With 19 commonwealth campuses (often referred to as “branch” campuses) throughout Pennsylvania, there can be a lot of confusion regarding the desirability or viability of any specific campus - particularly with OOS students who don’t know Pennsylvania locations well. University Park is the 20th campus and is the MAIN campus of Penn State. This post is specifically geared towards the commonwealth branch campuses.
Hopefully this will help some people make up their minds or know which campus to request as a backup.
Of the 19 commonwealth campuses, there are only a handful that have a ‘typical’ college atmosphere. These are, in order or enrollment:
1…Harrisburg (5077 enrollment)
2…Erie (Behrend) (4502 enrollment)
3…Altoona (3482 enrollment)
These three campuses have multiple dorms, full set of clubs and activities, sports, dining halls and a wide range of things happening on campus at any different time. These are considered 4 year colleges in their own right and MANY students stay there all 4 years. You can also do the 2+2 from here and nearly any major (Except direct entry majors) can be started here.
All three also have some majors that are not even offered at UP campus, so that is another reason why some stay all four years.
Of these three, only Erie guarantees housing for freshmen - but housing is readily available near campus for Altoona or Harrisburg if housing in the dorms is full.
Distance of these three from UP campus in order of distance:
1…Altoona - 40 minutes
2…Harrisburg - 1 hour and 45 minutes
3…Erie - 3 hours 30 minutes
Distance matters to some students because they like to attend concerts, sporting events or other events at the UP campus. Altoona is the easiest college from which to do that, but I believe buses run from all of them for football games.
The other 21 campuses are in order of enrollment (some also have dorms, but are considered more of a commuter campus):
Abington (3893) - Has one dorm, clubs, etc.
Berks (2719) - Two dorms, but considered more of a commuter campus
Brandywine (1438) - One dorm, commuter campus
Worthington Scranton (1029) - Commuter campus
York (983) - Community college atmosphere
Lehigh Valley (919) - Commuter campus
Mont Alto (917) - one dorm, commuter campus
Hazelton (755) - 3 dorms, commuter campus
Schuylkill (732) - community college atmosphere
Beaver (655) - One dorm, community college atmosphere
Fayette (652) - community college atmosphere
New Kensington (595) - community college atmosphere
DuBois (585) - community college atmosphere
Shenango (490) - community college atmosphere
Greater Allegheny (487) - one dorm, but commuter campus
Wilkes Barre (467) - community college atmosphere
The 2+2 can be completed from ANY of these campuses as well.
IN GENERAL, only the first three (Altoona, Erie, Harrisburg) are considered full colleges in their own right, which is not to say that people don’t thrive and succeed at the smaller campuses. Many times, the smaller campuses are great to get the weed out courses out of the way as the classes are small and the professors know their students well. There are clubs at many of the campuses as well, but in the commuter campuses, consider the environment to be more community college like.
Other than Altoona, Erie or Harrisburg, I would not recommend paying OOS tuition for the commonwealth campuses because many people leave on the weekends and there is not a college atmosphere and the student is often far away from home.
That being said, Altoona, Harrisburg and Erie have a variety of students from all across the US and even the world.
I hope this helps. I’ve personally been to 6 of these campuses so I can speak to them more greatly if anyone has any questions (Altoona, New Kensington, Greater Allegheny, Harrisburg, Fayette, Erie) , but if anyone has anything else to add please post it below!
(All data supplied by the most recent CDS)