20 Best Colleges In Pennsylvania

A ranking of the best colleges in Pennsylvania. Programs ranked by affordability, flexibility, and academic quality.

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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.

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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.


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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.

  1. University of Pennsylvania

    Philadelphia, PA



    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.

  2. Swarthmore College

    Swarthmore, PA



    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.

  3. Haverford College

    Haverford, PA



    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.

  4. Carnegie Mellon University

    Pittsburgh, PA



    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.

  5. Lehigh University

    Bethlehem, PA



    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.

  6. Lafayette College

    Easton, PA



    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.

  7. Bryn Mawr College

    Bryn Mawr, PA



    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.

  8. Bucknell University

    Lewisburg, PA



    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.

  9. Villanova University

    Villanova, PA



    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.

  10. Franklin and Marshall College

    Lancaster, PA



    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.

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