, or C on the English language exam
  • International Baccalaureate (IB): Score of 5 or higher on the English Language & Literature (SL/HL) exam
  • Receive official certification through Penn State’s Intensive English Communication Program (IECP)


For homeschooled students: Although your application will be virtually identical to other students, Penn State may ask you for further documentation about your high school coursework and grades.


Pennsylvania State University–University Park Acceptance Rate: How Difficult Is It to Get In?


Last year, the acceptance rate for Pennsylvania State University–University Park was 43.3%. Pennsylvania State University–University Park received 56,114 applications last year and admitted 28,233 students. Of those, 7,863 students actually enrolled, making it similarly selective to schools like Stony Brook University-SUNY or the University of Connecticut.


While there’s a good chance you’ll be admitted, you should still take the application process seriously and make sure that every part of your application is as strong as possible. One way to increase your chances is to get help from people who have been through the process before, such as current students, alumni, or working with a company like CollegeVine. Connecting with someone who has successfully gained admission to a school like Penn State can make the difference between rejection and acceptance. 

So, How Does One Get Into Pennsylvania State University–University Park?


Penn State uses a holistic review process that emphasizes academic performance to select a diverse freshman class. Use your application to highlight your strengths in the following areas.


Academics. Penn State takes your academic preparation seriously. To give you an idea of what to aim for, the middle 50% of last year’s incoming freshmen earned GPAs between 3.55 and 3.97, earned SAT scores between 1250 and 1430 or ACT scores between 28 and 32. The admissions counselors also take into account the rigor of your classes, including AP, IB, or dual enrollment.


Extracurriculars. Penn State doesn’t care what activities you were involved in throughout high school, but they do want to see that you pursued something you were interested in with passion and excellence. This could mean taking a leadership position at your school, starting a new organization or initiative, or being recognized for your talents through awards. Whatever you do, show why those activities were meaningful to you and how you went above and beyond in following them.


Character. It’s important that you give the Penn State admissions officers insight into who you are and what your strengths are. They want to know what you are passionate about, why you’ve chosen the activities you participate in, and why your intended major or why Penn State matters for your future. Write a compelling essay that demonstrates your strengths and values.


Contribution to Community. Penn State is looking for students who will bring a vibrant presence to their campus through their past experiences and college involvement. Show how you’ll bring value to Penn State through your unique qualities or by mentioning extracurricular college opportunities you want to pursue.


How to Make Your Application Stand Out


Every application is different, but over the years we’ve seen these strategies give our clients applications that are three times more likely to gain favorable admissions results.


Excel academically. According Penn State, “The most important piece of our review is your academic record.” Show the admissions counselors that you’ve got what it takes by earning good grades in all of your courses, taking challenging classes throughout high school, and preparing adequately for the SAT or ACT. If you’re having trouble getting a standardized test score that falls within the ranges of last year’s freshmen, you may want to work with a trusted teacher, adult, or a company like CollegeVine to improve your test score.


Tell your story. Pennsylvania State University–University Park wants to know who you are; they give special consideration to first-generation college students, and they want to know what you’re passionate about and what has impacted your life. Whatever you don’t include in your application, they won’t know about, so make sure you highlight your strengths, your values, and your passion throughout your application.


Work with a counselor. Creating a strong application takes a lot of work and creativity, but it’s much easier to do if you work with someone who has helped students get into their dream school before. Whether you work with a company like CollegeVine, find an alumni in your area, or work with your high school counselor, getting help with your application is the best way to make sure that your application stands out.


What If You Get Rejected?


Pennsylvania State University–University Park is a popular option for many students. If you find yourself receiving a no-thank-you at the end of the admissions process, don’t be too hard on yourself. Bright, motivated, resourceful students will find success, or create it, anywhere they go.


Penn State doesn’t appear to have a formalized decision appeals process. However, we do not recommend that you petition your decision, as across most schools, decisions are rarely reversed.


You do have the option to transfer into Pennsylvania State University–University Park, although it’s still competitive—around 45% of transfer applicants are admitted each year. Competitive transfer applicants often have a college GPA of 3.0 or higher, participated in extracurriculars related to their intended major at their previous institution, and have completed at least 26 credits by the time of application.


You can reapply after taking a gap year, but this path is riskier than simply committing to another school and requesting to take a gap year there. To see if a gap year is right for you, visit our posts, What Are the Pros of Taking a Gap Year? and What You Need To Know When Applying to Colleges After a Gap Year.


By far, we recommend looking at another great school and making the most of your time there. Consider applying for other schools in the Northeast such as the University of Delaware or the University of Pittsburgh. For advice on adjusting to a different college path, check out our post Envisioning a New Future: Preparing for Life at Your Second-Choice (or Third, or Fourth) School.


Check out some of our other posts about great schools in the Northeast:


What Does it Take to Get Into State University of New York (SUNY) Binghamton?

What Does It Take to Get Into the University of Vermont?

Top 10 Most Underrated East Coast Colleges


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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.

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