Welcome to Pennsylvania! As the state where the Declaration of Independence was debated and approved, you can rightfully expect Pennsylvania to have a long and interesting history.
And even when it comes to education, that remains true. (One fun fact: the state achieved near-universal literacy in 1840, way before most other states in the Union.) Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, is the biggest city in the state and also home to the first university ever established in the United States (the University of Pennsylvania, founded by none other than good old Ben Franklin), as well as the country's first-ever medical school. Philadelphia also boasts the first pharmacy school in the country, as well as the oldest American art school.
But we'd be wrong to make it seem like all the action is in Philadelphia alone. In the south of the state, Lincoln University, founded in 1854 (it later changed its name to honor Honest Abe), is the oldest Historically Black College/University (HBCU) in America. And as a whole, the state boasts four members of the Association of American Universities, an organization that might sound generic, but is actually an invite-only group of leading research universities.
Related: Top Online Universities in Pennsylvania.
With this heritage, put together with the 14-school Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, as well as the 4 state-funded institutions in the Commonwealth System of Higher Education, and a number of other high-quality private institutions, the state of Pennsylvania can definitely compete as one of the best destinations for prospective college students, period.
So, if you're interested in coming to Pennsylvania for college—or you're already here and want to stay—where do you begin? Well, that's where this list comes in. For each state, we look at a range of data and then compile a ranking of the top schools in the state, and that's exactly what we've done here. The methodology for our ranking is based on two overall factors: academic quality and return on investment. The academic quality factor is comprised of several different pieces of data, for example, student-to-faculty ratio, test scores, and national reputation. The return on investment factor is a weight of how much you'll likely pay in tuition versus how much money you'll make early in your career. That way, you can get an idea of whether coughing up a bunch of cash is worth it.
Good luck in your search!
See our rankings methodology page.
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is a private, not-for-profit research university that was established in 1740, founded by Benjamin Franklin, and is one of the oldest institutions in the country. It is a member of the Association of American Universities and Colonial Colleges. The school is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is regionally accredited by the MSCHE.
This school offers undergraduate degrees in 95 major fields of study; over 170 graduate and postgraduate degrees can be found at this school as well. Degrees are conferred across 16 schools and colleges, many of which also allow for dual-degree programs with other departments. Dual-degree programs are also available from other institutions, many of which are accelerated as well.
Penn State was one of the first universities to parrot the multidisciplinary model used by European Universities such as Cambridge and Oxford and continues in this tradition. This school is also known for a large number of politicians and diplomats that it has produced, including 14 heads of state, two US presidents, and over 200 members of Congress.
Swarthmore College is a private, not-for-profit, liberal arts college that is headquartered in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. It was established in 1864 by Hicksite Quakers but no longer holds an affiliation with the religion. The school is a member of the Quaker Consortium and the Tri-College Consortium. It holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
Swarthmore offers undergraduates more than 40 fields of study at the undergraduate level; only the Bachelor of Arts and the Bachelor of Science is conferred here. Students also have the ability to design their own interdisciplinary major or even double major, pending approval from the faculty.
The school has a strong reputation for being one of the best schools in the state and has even earned the moniker of Little Ivy. The school is consistently named in the top ten of best liberal arts colleges in the nation by U.S. News and World Report and Washington Monthly. It has also been named best value by the Princeton Review.
Haverford College is a private, not-for-profit, liberal arts college that was established in 1833 and has a historical affiliation with the Orthodox Quakers, known as the Religious Society of Friends. It is located in Haverford, Pennsylvania, and is an undergraduate campus. This school holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
This is one of the best colleges in Pennsylvania for undergraduate students: the school confers over 30 undergraduate degrees and a dozen minors. Interdisciplinary majors are also available. Students are advised that in order to graduate from Haverford, the requirements are rigorous and include a senior thesis as well as a junior year-long project depending on the degree chosen.
Haverford might be one of the top colleges for journalism students. The school has seven different media publications at the campus that students can become a part of, including an online paper, a fashion magazine, a literary magazine, and an academic journal. A radio station and tv station are also available to students who are interested in communication and media subjects.
Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University is a private, not-for-profit research university that is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was established in 1900 by Andrew Carnegie and merged with the Mellon Institute in 1967. It is a world-class educational institute and consistently ranks in the top 25 best universities in the country. The school holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
Carnegie Mellon confers a total of 125 degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate degree levels. Certifications and endorsements, particularly for nursing and teaching students, are also available at the graduate level. The school also makes joint programs and online courses available for all of its students; however, space is limited for online programs, so students are encouraged to apply early.
This school has been at the cutting edge of STEM research for decades, and it is why this is an incredible school for students interested in computer science and robotics. The school is the home of the first wi-fi network, which was created on campus in 1993; autonomous vehicles, which competed in the DARPA Grand Challenge; and Alice, a software program developed for object-based educational programming as a free tool for students.
Lehigh University is a private, not-for-profit, research university that was established in 1865 by a businessman. It is located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and is considered one of the Hidden Ivies within the Northeastern Region. The school is known for producing Nobel and Pulitzer Prize Winners and Fulbright Fellows. This school holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
This is one of the best universities for students who aren t quite sure what they d like to major in: Lehigh confers more than 100 undergraduate degrees alone. There are an additional 80 degrees available at the graduate level. Students also have the benefit of small class sizes and a student-to-faculty ration of 10:1.
Lehigh has a variety of long-standing traditions that make the school a colorful place to be. The school colors of brown and white date back to 1874 and the school newspaper has been in continuous operation since 1894. Students also established a Founder s Day to remember it s founder, Asa Packer. Other traditions include a convocation in the Zoellner Arts Center for freshmen students, a Freshman-Alumni Rally, and the Pajama Parade.
Lafayette College is a private, not-for-profit, liberal arts college that was founded in 1826. It is named after General Lafayette, who was an orator that toured the country in 1824. The school is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. The school is located in Easton, Pennsylvania, and leads American liberal arts colleges with the largest number of the Goldwater Scholarship recipients in the past five days. This school holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
Lafayette confers the Bachelor of Arts in over 35 major areas of interest and 14 Bachelor of Science degrees. This school is best known for its engineering programs. Online courses during the summer are available for students, as well as certifications and endorsements; students are encouraged to view offering prior to applying.
This university has over 250 clubs and organizations that reside on campus and are recognized by the school. The clubs include special interest groups, community service organizations, honor societies, intramural sports teams, and more. Lafayette also has a rivalry with Lehigh University through its football teams; the rivalry has stood for more than 230 years with 150 games played between the schools.
Bryn Mawr College is a private, not-for-profit, liberal arts college that is dedicated solely to educating women. It was established in 1885 and has a historical affiliation with the Quakers. This university is one of the original members of the Seven Sisters Colleges, is a member of the Tri-College Consortium, and is regionally accredited by the MSCHE.
Bryn Mawr confers a total of 30 degrees at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, including some doctoral degrees. The school has an interest in the humanities, but students are required to take courses in social sciences, natural sciences, and complete at least two years of a foreign language prior to graduation. In addition, students must also complete one Emily Balch Seminar, a semester-long course that focuses on the development of critical thinking and reasoning skills.
Bryn Mawr is one of the schools that has signed the American College and University President s Climate Commitment, meaning that all new buildings the school chooses to construct will comply with LEED silver standard or higher. The school will also create sustainable practices within its dining halls, including donating all leftover food to local food banks. Bryn Mawr currently has a C+ on the College Sustainability Report Card; however, the school hopes to improve their rating in the coming years.
Bucknell University is a private, not-for-profit, liberal arts college that was established in 1846 and is located in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. The school has a strong tradition in the STEM disciplines, particularly engineering, as well as preparing students for entry into law or med school. This school holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
This school confers over 50 undergraduate degrees and a slim selection of graduate programs. The emphasis for Bucknell is on academic excellence and global experience; this school currently has a reported 45 percent of students studying abroad at any given time. Students can also find some online courses online; online degree programs have been announced to join the online portal over the next five years.
Bucknell has a largely residential feel to its campus; this is due to the fact that all first-year students must live on campus, and on-campus housing is available to all students throughout their time at the school. The university also requires that students purchase a meal plan, allowing them to not worry about their meals while they re participating in one of the more than 130 registered student organizations that the school offers.
Villanova University is a private, not-for-profit, Catholic research university that is named after Saint Thomas of Villanova. It was established in 1842 and is located in Radnor Township, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The school retains an affiliation the Order of Saint Augustine. It is regionally accredited by the MSCHE and is a member of the Augustinian Secondary Education Association.
This school confers undergraduate and graduate degrees in more than 45 major areas of study. Villanova also has a separate division for accelerated bachelor and master s degree programs, including the BA/JD program that is in conjunction with the Villanova School of Law. The school is currently rated by the Financial Times, the Princeton Review, and U.S. News and World Report both for its overall standing as a research university and for individual programs, such as business and nursing.
Villanova is an Augustinian school, meaning that it ought to come as no surprise that the school has an active Campus Ministry; this includes, Mass, fellowship, and volunteer opportunities. The school also offers students the chance to take part in several faith-related student clubs and organizations; however, the school also offers over 250 student organizations for those who are nondenominational.
Franklin and Marshall College
Franklin and Marshall College is one of the best colleges for students who are interested in a small-town college education. This is a private, not-for-profit institution that was established in 1787. It is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and is currently ranked in the top 50 best liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and World Report. This school holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
Franklin and Marshall confer undergraduate degrees in over 100 major and minor areas of study. The school also offers some online courses; however, an online division is not up and running fully at this college, so students who need an online option may want to inquire about what courses are available during their first term. The school also offers evening and weekend classes for working professionals.
The school is known for its active participation in sports since it was established. The school competes in the NCAA Division III in 28 sports between both genders. The school has been successful in women s lacrosse, men s soccer, swimming, and basketball. In addition to these sports, the school also has a variety of student-run sports clubs, including rugby, which is highly respected among other schools in the unions that they play in.
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus
The University of Pittsburgh is a public, state-related research university. It was established in 1787 and is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The school is a member of the Association of American University and a major recipient of research funding from the National Institute of Health. The school is regionally accredited by the MSCHE.
This university confers over 125 degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels of the education. The school also confers certification and endorsement programs; online courses are also available. The school is currently ranked in the top 25 nationwide for its academic accomplishment by the Center for Measuring University Performance. It holds consistent rankings for its overall performance and select programs by Forbes, Washington Monthly, and U.S. News and World Report.
Pitt has a strong commitment to global experiences and an international education. It is one of the leading producers of Peace Corps volunteers and has the distinction of housing a National Resource Center, an honor that comes straight from the US Department of Education. The school s resource centers include Asian, European, East European, and Global Studies.
The university also has a robust study abroad program that offers students the opportunity to study in over 100 countries. Among the programs listed is a joint engineering program in partnership with Sichuan University in China and an exchange program in partnership with Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
University Park, PA
Pennsylvania State University is a public, land-grant, sea-grant, space-grant, sun-grant institution that is the flagship of the University of Pennsylvania system. It was established in 1855 and focuses on research and public service. It has also been named one of the Public Ivies and is one of the largest universities in the country. This school holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
This university offers degrees at all levels of education in 160 major areas of study. The school is home to two law schools, a medical school, a pharmacy school, and various other research institutes and centers. Online courses and degrees are also available from Penn State; in fact, the online portal is one of the most respected online institutions in the country.
Penn State has a classification of research university with very high research activity from the Carnegie Foundation. It is an incredible place for research and is home to dozens of institutes and centers dedicated to a specific type of research. One great example is the Applied Research Lab that is a research partner with the United States Department of Defense. It conducts research for the United States Navy and allows students to do research alongside faculty and other professionals.
Temple University is a public, state-supported doctoral university that is headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but considered an international school. It was founded in 1884 by a Baptist minister, an affiliation that only exists in historical records. The school hosts international campuses in Italy, Japan, and London. It is first and foremost a professional school. This university holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
This school confers an astounding 400 degrees across 22 schools, colleges, and professional schools. Many of the school s departments and programs have been independently ranked by national ranking associations, including the business undergraduate program. This is one of the best universities in Pennsylvania for students who want to gain a full education, from undergraduate to terminal degree, from the same institution.
The international campuses are a unique feature of the school because students can choose to travel to a certain destination based on their field of interest. Students interested in media and communication can elect to travel to London for a full academic year; students interested in business have the chance to attend school in Singapore. These study abroad programs are cited as one of the best reasons to choose Temple over any other school.
The Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit, which is more commonly called Duquesne University, is a private, not-for-profit, Catholic University that is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1878 by the Congregation of the Holy Spirit and is affiliated with the Spiritan Fathers. It is the only Spiritan university in the entire world. The school is regionally accredited by the MSCHE.
This school confers more than 185 degrees at all levels of education, including postgraduate and professional programs. Duquesne has its own law school and school of pharmacy as well as a school devoted completely to business administration. Online programs and degrees are also available; however, students are advised the majority of these programs are accelerated completion programs, so they are created specifically for students who already have some form of college education.
Duquesne is home to more than 100 registered student organizations; this includes 19 fraternities and sororities, political groups, intramural sports team, special interest clubs, and more. The school also has a robust student-run media offering, including a radio station, a newspaper, and the school s yearbook. One of the most interesting groups at the school is the Tamburitzans, a multicultural song, and dance company that has the mantle of being the longest-running company of its kind in the nation.
Dickinson College is a private, not-for-profit liberal arts college that was established in 1773 and is located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The school was founded by a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence and was named after a signer of the Constitution. This school is a member of the Annapolis Group and the Oberlin Group. The school holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
This is one of the best colleges in Pennsylvania for undergraduates, owing to the fact that the school has been recognized by both the American Council on Education and the NAFSA: Association of International Educators. The school confers undergraduate degrees in 22 majors and offers an additional 20 minors. The school also has a 3:2 engineering program with a variety of universities across the country.
Dickinson has a strong student life and currently recognizes over 100 student organizations, including political and cultural groups, intramural sports teams, arts and entertainment clubs, and more. The school also has a strong student-run media tradition, ensuring that students feel as though they are part of the community by reporting on the daily happenings on campus.
Gettysburg College is a private, for-profit, liberal arts college that is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The school was founded in 1832 and is situated right across the street from the famous battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It is a member of the Annapolis Group and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. This school is regionally accredited by the MSCHE.
This college confers undergraduate degrees in over 30 major areas of study; no graduate studies are offered here. The school also offers the chance for students to create their own degree upon approval from the faculty. Online courses are available but not plentiful; however, the school has indicated that online courses in the form of summer school are forthcoming.
Gettysburg has a variety of programs that makes it one of the top colleges in the state: along with pre-professional programs, this school also hosts a Reserve Officers Training Corps program in all three branches of the military. It is also possible for students to participate in the five-year dual degree program that is in partnership with other schools across the country; this program offers students the ability to earn both a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science from both Gettysburg and a school of their choice.
Drexel University is a private, not-for-profit, research university that houses three campuses in and around the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area. It was established in 1891 and is named after the philanthropist Anthony J. Drexel. It is a member of both the Association of Independent Technological Universities and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. This school holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
Drexel confers more than 70 undergraduate programs and 100 graduate and postgraduate programs at the school; professional programs, certificates, and endorsements are also available for students. Students also have the option to take on a degree from the school s virtual portal, a division of Drexel since it was established in 1996.
Drexel is also home to one of the largest and oldest cooperative education programs in the nation. Students can submit a resume, request interviews, and go through rounds of application processes to gain internship experience from a valued employer. Upon graduation, most students who take up this program will have completed up to 18 months of paid internships with three companies. It will come as no surprise, then, that students are often offered employment upon graduation from one of the companies that they interned for.
Allegheny College is a private, for-profit, liberal arts college that holds the mantle of being the oldest college in existence under the same name given at the time of its establishment. The college was established in 1815 and is named after the Allegheny Mountains, which rest close to the school s campus in Meadville, Pennsylvania. This school is a member of the Great Lakes College Association and holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
Allegheny offers students undergraduate degrees in no less than 50 major areas of study; minors and concentrations are also available to complement a student s area of interest. This university also offers the ability for students to dual major if they should so choose. Online courses are also available; the most popular of these tend to be in the STEM disciplines.
The school has unique requirements for their students; each student must choose one major and one minor. The minor must be in a different division than their degree, allowing for an interdisciplinary approach to their careers. By combining science and the humanities, Allegheny is showing how a student s path for themselves could be changed just by trying a new subject.
Lincoln University of Pennsylvania
Lincoln University, PA
The Lincoln University of Pennsylvania is the school s first degree-granting Historically Black University. It is a state-related institution but was established as a private university in 1854. It is a member-school of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. This school is located in Oxford, Chester County, Pennsylvania, and holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
This university confers 38 degrees at the undergraduate level and 7 degrees at the graduate level; no postgraduate or specialist degrees are offered at this school. The university also offers some online courses with an expansion into online programs scheduled for the next five years. This is a tier-two school, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report.
Lincoln s academic studies are buoyed by a strong study abroad program that is linked to the school s stated mission of delivering service learning opportunities to students. This program offers students the chance to travel to Latin America and Africa to provide assistance to communities that need it as well as gain credit for their degree. Some of the countries involved in this program include Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, Cambodia, and Costa Rica.
West Chester University of Pennsylvania
West Chester, PA
The West Chester University of Pennsylvania, often referred to as WCUPA, is a public institution that is a member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. It was established in 1871 and is located in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The school is currently ranked in the top 100 best graduate schools by U.S. News and World Report. The school is regionally accredited by the MSCHE.
The university confers degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level in over 75 major areas of study. This includes paraprofessional studies in the fields of law, theology, and medicine. There is a dual-degree program that is offered in partnership with Pennsylvania State University, Columbia University, and Philadelphia University that leads to a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Engineering. The school also has early admission assurance programs with a variety of schools, including the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
West Chester is also home to the Institute of Women, an independent body, and center that is designed to focus solely on the interests of female students on campus. The institute is the umbrella organization under which the Women s Center, the Women s Studies Program, and the Sex Discrimination Board reside. Students have access to lecture series, symposiums, and can even file grievances against the school through the institute.
Arcadia University is a private, non-profit university that has a master s degree-granting institution classification by the Carnegie Foundation. It is currently ranked in the top tier of regional universities as ranked by U.S. News and World Report. This school was established in 1853, is located in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
Arcadia confers degrees in over 80 fields of study at all levels of education, including postgraduate and professional programs. Degrees are available as traditional full-time, part-time, evenings, weekends, or online; students are encouraged to speak with an admissions advisor about the requirements or options that accompany their chosen major. Currently the school s programs in physical therapy, forensic science, and international peace and conflict resolution are ranked independently by various ranking sites.
This school has a well-earned reputation for putting the value on a global education; the school is currently ranked first in the nation for a number of students who participate in study abroad programs at the master s level by the Institute of International Education. Undergraduate students are not far behind, however: more than 60 percent of all first-year students study abroad during Spring Break. Arcadia also has a variety of satellite centers across the globe and it is also affiliated with the American Graduate School of International Relations and Diplomacy, a partnership that allows them to confer a master s program that is 100 percent based in Paris.
Saint Vincent College is a private, not-for-profit, Catholic, Benedictine liberal arts college that is one of the best colleges for Catholics. it was established in 1846 and is operated by Benedictine monks of Saint Vincent Archabbey. The school is located in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
Saint Vincent confers undergraduate degrees in over 40 major areas of study in dozens of minors. Select online certification programs are also available; however, at this time there are no plans to expand the school s online offerings into degrees. This school also offers joint programs in affiliation with other schools and also offers a variety of study abroad programs for interested and ambitious students.
The school is quite well known for its forays into sports; the school currently has a dozen athletic teams that compete as part of the Presidents Athletic Conference at the Division III level. The school is a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The school is also known for being the training camp home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, an honor that the school has held since 1966.
Lycoming College is a small, private, not-for-profit liberal arts college that is located in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. It is affiliated with the United Methodist Church and is one of the oldest colleges in the nation. This school was established in 1812 and holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
The school confers over 35 undergraduate degrees; the Bachelor of Arts and the Bachelor of Science are the only types of degrees offered at this school. Alternatively, students can also choose to design their own program of study under the Lycoming Interdisciplinary Program. The school also offers accelerated and online programs for highly motivated students who work full time and need a flexible degree option.
There are a variety of special programs delivered by Lycoming, including a scholars program that allows students to participate in semester-long seminars on specific topics dictated by the Scholars Council. Internship programs, such as the Semester of the United Nations and the Williamsport Internship Summer Experience, both attract a lot of attention from students.
Dual-degree programs at Lycoming are also increasingly popular. The first of these is the program partnership with Duke University s Environmental Science and Forestry program that offers students the chance to get both an undergraduate and a graduate degree in five years. The other program is in partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology and allows students to complete the MBA within one year by using credits earned during their undergraduate career.
Saint Francis University is a private, not-for-profit, Roman Catholic liberal arts institution. It was established in 1847 and is taught in the tradition of the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular. This school is located in Loretto, Pennsylvania, and holds regional accreditation by the MSCHE.
Saint Francis is a university that believes that students should have every opportunity to complete their education. To this end, the school confers over 100 degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level as traditional degrees, accelerated degrees, adult completion programs, or online through the school s virtual portal. All degrees are the same, and when a student graduates, there is no mention of how the degree was earned, only that it is a Saint Francis degree.
Saint Francis is consistently on national and regional rankings, including a ranking that showcased that it was among the top private universities in Pennsylvania. It has also been named one of the best graduate schools in the region by U.S. News and World Report. Independent programs have also been ranked, such as the Master of Business Administration and the Master of Physician Assistant Sciences.
The school is also well known for the campus it runs in Ambialet, France, a town that is found in the Midi-Pyr n es. It is here that students from America can go to get an education; it is not necessary to know French as all the classes are taught in English, but it is encouraged as an immersion tactic to understand the country better.
The University of Scranton is a private, not-for-profit, Catholic and Jesuit research university that is a member of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. This school holds affiliation with the Roman Catholic Jesuit Order. This school was established in 1888 and is located in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It is regionally accredited by the MSCHE.
This school confers 65 undergraduate degrees and 24 graduate degrees; Scranton also confers two doctoral degrees. Pre-professional programs are also available at this university, including pre-med, pre-law, and pre-dental. Online courses and a selection of online degrees are available through the school s portals.
The University of Scranton has been named one of the best universities in Pennsylvania by U.S. News and World Report, The Economist, and The Huffington Post. It has had its entrepreneurship, finance, and accounting programs independently ranked among the best in the nation.