Penn State University’s University Park campus, affectionately known as “Happy Valley” has long been a favored destination of Keystone State residents, many of whom have adopted the Nittany Lion lifestyle as a family tradition. Yet, the 2000s saw PSU shift from a solid flagship university ably serving its residents to a desirable destination for out-of-staters and even international students. To that point, in 1990, seventy-seven of undergraduates were in-staters and under 5% were international students. By 2015, just 56% were homegrown and 15% were international students. While the standards for admission/acceptance rate have not plummeted at PSU, the way they have at many other public institutions, the level of student admitted today is certainly more academically accomplished than a generation ago.

With the admissions landscape at Penn State changing in recent decades, it’s important for applicants to have an up-to-date understanding of what they are up against. To help, the College Transitions team will present:

1) A deep-dive into just how selective the Penn State admissions process truly is.

2) Data that will help you better assess how you measure up to the competition.

3) How the Penn State admissions committee operates and what they look for in a successful candidate.

To accomplish these goals we will touch on the following topics:

  • Penn State’s Class of 2024 acceptance rate
  • SAT, ACT, and GPAs of Penn State applicants
  • Admissions trends from the Class of 2024
  • The demographics of current Penn State undergraduates
  • Penn State’s yield rate
  • How Penn State’s admissions officers evaluate candidates
  • Tips for applying to Penn State
  • How to assess whether applying to Penn State is even worth the $65 application fee (for you)

Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.

Penn State: Acceptance Rate – Class of 2024

Penn State admitted 40,031 of the 73,861 freshman applicants who sought admission into the Class of 2024. This equates to a 54% acceptance rate. While the university does not release statistics on in-state versus out-of-state acceptance rates, an audit from 2017 did reveal that out-of-state students were consistently accepted a higher rate than PA residents. The audit revealed that the university relies heavily on the higher tuition rates paid by non-residents for funding.

Penn State Admissions – SAT, ACT, and GPA

Among those who were offered a place in the Class of 2024, the middle-50% unweighted GPA range was 3.55-3.90. The standardized test ranges were 27-33 on the ACT and 1240-1410 on the SAT. The statistics for students who actually went on to enroll were somewhat lower. Enrolled 2019-20 freshmen sported a middle-50% ACT range of 25-30 and an SAT range of 1150-1340.

Admissions Trends & Notes

  • The Class of 2024 enjoyed a 54% acceptance rate, five points higher than the 49% acceptance rate for the Class of 2023.
  • Women generally enjoy a higher acceptance rate to Penn State than their male counterparts. For the Class of 2024, the edge for female applicants was 56% to 52%.
  • 35% of PSU freshman placed in the top 10% of their high school class; 73% were in the top quartile, and 96% were in the top half.
  • PSU was test-optional for the Class of 2024, yet 77% submitted SAT scores and 18% included ACT results with their application (an undetermined percentage submitted scores from both exams).
  • The yield rate decreased from 24% (Class of 2023) to 21% (Class of 2024).

Who Gets Into Penn State?

Let’s look at the demographics of Penn State undergraduates:

The majority of Penn State students hailed from the Keystone and paid in-state tuition. The split was:

  • In-state: 58%
  • Out-of-state-42%

Looking at ethnic identity among the Nittany Lion undergraduate student body, the breakdown is as follows:

  • Asian American: 6%
  • Hispanic: 7%
  • African American: 4%
  • International: 12%
  • Caucasian: 64%

International students hail from 111 countries with the greatest representation from the following nations:

  1. China
  2. India
  3. South Korea
  4. Saudi Arabia
  5. Taiwan

The breakdown by gender of undergraduate student body class shows more men than women presently on campus:

  • Male: 53%
  • Female: 47%

Penn State’s Yield Rate

Penn State’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted was only 21%. To compare this school to other flagship public institutions, UT-Austin has a 46% yield, UGA comes in at 45%, and Ohio State’s is 30%.

How Penn State Rates Applicants

There is only one factor that Penn State ranks as being “very important” to their admissions process and that is an applicant’s GPA. The only category ranked as “important” is the rigor of one’s secondary school record. Six factors are “considered” by Penn State. Those are: standardized test scores, talent/ability, legacy status, geographical residence, state residency, and racial/ethnic status.

Penn State went test-optional due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the 2020-21 admissions cycle. They will remain test-optional through Summer/Fall 2023.

In the admissions office’s own words: “The most important piece of our review is your academic record, which represents your individual four years of academic development…We take a hard look at the many roles you serve as a student, sibling, athlete, son or daughter, volunteer, and/or employee. Assembling a class of students with diverse interests and experiences is a task that we take seriously. Penn State does not have a minimum GPA or standardized test score used for admission. There are no such things as ‘cut offs.’ We review students taking into account a full range of factors.”

Possessing one of the premier athletic programs in the country, it most definitely helps if you are recruited as an athlete to join one of Penn State ’s 29 Division I sports teams. There are over 800 designated student-athletes at PSU.

Tips for Applying to Penn State

If you plan on joining the 70,000+ Nittany Lion hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:

  • Penn State does not offer interviews. Therefore, the best way to personalize the admissions process is through your essays and recommendations.
  • Penn State does not consider “demonstrated interest” in the admissions process. This means you will not gain an advantage by visiting campus, connecting through social media, emailing an admissions officer, etc.
  • You can apply via the Common Application by November 1 to meet the Early Action deadline. The Regular Decision deadline is December 1.
  • You must list an Intended Major/Program of Study on the supplemental Common App form. There are a number of Direct Admit Majors at PSU.
  • Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essay required by Penn State. There is only one “optional” prompt that reads as follows:

Please tell us something about yourself, your experiences, or activities that you believe would reflect positively on your ability to succeed at Penn State. This is your opportunity to tell us something about yourself that is not already reflected in your application or academic records. We suggest a limit of 500 words or fewer.

For serious applicants, “optional” essays such as this one at PSU are not really optional. This is an important opportunity to let the committee know about the unique personality traits, skills, and passions that you will bring to University Park.

Should I Apply to Penn State?

Penn State students generally sport A-/B+ averages and possess average standardized test scores right around the 80th percentile of all test-takers. If you fall below these numbers, there is a still a good chance that you could gain acceptance to one of PSU’s 19 branch campuses located throughout the state of Pennsylvania.

All college-bound high school students should formulate an appropriate college list, containing a complement of “target” and “safety” schools. This can be done in collaboration with an admissions professional who is aware of the latest trends and strategies associated with your prospective colleges.