Penn State

Swelling thy fame: Schreyer Honors College looks for difference-makers at Penn State

Christian Brady, dean of the Schreyer Honors College, talks with prospective students and parents during Scholars Day at the HUB on Friday, April 10, 2015.
Christian Brady, dean of the Schreyer Honors College, talks with prospective students and parents during Scholars Day at the HUB on Friday, April 10, 2015. CDT photo

Success with honor has long been a Penn State goal.

For some Nittany Lion students, however, the goal is success through the Schreyer Honors College.

On Friday, the college opened its doors for Schreyer Scholars Day, inviting high school juniors to explore what the honors program has to offer.

“It’s an opportunity for Penn State students across all disciplines to challenge themselves and excel in terms of not just academics but leadership and engagement,” said Dean Christian Brady.

Schreyer sits prominently off College Avenue — in its own world, complete with its own residence halls, inviting students to succeed in school and beyond.

“We are considered one of the best honors colleges in the nation. Part of that is that we are part of Penn State but then add in this concentration that becomes the honors college,” Brady said.

According to a Public University Press assessment cited last year by, Schreyer is one of the seven highest rated honors programs in the country, alongside Michigan, Virginia and Arizona State. It outperformed a list of others, including Temple, Purdue and Clemson.

There are 1,855 students enrolled in Schreyer. That number, the same as the year the university was founded, is accidental, Brady said, but it is also subject to change.

A record 3,700 students applied out of high school this year but the college can take just 300 freshmen. Students also can apply later through the Gateway program.

“This epitomizes what we are,” said Brady, who claims he would probably have had to come to Schreyer through Gateway as his “not so stellar” high school grades would probably not have made the cut. About 370 students enter this way each year.

“What sets us apart is our mission,” Brady said.

The idea is not just to get the smartest students. Not every Schreyer student gets a 4.0 and not every straight-A student gets into Schreyer.

“We are looking for students who truly want to make the world a better place,” the dean said. “It’s not just the student who wants to study chemistry, go to med school and become a doctor. It’s the student who wants to make health care more effective for the developing world or cure a disease.”

Those are students like Chris Rae, a Gates Cambridge scholar studying potential antibiotic treatments on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aurea, and Ryan Henrici, a Marshall scholar focused on drug resistance and malaria.

Rae and Henrici, along with a slate of 13 Fulbright scholars and two students spending their summer at CERN in Switzerland, are a breed of student with a global focus and big dreams.

That is what Schreyer leaders want.

“We didn’t create the honors college to match up with what the Rhodes and Marshall programs are looking for,” said Brady. “What differentiates these students is their critical thinking skills. We are trying to foster this view that it has to be success and learning and achievement with ethics and an appropriate mindset to our effect on the world. That dovetails well to what other programs are looking for.”

The college isn’t filled with scientists. While there are no quotas for admission, Brady says the population just naturally seems to reflect the size of the various schools and distribution of majors. Most Schreyer students come from the same schools that have the biggest overall enrollment. Liberal arts has seen growth since the implementation of the Paterno Fellows program.

Brady said the students are also not your stereotypical nerdy smart kids. In fact, there are a fair number of jocks in the mix.

In a university that has long prided itself on the quality of its student-athletics, Schreyer sports 36 Division I athletes, including men’s soccer, women’s hockey and men’s basketball.

“We are really well-represented. Look at any group. Look at Thon, look at (University Park Undergraduate Association). You find Schreyer everywhere,” Brady said. “This is a small group, but it’s not elitist. It’s excellence.”