Commonwealth Campuses Described/Explained

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)

Jeeze, I don’t even see Scranton on the list. We only selected it because of the required alternate campus and the fictional home of Dunder Mifflin Paper Co.

@spqr70nj Scranton is “Worthington Scranton” 4th one down on the list

So helpful! Thank you @jlhpsu !!!

Here’s a quick link to all the campuses and their websites…

My son started at Hazleton in 2+2 program and now a senior in UP campus.
In my opinion Hazleton is a real campus, pretty large parcel of private land with many buildings, some new, some historic, has lots of places to hang out, main cafeteria, other cafe, big library, extra activities like ‘math dimentions’ for math tutoring, and 3 dorm buildings, large gym with swimming pool, basketball courts, tennis.

Dorms were only about 50-60% occupied, so there was never a question of not getting a dorm. One of the dorm building is like town houses and it was almost entirely unoccupied.

There were students who lived near by and commuted to campus but most students live on campus, it had many out of state students and even some international students.

They also started their own honors program which was not the same as Schreyer’s but also give small scholarships and had own activities.

One last thing is we got the ‘campus scholarship’, something that we did not expect when enrolled so it was nice surprise. It was not a full scholarship of cause but anything helped. Also tuition cost is a couple thousand less on satellite campuses.

What I’m saying is that we chose 2+2 program because it looked like an attractive deal and was closer to home. I see some people think that only people who cannot get accepted to main campus are ‘settling’ for 2+2 program, but it’s just not the case. Many people choose 2+2 because it is close to home and at lower cost for the first 2 years.

@dsnytkine It sounds like your son was the perfect candidate for 2+2 at Hazelton. Congratulations to him…and to YOU for saving lots of money! I think the commonwealth information is more helpful to OOS kids who have no idea about these campuses and may live too far away to visit home occasionally.

Point is, an OOS kids might accept an offer to attend Altoona, Harrisburg, Erie, or even Hazelton after reading the descriptions above and hearing people’s opinions that they have a traditional college feel.

For some OOS these campuses are closer to home than UP campus. For NY and NJ students Hazleton is about 100 miles closer. I saw many cars with NY and NJ plates on that campus.


And this is exactly why this thread was created. So that folks like you can educate others about the benefits of individual commonwealth campuses. I hope that you will monitor this thread and answer people’s specific questions about Hazelton. That would be very helpful. Thanks.

@dsnytkine Thanks for that input on Hazelton! I think the descriptors of “community college atmosphere” come in when you are talking about size, but certainly not in caliber of education. All of your points about Hazelton are good ones for people to keep in mind!

So my son woke me up at 4am this morning to let me know that he logged into the portal and learned he had been accepted to Penn State for Aerospace Engineering. Happiness turned sour as he read that it was for their 2+2 program with the Scranton campus. I could easily see the joy get sucked out of him. His GPA at the time of application was 3.978 and has been enrolled in AP, honors, and dual enrollment classes. In addition, his first marking period grades (which I forwarded to Admissions as a courtesy) were A/A+s. His SATs could have been stronger but was 1290.

I realize we should be happy that he was accepted to ‘Penn State’ but honestly (as I mentioned in an earlier post) he’s leaning to not pursue the Penn State offer because we are OOS and that comes with some disadvantage. Putting aside the cost for an OOS to spend toward a Commonwealth campus we know nothing about; he is at a disadvantage if he attends a small school with little college life experience such clubs, no on-campus residence life, etc. just about everything you would want as part of going off to college - only to pack up in two years to start all over again at University Park and to make his footprint all over again. It wouldn’t be fair for him.

I know I’ve read about asking for reconsideration for Summer option. Does Summer option ‘automatically’ have you matriculate to UP or are there other conditions attached? Are there any other options do you think he could pursue in being reconsidered for UP? I feel so bad for him as Penn State was his first choice even willing to withdraw from other highly competitor schools he’s applied to. He’s been admitted to several other schools similar to Penn State in recognition and size but there was something he immediately connected with at UP.

@spqr70nj , I would call this morning and ask to be reconsidered for DUS/summer. He can work toward the same entrance-to-major requirements as the engineering premajor kids. (As a reminder, no one is technically accepted into the major…it’s a premajor.) Just make sure he follows the recommended academic plan for his intended major. He can ask admissions how The DUS route works with engineering when he calls.

Re: summer, yes you automatically matriculate to UP. It costs extra, but the benefits are amazing. Kids knock out two courses upfront and usually go into fall with a high GPA, a built in network of friends, a sense of confidence because they know campus/town, and can have a slightly lighter load freshmen year.

Thanks @Sophley I plan to call this morning. The only hang up I have is the fact that he was admitted to the College of Engineering. To ask for a change to DUS seems out of place since he can easily pursue that route at Rutgers where he has already been accepted. I am leaning on the Summer option though. Question, should I be speaking with the individual who answers my call or ask for someone specific. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. We’re all sick to our stomachs over this and I know our situation is not unique but as an incoming freshman, he doesn’t need additional stress.

@spqr70nj @jlhpsu I believe the Summer LEAP option is only at UP and he would continue at UP for the four years if accepted. If affordable and is willing to go for the summer, I don’t feel it hurts to call and ask to be considered for Summer start at UP. I’m assuming he did not check that box on his application originally. He would take two classes for 6 credits, live on campus etc… My daughter attended LEAP and it was the BEST experience. I can not speak toward the Engineering major information and options there. Good luck! Sounds like he does have some great opportunities.

@spqr70nj , anyone can help you with a change to summer; however, you may want to speak with an actual admissions counselor if you wish to ask questions about pursing engineering from DUS. It seems there’s a trend toward this route for business and engineering students as DUS is easier to get into.

Also, double check with Rutgers to see if their program is truly direct entry, or if they also require students to meet certain requirements (like 6 to 8 courses), a minimum GPA, etc. to officially declare the major at the end of sophomore year. Penn state only has a few true direct entry programs. Nearly all kids start in a premajors and/or DUS. Hope this helps. Good luck!

If he decides to go 2+2, he should consider switching to Harrisburg, Altoona, or Behrend (Erie). Harrisburg and Erie are strong for engineering, but Altoona is only 45 min from UP.

Quick side note: Penn State engineering is a very tough major. Just make sure your son is prepared to put in a lot of work.

Thank you all who have weighed in on our situation. Just ended a great 30 minute conversation with one of the Penn State Admission Counselors. Explained our situation being OOS and the impact my son would have attending a smaller school like Scranton for the initial two years. She acknowledged that his GPA/SAT scores were in line with admittance to UP in any other type of major but given acceptance into the engineering program they couldn’t accommodate. After the lengthy convo, we decided to pursue reconsideration for the Summer/LEAP program. At the end of the day, I wanted to make sure his transition to college was as smooth as it can be. The Summer UP program seems the best fit. In addition, the counselor was kind enough to even offer that if Summer option didn’t workout, then we could look at other Commonwealth campuses.

Thanks again all and have a wonderful holiday! This board/thread ROCKS!

@spqr70nj That’s great news! Good for you for making the effort. Your post will be helpful for future applicants, too.

Best of luck for a desirable outcome!

@spqr70nj Your son definitely has the stats for admittance into UP. Sometimes the majors are just super competitive for different years. As @Sophley said, double check that his other engineering options are direct entry. Most schools have some sort of requirements to meet to proceed in the major. Penn State is no different and the good news is, those exact same classes can be taken as a DUS major.

My kids both did LEAP and loved it. They transitioned very easily to fall and had the “lay of the land” before things heated up. My oldest daughter did LEAP at UP, and my son did LEAP at Altoona the first year it was offered there.
My son loved Altoona FYI. I wouldn’t send my child to Scranton from OOS, but Erie, Altoona or Harrisburg have lots of OOS students and they aren’t commuter campuses.

Best of luck to you! Keep us updated and I hope it all works out for your son!

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