The University of Pennsylvania vs Penn State University: you've likely heard of these schools (and maybe even thought they were the same thing!). But do you know the basic differences between them? In addition, many people are aware that one of these schools is part of the Ivy League, but which one is it? Is Penn State Ivy League? Or is Penn Ivy League?
We answer all these questions here in our complete UPenn vs Penn State guide. We'll then go over the pros and cons of attending each university and provide you with key tips for figuring out which school is a better match for you.
Is Penn State Ivy League? Is UPenn an Ivy?
Many people wonder, "Is Penn State Ivy League? Or is UPenn Ivy League?"
Here's the truth: UPenn is a member of the Ivy League, whereas Penn State is not. The main reason so many people get confused about this is that the two schools have very similar-sounding names (University of Pennsylvania vs Pennsylvania State University).
UPenn is normally called just Penn, which makes it sound almost identical to Penn State (so much so that even newspapers have mixed up the two!).
Another reason it's confusing is that the Ivy League consists of only private universities, but UPenn sounds as though it's a public state university when, in fact, it's not! (For the record, Penn State is a public school, so no surprises there.)
|Ivy League University
|US News Ranking
|University of Pennsylvania
The gist of it is this: UPenn is a highly ranked, private Ivy League institution, while Penn State is a large, well-ranked public university.
In reality, the two schools aren't connected to each other in any major way, except for the fact that they're both well known and located in Pennsylvania.
Now then, what are some of the biggest differences between UPenn and Penn State?
University of Pennsylvania (Bryan Y.W. Shin/Wikimedia Commons)
University of Pennsylvania vs Penn State Comparison
In this section, we give you a comprehensive UPenn vs Penn State comparison to show you how these two big-name universities differ (and are sometimes a lot alike as well).
|University of Pennsylvania
|Pennsylvania State University
|Penn State, PSU
|State College, PA
|Public or Private?
|Part of Ivy League?
|US News Ranking
|3.76 (for College Park); 3.45 (for all other campuses)
|Avg SAT/ACT Score
|Tuition & Fees
|# of Schools/Colleges
|12 (7 = graduate only)
|# of Majors
|Most Popular Majors
|Business, management sciences, philosophy
|Biology, communication, econ
|# of Student Clubs
|~50 frats and sororities
|>70 frats and sororities
|NCAA Division I
|NCAA Division I
|Median Salary 2 Years After Graduation
|Highly prestigious Ivy League university known for its pre-professional programs, #1-ranked business school, and party scene
|Very good public university known for its huge size, social life, breadth of academic programs, and participation in the Big Ten Conference
Let's look at all these UPenn vs Penn State facts in more detail.
The University of Pennsylvania is often called UPenn or Penn for short, while Pennsylvania State University is called Penn State or PSU.
Remember that "Penn" refers to the private Ivy League institution. It's similar to how you'd call Columbia University just Columbia, or Brown University just Brown.
UPenn is located in Philadelphia, the largest city in the state, on the southeast tip of Pennsylvania. It takes around two hours to drive from Penn to New York City.
Meanwhile, the main Penn State campus (called University Park) is based in City College, a smaller college town that's surrounded by mountains and located smack in the center of the state.
It's about a three-hour drive in either direction to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia (where Penn is based). Note that while Penn has one main campus, Penn State has 24 campuses all around the state.
We already covered this above, but just to reiterate, Penn is a private Ivy League university, whereas Penn State is a public state university. Check out our detailed guide to learn more about the differences between private and public colleges.
Few realize how different the two schools are in size, or total number of undergraduates. Whereas Penn has approximately 10,000 undergraduates, Penn State has around 40,000—that's four times as many students. In fact, Penn State is one of the largest schools in the US in terms of enrollment.
Rankings & Grades
That said, Penn State performs well, often ranking within the top 100 spots and even in the top 25 for best public colleges in the US.
Here are the current national rankings of the University of Pennsylvania vs Penn State:
As you can see from this chart, Penn is consistently ranked in the top 10 national universities, making it an extremely prestigious school.
Interestingly, both Penn and Penn State earned A+ grades from students on Niche, indicating that student satisfaction is extraordinarily high at both institutions.
The current acceptance rates are 58% for Penn State and just 6% for Penn. This means that Penn—that's the more prestigious Ivy League school—is way harder to get into than is Penn State.
So out of every 100 applicants, a little more than half will get into Penn State, but only six will get into Penn. This puts Penn at the same level of selectivity as Johns Hopkins, Duke, and the University of Chicago. It also makes it one of the most selective colleges.
As for the academic profiles of admitted applicants to UPenn and Penn State, Penn's students have higher stats, with an average high school GPA of 3.9 (compared with Penn State's 3.76).
UPenn also has higher average test scores: admitted applicants got averages of 1530 on the SAT and 34 on the ACT, compared with Penn State's lower average scores of 1300 on the SAT and 29 on the ACT.
What this means is that you'll need to have a much more competitive application to be able to get into Penn than to get into Penn State.
Tuition & Fees
You likely know that private US universities are generally a lot more expensive in tuition and fees than are public universities (especially if you're in-state). The same rule applies to UPenn vs Penn State.
Being a private, prestigious university, UPenn charges around $63,452 per year in tuition and fees for all domestic students regardless of state residency. That's a ton of money that doesn't even include housing or meal plans.
By contrast, Penn State, being a public state school, charges only $18,898 for in-state students and $36,476 for out-of-state students (which is still, shockingly, around $25,000 cheaper than the cost for Penn).
Despite all this, Penn might ultimately be the cheaper option for you. Penn is need-blind and meets 100% financial need through a combination of grants and scholarships (no loans). In 2020-21, the average aid package at Penn was $56,095.
The student-faculty ratio shows how many students there are per professor at an institution. The lower this ratio, the better, as that means students can get more one-on-one time with their professors.
UPenn has an impressive 7:1 student-faculty ratio, while Penn State has a good, but not amazing, 15:1 ratio. So expect smaller class sizes, on average, at UPenn than at Penn State.
Schools & Academics
Penn State is the larger of the two institutions, with not only more undergraduates overall but also more schools and colleges: Penn State has 20 colleges compared with Penn's 12.
Penn State's also got Penn beat in the sheer number of majors it offers. Even though UPenn offers approximately 90 majors spanning a variety of fields, Penn State offers a whopping 275+ majors. If you're looking for options, Penn State is the place to be.
Both UPenn and Penn State are known for their lively social scenes and for having a huge number of clubs and extracurricular activities: the two universities each offer more than 500 student clubs and organizations, with Penn State offering over 1,000.
Greek life is big at both schools as well, with each offering dozens of fraternities and sororities.
Finally, UPenn and Penn State are both part of the NCAA Division I in terms of athletics.
Median Salary of Alumni
The median starting salary two years out from graduation is significantly different for UPenn and Penn State alumni. For UPenn alumni, the median salary two years after graduation is an impressive $89,000. Meanwhile, at Penn State it's $41,900—about $50,000 less.
Broadly speaking, this means that you're likely to make a better salary if you graduate from UPenn than if you graduate from Penn State.
Pros and Cons of Attending UPenn vs Penn State
UPenn vs Penn State: both schools are excellent ones to attend, but each naturally has its own set of pros and cons you'll need to consider before you apply. We introduce the biggest pros and cons of the two renowned schools below.
Pros of Attending UPenn
- It's a highly prestigious Ivy League school. Just having the label of "Ivy" helps make Penn stand apart from other top-ranked schools. The university is very competitive, so you know it's got a great reputation.
- It is home to one of the best business schools in the US. The Wharton School is UPenn's premier business school, ranked #1 by US News for both its undergraduate program and its graduate program. So if you're interested in business, Penn is definitely the place to be!
- It's got a great social scene. UPenn is known not just for its academics but also for its cool parties, Greek life, and huge variety of clubs.
Cons of Attending UPenn
- It's got a high price tag. Tuition and fees are roughly $60,000, but remember that financial aid is pretty great at Penn, so most likely you'll have to pay only a small portion of this price. Still, try to consider other factors, too, such as housing and food, for which costs can add up pretty quickly when you're living in a large city like Philadelphia.
- It's prone to mix-ups with Penn State, a less highly ranked non-Ivy. Even though Penn is ranked within the top 10 universities, many people still confuse it with Penn State as a result of their similar names and locations. So be prepared to have to tell people on a semi-regular basis that, yes, Penn is an Ivy and, no, it's not the same thing as Penn State.
Pros of Attending Penn State
- It's got a gigantic array of majors and extracurriculars. Penn State has a huge enrollment, yes, but it's also impressive in its number of majors (245+) and student organizations (1,000+ clubs and 70 frats/sororities). If you're looking for an academically well-off school with a great social scene, Penn State should be at the very top of your list.
- It's home to a renowned distance-learning branch. Penn State World Campus is the online branch of PSU. More than 150 academic degrees and certificates are available online, offering students tons of flexibility and class options.
Cons of Attending Penn State
- Its rankings are very good but not amazing. While Penn State is undoubtedly an excellent choice for many students, its rankings on reputable college lists are not nearly as high as they are for Penn, so consider whether that's something that might be important to you.
- Its location makes the campus feel slightly isolating. State College is a cool little college town, but beyond the University Park campus and this town there isn't much, which can be difficult for some students who don't like feeling so far away from big cities.
UPenn vs Penn State: Which Should You Apply To?
When it comes to the University of Pennsylvania vs Penn State, it can be tricky to figure out which school is ultimately a better fit for you (and you might very well end up applying to both!).
Here are six factors to consider to help you determine whether UPenn or Penn State is a better choice for your college applications.
Size usually does matter when it comes to colleges, as students tend to feel more comfortable in certain environments. Whereas some students prefer larger schools where they can get to know tons of different people, others prefer smaller schools with more intimate student bodies.
With UPenn vs Penn State, UPenn is a medium-sized school with around 10,000 undergraduates, while Penn State is a very large school with about 40,000 undergrads.
If you'd prefer a more close-knit community, then UPenn would be a better choice for you. But if you like the idea of a more diverse, bustling atmosphere, then PSU would be an ideal choice.
#2: Overall Prestige
Another factor to consider is the overall prestige and reputation of the school. Being part of the Ivy League, Penn undoubtedly has more prestige than Penn State.
However, Penn State has made an impressive name for itself. These days, the university is mostly known for its academic quality (especially compared with that at other state universities), premier online campus, and Big Ten football team.
#3: Cost & Financial Aid
Cost is typically a huge factor in determining whether you can go to a particular school for college. Generally speaking, public schools (such as Penn State) will be much cheaper than private schools (such as Penn), especially if you qualify for in-state tuition.
Remember, though, that there's more to consider than just tuition and fees: you must also think about housing, meal plans, transportation, and basic spending money.
Since Penn is in a large city, you'll need to have more money saved for things such as housing and outings with friends in the city. Penn State, on the other hand, is located in a smaller college town, so those kinds of things won't be nearly as expensive.
Don't forget to take into account financial aid. Even though UPenn is way more expensive than Penn State in terms of tuition, it promises to meet 100% of students' financial need through grants and scholarships (and no loans!), so this could end up saving you loads of money.
#4: Academic Programs Offered
Try to think about what you might want to study before you apply to college; this way, you'll know for sure whether the school you're considering actually offers your intended major.
Both Penn and Penn State offer a wide breadth of majors and minors; however, Penn State has an even larger array of majors, so if you're undecided, this school would probably be the wiser choice. Check out the full list of majors at Penn and the full list at Penn State.
You should also take into consideration whether your intended major has a better reputation at Penn or Penn State. For example, although both schools have great nursing programs, Penn's nursing program is much more highly ranked than Penn State's.
#5: Location and Setting
Although both UPenn and Penn State are based in Pennsylvania, they're in very different parts of the state. UPenn is on the southeastern tip in the state's largest city, Philadelphia, while Penn State is in the middle of the state in a smaller college town with not a lot around it.
If you're concerned about feeling isolated, then Penn State probably isn't the best fit for you. On the other hand, if you're not a huge fan of big-city living (and the high costs often associated with metropolises), then UPenn might not offer an ideal setting.
It's important to consider the overall selectivity of UPenn vs Penn State before you apply to one (or both) of them for college. Remember that Penn is much more competitive than Penn State.
If your academic profile (i.e., your GPA and SAT or ACT scores) generally matches that of admitted applicants to UPenn or Penn State, then that school can be considered a target school. If your GPA and test scores are way below the averages of the school, then that school (whether it's UPenn or both UPenn and Penn State) can be considered a reach school. Finally, if your GPA and SAT or ACT scores are far above the averages at, say, Penn State, then you can view this as a safety school.
Try using our college acceptance calculator to get a clearer sense of your admission chances to both UPenn and Penn State.
Conclusion: Is Penn State Ivy League, or Is UPenn?
So is Penn State Ivy League? Or is Penn Ivy League? Penn State, or PSU, is a large public university that is not part of the Ivy League, whereas UPenn, or Penn, is a prestigious private university that is in the Ivy League.
While the two universities are often confused with each other due to their similar-sounding names, they couldn't be more different.
UPenn is a top-ranked Ivy League school and one of the most selective universities in the country. Academically, the institution is mainly known for its premier business school and nursing program. Beyond the classroom, Penn is home to a thriving social scene as well.
Meanwhile, Penn State is a well-ranked public state university known for its quality academics and highly impressive array of academic programs and extracurricular activities. It's also the creator of a renowned distance-learning branch.
Although both Penn and Penn State are equally fantastic schools to attend, it's up to you to figure out which school is a better fit for you based on their respective pros and cons, and factors such as size, location, and financial aid.
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Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.