If you want to know which university is better for you – Penn State vs UPenn in 2024 – then this article is for you.

Penn State (officially known as Pennsylvania State University) and the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) are both located in Pennsylvania but are very distinct from each other.

Penn State is a large public university known for its research facilities and broad range of undergraduate and graduate programs. It has multiple campuses across the state (20 in all), with the main campus in University Park. It has a strong emphasis on engineering and business. It’s also part of the Big Ten Conference – the oldest collegiate athletic conference in the United States, so it’s great for sports.

University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), on the other hand, is a smaller, private Ivy League university located in Philadelphia, a big city. It’s ranked no 6 in the 2024 edition of Best Colleges is National Universities (US News). Known for its business school (Wharton), medical school, and law school, UPenn offers a more urban campus environment.  So, one is a bigger university in smaller towns; the other is a smaller university in an urban setting.

UPenn has a higher tuition cost and a more selective admissions process. It has an acceptance of 6.5%. That number is even lower for international students – at 3.1%. Penn State, on the other hand, is lower in tuition costs and has a higher acceptance rate, of about 55%.

We expand on the above in our article.


Penn State vs UPenn: A Quick Glance


While their names are similar, UPenn and Penn State University are very different. So, if you ask, is UPenn the same as Penn State University? The answer is – not really. They both have their strengths but are very different. Here’s a look at the key differences. 

A Quick Glance
Penn State UPenn
Established In 22 February 1855 14 November 1740
Ownership Public University Private University
Academics
Penn State UPenn
US News Rankings 2024 84th Best Global University 15th Best Global University
Times  Ranking 2024 122nd Best Global University 16th Best Global University
QS World Rankings 2024 83rd Best Global University 12th  Best Global University
Number of Undergraduate Programs 275+ 90
Number of Graduate Programs 190+ Not Specified
Top-Ranked Courses (US News)
  • Arts & Humanities
  • Plant & Animal Sciences
  • Material Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Polymer Sciences
  • Meteorology & Atmospheric Sciences
  • Chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Civil Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Neuroscience & Behavior
  • Molecular Biology & Genetics
  • Economics and Business
  • Clinical Medicine
  • Immunology
  • Surgery
  • Cell Biology
  • Oncology
  • Arts & Humanities
Fees & Scholarships
Avg Tuition Fee for BA/ BS Per Year For Main Campus: $41, 126 (Just Tuition Fees)

Commonwealth Campuses: $24, 716 – $27, 612 (Just Tuition Fees)

$60, 920 (Just Tuition Fees)
Avg Tuition Fee for MA/ MS  Per Year Depends on the Program Depends on the Program
Avg Financial Aid $2,000 to $5,000 per year Average Package of $66,222 – More than the Tuition Cost
Eligibility Criteria
Avg GPA 3.68 3.9
SAT/ ACT Requirement Not Required Not Required
Acceptance Rate 55% 7%
English Requirement TOEFLE – 80 (iBT) TOEFL – 100 (iBT), 250 (CBT) or 600 (PBT)
Student Population
Undergraduates in 2023 16,239 (2023) 10,610 (2023)
Graduates in 2023 14,000 (2023) 13,338 (2023)
Avg Salary Package Depends on the Course Depends on the Course

Having looked at the key differences, here are some similarities.

Similarities between UPenn and Penn State

Student Life:

Rich and active student life

UPenn has more than 500 student organizations, while Penn State has over 1,000 various clubs and activities that cater to diverse interests. There’s everything – from cultural groups and academic societies to sports clubs and performance arts.

Both campuses host major sporting events that create a strong school spirit. UPenn’s Division I athletics program is known for basketball, while Penn State’s Beaver Stadium is a legendary venue for college football – and Penn State is part of the Big Ten.

Renowned Research Opportunities

Both UPenn and Penn State are known for their cutting-edge research.

UPenn, an Ivy,  has a long history of innovative and groundbreaking research – from medicine and engineering to social sciences and humanities.

Penn State, a big public research university, is a leader in agricultural sciences, engineering, and life sciences.
As a student at either university, you’ll have the chance to participate in ongoing research projects with leading faculty members.

Strong Alumni Networks

Both UPenn and Penn State have strong alumni networks – across industries and geographies. These provide valuable resources and connections for students in their professional development.

Penn’s alumni network includes renowned entrepreneurs, CEOs, and world leaders. Penn State’s alumni network is known more for its presence in particular sectors, like engineering, business, and agriculture.

International Study and Exchange Opportunities

They both offer great international study and exchange programs.

UPenn has a bigger global reach, partnering with universities worldwide. A student could (potentially) study abroad for a summer a semester, or a year.

Penn State, through its international programs, provides opportunities to immerse yourself in different cultures while earning academic credit.

Also, both Penn State and UPenn offer a broad range of extracurricular and cultural activities, including clubs, societies, sports teams, and artistic events. Also, they have a strong focus on community engagement

Some notable PSU community engagement programs are:

  • Global Engagement and Leadership Experience (GELE)
  • Conversation Partners Program
  • International Speakers Bureau

Pennsylvania State University is also known for its focus on community engagement. One of its main programs
Vice Provost for Student Engagement.

Penn State vs UPenn: Academics


Though the universities are reputed in their unique ways, in terms of academics, both have different strengths.

PSU, the bigger of the two, has a larger student population. It has 20 constituent colleges and schools. Also, it offers many more programs – over 275 undergraduate and over 190 graduate programs.

Colleges and at Penn State

  • College of Agricultural Sciences
  • College of Arts and Architecture
  • Smeal College of Business
  • Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications
  • College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
  • College of Education
  • College of Engineering
  • College of Health and Human Development
  • College of Information Sciences and Technology
  • School of International Affairs
  • Dickinson Law
  • Penn State Law
  • College of Liberal Arts
  • College of Medicine
  • NESE College of Nursing
  • EBERLY College of Science
  • Schreyer Honors College
  • Division of Undergraduate Studies

UPenn has 12 constituent colleges and schools, which is less than PSU. Also, in terms of programs, it offers fewer options – 90 majors spanning different domains.

Colleges and schools at the University of Pennsylvania

  • School of Arts & Sciences
  • The Wharton School
  • Annenberg School of Communication
  • School of Dental Medicine
  • Stuart Weitzman School of Design
  • Graduate School of Education
  • School of Engineering and Applied Science
  • Penn Carey Law
  • Perelman School of Medicine
  • School of Nursing
  • School of Social Policy and Practice
  • School of Veterinary Medicine

Here’s a look at the rankings.

Global Rankings
Penn State UPenn
US Rankings – 84 US Rankings – 15
Times Ranking  – 122 (Main campus) Times Ranking – 16
QS Rankings – 83 QS Rankings – 12

Rankings & Score

Penn State (Main Campus)

  • US News Rankings – 60th globally, with a score of 71.9%
  • Times Ranking – 122nd, with a 65% score
  • QS Rankings – 3rd, with an overall score of 63.1%

The University of Pennsylvania

  • US News Rankings – 15th globally, with an overall score of 84%
  • Times Ranking – 16th globally, with an overall score of 91%
  • QS World University Rankings – ranked 12th, with a score of 89.4%.

Student Engagement

Penn State or PSU has many student engagement programs in the form of research, projects, and outreach programs. Some of these include:

  • Franco Harris Pittsburgh Center
  • Nittany AI Alliance
  • Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
  • Readiness Institute at Penn State
  • WPSU

UPenn also prioritizes student engagement via the Vice Provost for Student Engagement or VPSE.

Some signature programs under VPSE are:

  • Upward Bound (UB)
  • Upward Bound Math-Science (UBM-S)
  • Veterans Upward Bound (VUB)
  • Rising Scholar Success Academy (RSSA)

Acceptance Rate

Penn State (Main Campus)
It has an acceptance rate of 55% and an early acceptance rate of 65.3%, higher than its competitor. Generally, half of the students are selected based on SAT core between 1210 and 1390 or ACT scores of 26 and 31.

UPenn
It has a lower acceptance rate of just 6.5% (3.1% for international students). It’s one of the reasons why it’s a smaller size in terms of student population. Most students are selected based on SAT scores between 1500 and 1570 or ACT scores between 34 and 35.

Student Enrollment

Penn State (Main Campus)
In 2023, the university had a total of 88,000 students. Of them, 16,239 were undergraduates, while 14,000 were pursuing graduate programs.

International Student Percentage- 15%
FTE Students- 45, 875
The ratio of female to male students – 45:52
No. of students per staff – 14.2

UPenn
In 2023, the student population is about 23,374. According to the Times, 10,610 were students studying undergraduate programs, and 13,338  were graduate students.

International Student Percentage- 22%
FTE Students- 21,312
The female-to-male ratio – 54:46
No. of students per staff – 6.2

What are the top courses to study at the University of Pennsylvania?


Marketing

UPenn’s Business School,  The Wharton School, or what’s popularly called Wharton, offers a range of business and marketing programs ranging from e-commerce, finance management, and marketing – to name a few. It has been named the Top Best Business School by US News.

Times Ranking by Subject: Business & Economics – also gives 12th rank with an overall score of 87.5%. The factors driving such high rankings are modern technology, practical training, and reputed faculty.

Undergraduate degrees

Marketing Concentration MKTG
Marketing and Communication Dual Concentration MKCM
Marketing and Operations Management Joint Concentration MAOM
Consumer Psychology Minor CNPS
Retailing Secondary Concentration RETG

MBA

Marketing Management Major MKTG
Marketing and Operations Management Major MAOM

PhD Program

Some subject rankings – US News

  • #2 in Accounting
  • #3 in Business Analytics
  • #8 in Entrepreneurship (tie)
  • #1 in Executive MBA
  • #1 in Finance

Law

UPenn’s law school, Penn Carey Law School, is a top-ranked school – 4th Best Law School in the country. Law students can take courses in other departments, while those pursuing other programs can also take classes at the Law School. It has produced many notable alumni, one of them being is Sam Hamadeh (co-founder of Vault Careers).

Times Ranking by Subject: Law – The school is ranked 21st, with an overall score of 73.8% – for its excellent academic curricula, research facilities, and non-conventional teaching methods.

Undergraduate degrees

Juris Doctor Program

Graduate degrees

Master of Laws
LLCM Program
Doctor of Science in Law
Cross-Disciplinary Opportunities

Certificate

LLM: Wharton Business and Law Certificate
Some subject rankings – US News

  • #4 in Business/Corporate Law
  • #5 in Contracts/Commercial Law
  • #7 in Criminal Law
  • #11 in Constitutional Law
  • #30 in Clinical Training

Nursing

Penn Nursing has ranked globally as the number 1 Nursing School for nine consecutive years (QS Rankings). Also, the US News & World Report has placed it number 4 in the Best Nursing Schools for Masters program. The University of Pennsylvania’s Nursing School has courses uniquely designed to resolve challenges and continue innovation.

Undergraduate Degrees

Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Nursing and Healthcare Management Coordinated Dual Degree
Second Major in Nutrition Science

Graduate Degrees

Master of Science in Nursing (Top ranked course)
Master of Professional Nursing and MPN-to-MSN
Master of Science in Nutrition Science

Doctoral Program

Post-Masters DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
DNP in Executive Leadership
DNP Nurse Anesthesia
Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD)

Some subject rankings – US News

  • #3 in Master’s Nurse Practitioner: Adult / Gerontology, Acute Care
  • #5 in Master’s Nurse Practitioner: Adult / Gerontology, Primary Care

What are the top courses to study at the Pennsylvania State University?


Engineering

College of Engineering, a constituent college of Penn, has been ranked #32 Best Engineering School by US News & World Report (nationally). Also, Times’s The Higher Education (THE) gives the school a global ranking of 82 with a score of 63.7%.

The college has a rich legacy, having been built 125 years ago. It is said to be one of the largest engineering colleges in the USA. It has more than 12 bachelor’s degrees in engineering and a comprehensive master’s degree.

Undergraduate Degrees

Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering
Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering
Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering
Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity Analytics and Operations
Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering

Graduate Degrees

Master of Engineering
Master of Aerospace Engineering
Master of Chemical Engineering
Master of Computer Engineering
Master of Cybersecurity and Operations

Certificates

Engineering Design with Digital Tools
Engineering Design
Engineering Design Minor

Some subject rankings – US News

  • #6 in Petroleum Engineering
  • #10 in Nuclear Engineering
  • #10 in Industrial / Manufacturing / Systems Engineering

Education


The Penn State College of Education ranks #46 in Education Schools (US News). Also, The Higher Education gives the school a score of 68.1, with a global rank of 39.

The institute is home to excellent centres like Educational Disparities Research, Evaluation, Study of Higher Education, and Education Policy Analysis – to name a few. Penn State’s education alumni network is highly influential -always ready to help current students with mentorship and career guidance.

Here’s a look at some main programs – from undergraduate to certificate.

Undergraduate Degrees

Bachelor of Science in Elementary & Early Childhood
Bachelor of Science in Middle-Level Math Education
Secondary Education Social Studies Education
Secondary Education in English Education

Graduate Degrees

Graduate Studies Program in Curriculum and Instruction
Graduate Studies Program in Science Education
Graduate Studies Program in Educational Theory and Policy Program
Graduate Studies Program Education Policy and Leadership

Certificates

Engineering Design with Digital Tools Certificate
Engineering Design Certificate
Engineering Design Minor

Some subject rankings – US News

  • #4 in Higher Education Administration
  • #6 Student Counseling and Personnel Services
  • #11 in Educational Administration and Supervision

Law

Penn State has two law schools: Dickinson Law School and Penn State Law. However, both schools might be combined, enabling students to get advanced legal education and stand out from its competitors in Pennsylvania. The law school will be named Penn State Dickinson Law. US News puts the school as the #68 Best Law School (nationally).

Undergraduate Degrees

Bachelor of Arts in Law and Society
Juris Doctor Program

Graduate Degrees

Master of Legal Studies
Some subject rankings – US News

  • #53 in Environmental Law
  • #67 in Health Care Law
  • #95 in Clinical Training
  • #105 in Constitutional Law

Penn State vs UPenn: Fees & Scholarships


Studying abroad comes with a lot of financial preparedness – it allows the student to allocate a budget for tuition, accommodation, meals, and miscellaneous expenses. It requires a lot of research, and the costs depend on the university, program, and scholarships (if any).

Here’s a look at the tuition fees and scholarship options for both universities.

Penn State – Main Campus

In the table, we have compiled the total tuition and meal costs:

Undergraduate Admissions
PA Resident Non-PA Resident International
Tuition and Fees $19,672 $39,626 $41,126
Meals & Rooms $12,984 $12,984 $12,984
Total $32,656 $52,610 $54,110
Graduate Admissions (Per Academic Year)
Courses PA Resident Non-PA Resident International
MBA $30,486 $49,612 $49,612
Business, EMS, Science, IST, Engineering $26,584 $44,990 $44,990
Other Programs $24,956 $43,226 $43,226

Scholarships

  • University Scholarships: Penn State offers scholarships to students with outstanding academics. For example – one out of four undergraduate students receive this scholarship. It ranges from $1,500 – $5,000 per year.
  • Scholarships by Office of Student Aid: A Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) is submitted to the institution eligible for the scholarship.
  • Academic College Scholarships: This award is limited to some academic colleges affiliated with Penn State University. A first-year or current student can apply. The award range is $700-$4000.
  • Campus Scholarships: Based on merit and financial needs, Penn State also offers campus scholarships by the FAFSA, leadership, and service. It ranges from $800-$6,000 per academic year.

UPenn

In the table, we have compiled the total tuition:

Undergraduate Admissions
Tuition Fee $58,620
General Fee $5,896
Technology Fee $900
Clinical Fee $680
Total $66,104

Note: For graduate courses, the tuition costs depend on the course.

Scholarships

Undergraduate Scholarships

State Grant: If your financial aid notification includes a grant designated for your home state, it indicates that you qualify for a state grant according to the information you provided on your FAFSA.
Maguire Scholarship: The Maguire Foundation grants last-dollar scholarships to five students in each class for four years. The eligibility criteria are – financial need and academic merits.

Graduate Scholarships

School/Program Grants: Financial aid is available through grants from Penn’s twelve graduate and professional schools. While some educational institutions base grant distributions on financial necessity, others base them on professional or academic merit.
Outside Scholarships: The student might be available for a scholarship outside UPenn. Outside organizations use their criteria to award financial support.

Penn State vs UPenn: Student Life and Post-Graduation Opportunities


Before diving into student life and post-graduation work opportunities, let’s look at the campus vibe of both universities. Pennsylvania State University has a campus with more of a traditional college experience in a smaller town, while the University of Pennsylvania provides a more urban experience in Philadelphia.

Campus

Penn State

The university is home to twenty-four campuses across the Pennsylvania region. All the campuses of Penn State University provide opportunities for students across the state. Each campus differs regarding program offerings, environment, location, and facilities.

University Park is in a small town, making the campus affordable and secure for students. The cost of living is low as compared to UPenn. It is known for THON – the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.
The other equally reputed campuses are:

  • Penn State Abington
  • Penn State Altoona
  • Penn State Beaver
  • Penn State Behrend
  • Penn State Berks
  • Penn State Brandywine
  • Penn State Carlisle
  • Penn State Dubois
  • Penn State Fayette – The Eberly Campus
  • Penn State Great Valley
  • Penn State Greater Allegheny
  • Penn State Harrisburg
  • Penn State Hazleton
  • Penn State Hershey
  • Penn State Lehigh Valley
  • Penn State Mont Alto
  • Penn State New Kensington
  • Penn State Schuylkill
  • Penn State Scranton
  • Penn State Shenango
  • Penn State Wilks-Barre
  • Penn State Williamsport
  • Penn State World Campus
  • Penn State York

UPenn

The University of Pennsylvania is located in Philadelphia and has a single extensive campus known as the University City campus, unlike Penn State, which has twenty-four campuses. The campus is known for its architecture, open space, and vibrant student life in Philadelphia.

The cost of living is higher than that of Penn State. The surroundings are generally secure for students. Upenn also strongly emphasizes students’ responsibility for their safety.

Work opportunities & Graduate employability

While searching for a comparison between the universities –  the next important aspect is graduate employability and salary packages. Both institutions have hands-on training across various domains. They believe in creating strong networking connections for students and having a portfolio with good exposure.

Here’s a look at the employment opportunities and other related information for UPenn and Penn State.

Penn State

Alumni

Penn State graduates have an extensive network of mentorship and guidance. According to Penn State, it has the largest Alumni Association in the country – more than 760,000 graduates. Out of those 760,000 – SMEAL School of Business alone has 92,000 alumni.

Co-ops & Internships

By the end of the degree, students have connections in the industry via cooperative education (co-ops) – a way to gain real-world experience and get practical training. Additionally, this experience helps students decide what courses to take in the future, what job path to take after graduation, and what skills to acquire to succeed in their career aspirations.

Also, the school has been recognized as one of the 20 best schools for internships (public state), as per the university website. For instance, the College of Engineering’s Engineering Co-op & Internship Program offers a superb real-world industry experience.

Graduate Employability

The Penn State campus is ranked 83rd globally for its employment outcomes compared to 93rd the previous year. Also, its national rank for the same is 24 as per QS Rankings.

Here’s a look at the 2023-24 Times Rankings for Penn State University Park.

Employability Rank
2023-24 (US) 2023-24 (Global) 2022-23 (Global)
42 194 193

You can learn more about the average salaries in this report compiled by the university.

UPenn

Alumni

The University of Pennsylvania gives you lifelong connections with reputed alumni all across the globe. You get to join a 304,000 network of Wharton Business School alone. UPenn alumni are working as professionals in top positions across the world. Many run successful entrepreneurial ventures.

Co-ops & Internships

The institution emphasises internships and co-ops – to develop interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, build strong connections and a strong resume, and find mentors.

The University of Pennsylvania also offers Global Research & Internship Programs (GRIP), where graduate and undergraduate students can research or do internships stretching for 8-12 weeks. The GRIP enables the student to collaborate with different levels of students.

Graduate Employability

As per QS Rankings 2022, UPenn records a 19th employment rank worldwide for employability, with an overall score of 89.8%.

Here’s a look at the 2023-24 Times Rankings for the University of Pennsylvania.

Employability Rank
2023-24 (US) 2023-24 (Global) 2022-23 (Global)
25 121 121

UPenn’s graduates are among the highest-paid, according to a study conducted in 2021

Summary - to help you decide


UPenn vs Penn State – which is better? These universities are big names in Pennsylvania, but offer different experiences. Your choice will depend on a mix of things that matter to you – from the course you plan to do to the city you want to live in.

The University of Pennsylvania is ideal if you are looking for

  • A private university which is also a member of the Ivy League
  • A highly ranked and globally recognized university
  • Courses in business, law, and medicine (because they are top-ranked)
  • Student like in a big city – full of opportunities
  • Strong participation in student clubs and organizations
  • A higher employment rank and better employee reputation – 19th Rank
  • A higher salary package (though that depends on many factors, not just the university)

Pennsylvania State University is ideal if you are looking for

  • A public research university that is a member of the Big Ten Conference
  • A strong and tight-knit community in a rural setting
  • Diversity in courses (275 bachelor’s and 190 master’s degrees)
  • Better internship programs
  • Courses in engineering and nursing
  • A higher chance of getting selected – acceptance rate is higher
  • A lower tuition fee (it’s slightly lower)

A Quick Look to help you decide

Penn State UPenn
Academics Known for Engineering, Nursing Courses Known for Business, Law, and Medicine Courses
Internship/Work Opportunities Recognized Internship Programs Global Research & Internship Programs (GRIP)
Campus Life Traditional – Rural College Experience Urban City Life
Alumni Network Stronger Alumni Network (Better than Penn State) Extensive Alumni Network
Graduate Employability 42 – Times Ranking 25 – Times Ranking (Better than UPenn
Social Life Stronger Knit Community Urge to Develop New Connections

Final Decision

Consider Penn State – If you want to experience college life in a smaller town and be a part of strong-knit communities. It is ideal if you want diversity in courses and are interested in doing industry internships. In terms of affordability, this institution is appropriate. Also, if you’re keen on sports – as it’s part of the Big Ten.

Consider UPenn – If you want to study in a top-ranked university and experience an urban setting with many opportunities to network, learn, and grow. Check the courses you want to pursue at both universities before deciding.

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