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Last updated July 27, 2023

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How to Use the Penn State Common Data Set

Key Takeaway

Penn State places a strong focus on academic GPA, while standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, and essays are only considered. Demonstrated interest is not tracked. A competitive GPA is key for admission, with nearly 48% of enrolled first-years earning a perfect 4.0. Penn State has an acceptance rate of about 55%.

The Penn State Common Data Set is a really useful resource. Knowing what Penn State admissions officers value can help you create a winning application, especially because selective college admissions are about more than grades.

Let's get started.

How Penn State Evaluates Applicants — based on CDS data

Like many other universities, Penn State places a strong focus on your academic GPA. They see it as a “very important” factor. The difficulty of your high school classes is also “important.” These are the two highest rankings, which highlights your academic skills and commitment.

On the other hand, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, and where you live are only “considered.” They don't look at things like essays, interviews, and recommendations, which is pretty unusual among all the Common Data Sets we’ve analyzed. So, you have a chance to create a cohesive application that stands out, even without essays or interviews.

Penn State could be a good choice if you're academically strong but struggle to showcase these strengths in essays, or have few extracurricular experiences.

  Very important Important Considered Not considered
Rigor of Secondary Record   X    
Class rank       X
Academic GPA X      
Standardized test scores     X  
Application Essay       X
Recommendation(s)       X
Interview       X
Extracurricular activities       X
Talent/ability     X  
Character/personal qualities       X
First generation       X
Alumni/ae relation     X  
Geographical residence     X  
State residency     X  
Religious affiliation/commitment       X
Racial/ethnic status       X
Volunteer work     X  
Work experience       X
Demonstrated interest       X

Does Penn State track demonstrated interest?

No. Penn State doesn't consider how much you seem interested when evaluating applications. So, while it's always good to be excited about Penn State, don't worry if you're not showing it. But, if you're applying to other colleges that do track demonstrated interest, make sure you engage with them, whether through campus visits or college fairs.

Does Penn State care about standardized test scores?

Yes, but not as much as you might think. Penn State does look at standardized test scores, but they're not the most important thing. To give you an idea, only 38% of students submitted SAT scores and 7% submitted ACT scores as of the most recent CDS.

Does Penn State care about essays?

Not at all. Unlike many universities, Penn State doesn't look at application essays. If writing isn't your thing, this could be a reason to apply to Penn State.

What GPA do I need to get into Penn State?

Your GPA is really important at Penn State. Let's see how first-year students who got in did:

GPA Percent of Enrolled Students
4.0 47.91%
3.75-3.99 25.87%
3.50-3.74 16.55%
3.25-3.49 7.41%
3.00-3.24 1.98%
2.50-2.99 0.27%
2.0-2.49, 1.0-1.99, Below 1.0 <0.01%

That’s right—nearly half of enrolled first-years earned a perfect 4.0 GPA in high school. Moreover, 93% of first-year students who got in were in the top half of their high school class. This shows that a competitive GPA is key for getting into Penn State.

Penn State Acceptance Rate

Penn State received 85,784 applications and admitted 47,360 students.

This means they have an acceptance rate of about 55.21%—pretty fair, but still not the easiest.

Of the admitted students, 9,216 enrolled as first-year students.

What’s the right application option for you?

Since Penn State doesn't have an Early Decision option, you don't have to worry about committing to one school. Your job is to create a great application that shows off your academic skills and potential. Check out this guide on strategizing your application for some help.

Most Popular Majors at Penn State

While the CDS doesn't list majors directly, we can guess which ones are popular based on the percentage of degrees given out.

Major Percent of Degrees Conferred
Business/marketing 20%
Social sciences 16%
Health professions and related programs 10%
Biological/life sciences 9%
Engineering 9%
Computer and information sciences 8%
Philosophy and religious studies 7%
Interdisciplinary studies 4%
Communication/journalism 2%
English 2%

This data can help you see if Penn State is a good fit for your academic interests. If you're thinking about less competitive majors like Communication/Journalism or English, you might have a chance to stand out. But if you’re applying to a popular major like business or marketing, you might face more competition.

What should you do with all this information?

With a 55.21% acceptance rate at Penn State, you have reason to be hopeful, but don't let your guard down. That’s by no means a guarantee of admission.

It's important to show academic excellence since they rank GPA so highly. Even though they don't focus on essays and recommendations, your application should still show your potential. Your application strategy should be well-rounded and consider all these factors. Good luck!

If you're curious about more Common Data Set data and how different schools compare, check out the Data Room.

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