Your Guide To Completing The 2020 United States Census

The 2020 United States Census is officially underway and will soon be coming to a mailbox (or screen) near you. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 230 years, it’s a pretty big deal.

The census, which has been conducted every 10 years since 1790, is an official count of each and every citizen of the United States. The numbers retrieved by each count are used to determine how many seats states receive in the House of Representatives, representation in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives and Senate, and how federal and state funding is distributed across the country.

“The United States Census has been the cornerstone of our democracy since the first national count in 1790,” Penn State Provost Nick Jones said in February. “Penn State has a big role to play in the 2020 census. Not just here, but in communities all across Pennsylvania…This project is a big one, and we are ready for it.”

Now that this year’s census has been open for about two weeks, there’s no time like the present to register and make yourself count.

How To Fill Out The Census

To get started, head over to, where you’ll find a slew of information familiarizing you with how the census operates and how you can fill it out yourself. Once you’re ready to rock, click the big blue “start questionnaire” button.

Next, you’ll be prompted to enter your 12-digit Census ID number. To find yours, look for it on any of the flashy blue pamphlets that (should’ve been) mailed to your home address where you were living as of April 1, 2020. If you can’t find it, you can click a special option that allows you to continue on without it.

Once that’s taken care of, you’ll enter your full legal name and home telephone number. After that, verify that your home address is where you plan to be living for the foreseeable future.

Census-takers will then be asked to enter the full names of all other residents living at the same address. After inputting answers to a few more questions relating to your home, mortgage, and address, you’ll begin entering more personal information, such as your date of birth, sex, race, and ethnicity. You’ll do the same for all other residents as well.

After you’ve clicked “submit,” you’ll wind up on a confirmation page confirming you’ve completed the census. It’ll include the time of completion, a unique completion number, and your home address to verify you’ve successfully filled it out.

All in all, it should take roughly 10 minutes to complete virtually.

Although on-campus residents are automatically included in the census, Penn State encourages students who live off-campus to register in State College. By registering in town, they’ll help “give back” to the university by increasing the federal and state funding it receives and helping future Penn Staters in the process.

Some Frequently Asked Questions

“Do I need to fill out the census online?

  • Nope! Although this is the first census allowing respondents to submit online and on their phones, you can still count yourself through the mail like always.

“Can I still respond if I didn’t receive anything in the mail?”

  • You bet. When you head over to fill out your form, note that you don’t have a Census ID with you (because it would’ve been found in the mail). You’ll be asked a few more questions relating to your address and then you’ll be on your way.

“Are non-citizens counted in the census?”

  • Yep. The census aims to count all people living in the United States, citizen or not. Every person counts.

“Can law enforcement use information collected by the census against me?”

  • Nope. As Pennsylvania Second Lady Gisele Fetterman noted in February, information collected by the Census Bureau is private and only used to create statistics about the United States and its people. Your answers (such as citizenship status) can’t be used to impact eligibility for government benefits.

“What information won’t the census collect?”

  • You’ll never be asked to reveal your social security number, bank or credit card information, and political affiliations or donate money to the Census Bureau. If you believe you’re getting scammed, report it here.

Although the census can look a little daunting at first, it’s really not too bad once it’s broken down. Whether you’re a census superfan or you’d never heard of it before reading this, please take the time to do your part and get counted. Your community is counting on you!

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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