UPenn vs. Penn State: What’s the Difference?

Why should you choose Penn State vs. UPenn? Explore the differences and compare the costs between UPenn and Penn State.
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Pennsylvania is the birthplace of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Along with its robust history, Pennsylvania offers endless natural landscapes, including multiple mountain ranges and rivers.

The Keystone State is also home to many prestigious, competitive colleges. Students interested in Pennsylvanian schools can find great options in bustling cities and small towns alike.

Two popular higher education options in the state are the University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State University. These two universities are often confused, but each offers its own unique advantages.

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What Should You Know About the University of Pennsylvania?

Founded in 1740, the University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League university nestled in Philadelphia. This research and liberal arts-focused university encompasses four undergraduate and 12 graduate schools. Currently, there are fewer than 30,000 students enrolled at UPenn.

Many UPenn students are involved in competitive sports teams and club activities. Most UPenn students participate in a study abroad program. In fact, UPenn is the number one ranked Ivy League school for the number of students studying abroad. UPenn also encourages students to participate in volunteer and community activities.

What Should You Know About Pennsylvania State University?

Pennsylvania State University began as an agricultural school and has since grown into the largest university in Pennsylvania. Penn State is a public university with larger class sizes and a higher admittance rate. In fact, 55% of applicants received admittance to Penn State in 2022.

Although the main campus is considered University Park, Penn State has 24 campuses, including an online school. In 2022, over 46,800 undergraduate and graduate students attended classes at University Park.

In 2022, around 70,000 students were enrolled in a bachelor's degree program across all campuses. Along with multiple locations in which to study, Penn State also has over 275 undergraduate majors to choose from. Because of its larger numbers, Penn State has many competitive sports teams and activity offerings.

UPenn vs. Penn State: 5 Key Differences

Although both UPenn and Penn State are popular Pennsylvanian institutions, there are key differences between these two schools.

1. Type of Learning Institute

UPenn is a private university, whereas Penn State is public. What are the differences between private vs. public universities?

Although you would have access to financial aid at UPenn, private colleges usually come with higher tuition prices and without discounted in-state tuition rates. Some private universities are known for offering generous financial aid packages.

Penn State is a public university which usually means lower tuition costs and an in-state tuition rate that is noticeably lower than the out-of-state rate. However, public colleges usually have larger class sizes. The large attendance numbers usually mean more degree programs and options, though.

2. Acceptance Rate

The acceptance rate between UPenn and Penn State is vastly different.

Because UPenn is an Ivy League university, the admissions process is extremely selective, and the acceptance rate is very low. In fact, only 7% of applicants in 2022 received an acceptance letter. Of those admitted, 94% were in the top 10% of their graduating high school classes.

Penn State, on the other hand, has a more generous acceptance rate. In 2022, Penn State accepted over half of all applicants, with an acceptance rate of 55%. The median ACT composite score of Penn State applicants was 29, whereas UPenn's was 35.

3. Cost of Attendance

One of the biggest differences between UPenn and Penn State is the cost of attendance. On average, private schools cost more than public institutions.

Since UPenn is a private Ivy League school, tuition costs more than three times the price of Penn State for the 2022-2023 school year. Meanwhile, Penn State costs less than $20,000 per year in tuition for in-state students for the 2022-2023 school year.

Ultimately, your cost of attendance will depend on a variety of factors, including residency and financial packages. However, the average student will pay more for a degree from UPenn than Penn State.

4. Student Body Size

Penn State's massive undergraduate student body is more than three times the size of UPenn's undergraduate student population. With its rigorous admissions process and low acceptance rates, it's no surprise UPenn can maintain a 6-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio.

For context, in the 2021-2022 school year, Penn State awarded nearly 700 bachelor's degrees in biological and biomedical sciences, whereas UPenn awarded 306 degrees.

A larger student body has perks, though. Penn State's large numbers and multiple campuses mean more degree program options, more class offerings, and more clubs and activities to choose from.

5. Campus Setting

Another key difference between UPenn and Penn State is the location. UPenn is settled in the middle of Philadelphia, a bustling city. Cities have advantages, like access to public transportation, museums and entertainment, and a diverse population.

Penn State's main campus, University Park, is located in State College. This area is more rural and has more of a college-town feel than you would experience in Philadelphia.

UPenn vs. Penn State: Which Is Right for You?

Deciding between these two well-known Pennsylvania universities can be challenging. Each has its advantages and possible drawbacks. Ultimately, your best fit depends on a variety of factors.

Things to consider when choosing the best college experience for you include:

  • Your cost of attendance vs. your budget
  • Academic interests vs. program and course offerings
  • Sports and extracurricular activities and clubs
  • Class and program sizes vs. learning style
  • Location and cost of living

Frequently Asked Questions About UPenn vs. Penn State

Why is UPenn so prestigious?

UPenn is an Ivy League university that frequently ranks among the top schools in the nation and across the world. Because UPenn has such a stringent admissions process, they are able to attract high-level thinkers and offer academically rigorous programs that are recognized year after year.

Why is Penn State so popular?

Penn State offers a high-quality education and a variety of highly regarded academic programs. Penn State is also known for its sports teams, extracurricular activities, and clubs.

Because it is a larger school, Penn State has a vast alumni network, and many graduates are able to take advantage of connections made during their time at the college.

Is Penn State hard to get into?

Penn State has an acceptance rate of 55%, making it easier to get into than UPenn. However, the admissions process is still challenging, and many applicants have strong academic performances.

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