2020 Best Colleges in Pennsylvania

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by Staff Writers
Published on July 30, 2021

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Colleges in Pennsylvania include some of the nation's oldest and most prestigious institutions. For example, the University of Pennsylvania — an Ivy League school — was founded in 1740 and stands among the oldest schools in the United States. Moravian College also ranks among the oldest colleges in the U.S. In total, Pennsylvania houses hundreds of colleges and universities.

Some of the best colleges in Pennsylvania belong to the state university system, which comprises 14 schools and boasts campuses across the state. Many Pennsylvania colleges feature main campuses in big cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania students choose from a variety of public and private schools, where they can pursue degrees at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Read on to learn more about the best colleges in Pennsylvania.

Top 10 Colleges in Pennsylvania

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#1 Swarthmore College Swarthmore, PA
#2 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
#3 Haverford College Haverford, PA
#4 Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA
#5 Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA
#6 Lafayette College Easton, PA
#7 Franklin and Marshall College Lancaster, PA
#8 Bryn Mawr College Bryn Mawr, PA
#9 Bucknell University Lewisburg, PA
#10 Villanova University Villanova, PA
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2020 Best Accredited Colleges in Pennsylvania

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Swarthmore College View School Profile Swarthmore, PA

Due to the stellar academic success of its students, Swarthmore College takes the top spot on our ranking of the best colleges in Pennsylvania. One out of every three Swarthmore graduates has either earned or is currently pursuing a doctoral degree.

The college prides itself on creating intimate learning environments. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 8-to-1, Swarthmore students benefit from unparalleled access to their instructors -- 99% of whom hold a terminal degree in their field.

In addition to offering 40 formal programs of study, Swarthmore encourages learners to work with their faculty advisor to design a personalized major that fits their academic interests and professional aspirations.

Swarthmore's admission requirements are highly selective. The college considers applicants holistically on the basis of high school grades, test scores, civic engagement, and potential contributions to campus life. Swarthmore meets 100% of the demonstrated financial need of all admitted students.

University of Pennsylvania View School Profile Philadelphia, PA

Originally founded in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin, the University of Pennsylvania serves as one of the eight elite private universities that make up the Ivy League. Alumni of the university include U.S. presidents, business magnates, and some of the country's most influential artists and scholars. Penn is also one of the nation's top research institutions, with close to $1 billion in annual research expenditures.

In addition to hosting extensive on-campus offerings, Penn serves students around the world through an array of fully online programs in fields such as business administration, education, engineering, and nursing. Online students can choose to pursue a degree or develop standalone professional skills through one of the university's MicroMasters programs.

Undergraduate applicants must submit high school transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, two teacher evaluations, and a letter of recommendation from a guidance counselor. Graduate admission requirements vary by program, but you typically must hold a bachelor's degree and take either the GMAT or GRE.

Penn meets 100% of undergraduate financial need, with an average award package of nearly $54,000.

Haverford College View School Profile Haverford, PA

Just over 98% of Haverford College students live on the college's 200-acre campus outside of Philadelphia, pursuing bachelor's degrees in fields like anthropology, comparative literature, environmental studies, and philosophy. The college does not currently offer any online programs, though students may earn master's degrees through partnerships with other universities in the state.

Haverford expects all undergraduate students to actively participate in research. The college's Center for Peace and Global Citizenship provides funding to catalyze student scholarship related to community engagement and social justice, while the Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center supports research in astronomy, biology, and related fields. Students ultimately draw on their original research to write a senior thesis.

To apply, you will need a high school diploma or GED certificate, ACT or SAT scores, and two teacher evaluations. The transfer admissions process at Haverford is extremely competitive; admissions officers recommend submitting multiple letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and additional materials that demonstrate extracurricular involvements and talents.

Carnegie Mellon University View School Profile Pittsburgh, PA

Carnegie Mellon University consistently ranks as one of the top research universities in the country. Students and faculty contribute to breakthroughs in brain science, robotics, big data, and a host of other fields.

Along with more traditional majors, the university emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary studies, offering bachelor's and master's degrees in areas such as computational finance, music and technology, and engineering innovation management.

Upon graduation, CMU students join a network of more than 110,000 alumni living and working in 144 countries around the globe. The university's career and development center helps match current students with alumni mentors, hosts leadership development programs, and provides personalized and industry-specific career counseling and advising.

First-year applicants must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. As part of their application materials, prospective students must also submit two letters of recommendation, writing samples, and ACT or SAT scores.

In addition to need-based aid, the university offers presidential and Carnegie scholarships to incoming freshmen with exceptional records of academic achievement.

Lehigh University View School Profile Bethlehem, PA

Each year, nearly 7,000 students at Lehigh University work toward bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in areas of study such as architecture, electrical engineering, international relations, and population health. The university also offers fully online master's degrees in engineering and business administration. Ninety-five percent of students find a job or enroll in graduate school within six months of earning their degree.

The undergraduate experience at Lehigh rests on three pillars: faculty mentorship, hands-on learning, and a global perspective. The university boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 9-to-1, and 89% of students complete at least one internship or experiential learning opportunity. In addition, more than 40% of students participate in an international experience, like one of the university's 250 study abroad programs in 74 countries.

Undergraduate admission requires a high school diploma, ACT or SAT scores, and letters of recommendation from a teacher and counselor. Although Lehigh does not set minimum academic requirements, the average incoming student scores between 31 and 34 on the ACT (or between 1350 and 1480 on the SAT).

Lafayette College View School Profile Easton, PA

Lafayette College is a small liberal arts college located just 70 miles west of New York City. The school offers more than 50 undergraduate majors, including biochemistry, film and media studies, government and law, and neuroscience.

Students may also work with professors to design their own course of study or customize their learning by selecting one of 17 minors. Lafayette does not currently deliver online programs.

All incoming students at Lafayette participate in a first-year seminar that helps them develop the critical thinking and inquiry skills they will need throughout their undergraduate experience. These seminars include unusual but engaging topics, like surviving the zombie apocalypse, miracles, and popular music and race in America. In addition to this first-year experience, all undergraduate students take a series of common courses in writing, multiculturalism, science, and the humanities.

To enter a bachelor's program at Lafayette, you must hold a high school diploma and submit results from either the ACT or SAT. All prospective students must also participate in an interview with admissions staff.

Franklin and Marshall College View School Profile Lancaster, PA

Franklin and Marshall College aims to equip students with the skills and knowledge to solve complex problems and advance the common good. To do so, the school offers high-quality bachelor's programs in fields like economics, environmental management, moral psychology, and public policy. An additional 50% of undergraduate students participate in an independent study or self-designed major.

The college works to provide research opportunities to all learners. Through the Hackman Summer Scholars program, for example, students work alongside faculty members on innovative projects in their chosen area of study. Many students who participate in this 10-week program co-author a scholarly publication with their faculty mentor or use their research to inform a senior thesis.

All applicants must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. As a test-optional institution, F&M allows prospective students to decide whether to submit ACT or SAT scores. Additionally, all applicants must participate in an in-person or remote interview.

Bryn Mawr College View School Profile Bryn Mawr, PA

Bryn Mawr primarily serves young women, though two coed graduate schools at the college provide advanced training in subjects like archaeology, chemistry, and social work. Students can also access additional classes and extracurricular activities through Bryn Mawr's close partnerships with nearby Haverford College and Swarthmore College.

Undergraduate students receive ongoing support as they shape their academic experience. In their first year, all students participate in seminars that provide a foundation for liberal arts study. A sophomore planning experience offers guidance to students as they design a personalized course of study. During their junior and senior years, students conduct research and analysis alongside faculty advisors, participate in internships and field experiences, and build useful skills.

Those who aspire to attend Bryn Mawr must hold a high school diploma. They must also submit a writing sample and three letters of recommendation from counselors and teachers. While the college does not look at ACT or SAT scores for admissions decisions, they do use these exams for purposes of academic advising and placement.

Bucknell University View School Profile Lewisburg, PA

Through 60 major and 70 minors, Bucknell University gives students the flexibility to pursue diverse academic interests and prepare for a variety of careers. In addition to a master's program in college student personnel, the university offers bachelor's degrees in subjects like animal behavior, computer science, global management, and mechanical engineering. The college does not currently offer online programs.

A Bucknell education helps position learners for success. Nearly 90% of students at the university graduate within six years, compared to less than 60% nationally. More than 90% of these graduates report finding a job or beginning work toward an advanced degree within nine months of graduation.

First-year applicants must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate, though Bucknell does not require prospective students to submit ACT or SAT scores. More than 50% of admitted learners receive need-based aid, and the university offers a variety of merit-based scholarships. For example, the Bucknell Community College Scholars program specifically supports transfer students who hold an associate degree.

Villanova University View School Profile Villanova, PA

Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University has grown to serve more than 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students each year through instruction rooted in the Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition.

In addition to technical and graduate certificates, the university offers bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in areas like accounting, criminology, international business, and public administration. Hybrid and fully online programs also allow the university to reach students who cannot live on or commute to campus.

Service plays an indispensable role in the Villanova educational experience. Students at the university complete close to 250,000 hours of community service every year, receiving course credit and honing professional skills through volunteering, internships, ministry activities, and social justice organizing. Learners can even choose to live with classmates who dedicate themselves to working with low-income and marginalized communities.

To apply to Villanova as an undergraduate, you need a high school diploma or GED certificate. The university does not require ACT or SAT scores, though students may elect to submit these as supplemental materials. Villanova does not conduct interviews with prospective students.

University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus View School Profile Pittsburgh, PA

In addition to the main location in the heart of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh operates four regional campuses throughout Pennsylvania. To increase access among students who need to balance their learning with personal or professional responsibilities, the university also hosts fully online programs in education, engineering, and nursing.

On-campus programs of study include actuarial mathematics, ecology and evolution, health information management, and materials science and engineering. To supplement their classroom learning, students may also elect to enroll in the university's Outside the Classroom Curriculum, which is a series of workshops, seminars, and experiential learning opportunities that help learners hone and demonstrate professional skills.

Applying to Pitt requires a high school diploma or GED certificate and ACT or SAT scores. While not required, admissions officers strongly recommend that all prospective students respond to a set of short-answer questions in lieu of a personal essay. For example, students may detail a book or piece of music that has had an impact on their lives.

Gettysburg College View School Profile Gettysburg, PA

With an average class size of just 17 students, Gettysburg College offers personal attention from faculty and a strong sense of community among learners. While the college enrolls only about 2,600 students each year, Gettysburg offers many of the same resources as larger institutions. These include extensive student research opportunities and more than 1,000 service and leadership development experiences.

The college exclusively serves undergraduate students, offering bachelor's degrees in disciplines such as Africana studies, health sciences, mathematical economics, and the theater arts. Regardless of their major, all students complete a series of core courses requiring them to engage in multiple forms of scholarly inquiry, think in an interdisciplinary fashion, communicate what they have learned, and become engaged citizens.

Applicants must submit high school transcripts and letters of recommendation, but the college does not require ACT or SAT scores. Gettysburg typically awards more than $60 million in merit and need-based financial aid each year, benefitting approximately 65% of the student body.

West Chester University of Pennsylvania View School Profile West Chester, PA

The largest state university in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, West Chester University of Pennsylvania serves just over 17,5000 students each year through more than 200 undergraduate and graduate programs. In addition, a slate of online master's and doctoral programs gives learners the chance to continue their education at any time and from any location.

Online students can choose to pursue degrees in business and public administration, special and early childhood education, and nutrition. The university's on-campus offerings explore topics such as applied statistics, exercise and sport science, and public health. Additionally, the honors program at WCU creates opportunities for students to learn across disciplines and earn a minor in civic and professional leadership.

Applicants need a high school diploma or GED certificate. They must also submit ACT or SAT scores. Although WCU recommends that applicants maintain at least a 3.0 high school GPA, the average admitted freshman holds a 3.43 GPA.

Muhlenberg College View School Profile Allentown, PA

Muhlenberg College forges partnerships with academic institutions across the country, helping provide even more educational opportunities to students. For example, the college partners with medical, dental, and optometry schools to create guaranteed pathways to graduate medical education for learners.

Muhlenberg also holds preferred-admission agreements with business and engineering schools, and a partnership with Villanova University enables students to earn a bachelor's degree and a juris doctorate in just six years of full-time study.

Undergraduate students at the college can choose from more than 50 majors, including creative writing, innovation and entrepreneurship, political economy, and sustainability studies. Online courses available during the summer months cover topics like marketing and copyright law.

You must possess a high school diploma or GED certificate to apply to Muhlenberg. While the college generally does not require ACT or SAT scores, prospective students may need to take one of these exams if they hope to enter the honors program or apply for certain academic scholarships.

Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus View School Profile University Park, PA

Penn State is a leader in online education. The university offers more than 150 fully online degrees and certificates to meet the needs of working professionals, military personnel, and students with family responsibilities. Penn State World Campus delivers online classes with entirely asynchronous formats, meaning students can complete coursework and interact with classmates and instructors entirely on their own schedule.

In addition to distance education programs, Penn State operates 24 campuses across the state. Whether they elect to study online or in person, students at the university can prepare for careers in fields like aerospace engineering, community development, digital journalism and media, and immunology and infectious diseases.

Upon graduation, Penn State students benefit from the connections and expertise of a network of 692,000 alumni.

You must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate to enroll in an associate or bachelor's program at Penn State, but the university does not require standardized test scores. Each year, Penn State awards roughly $90 million in scholarships on the basis of need and academic achievement.

Dickinson College View School Profile Carlisle, PA

Dickinson College strives to create a community of globally engaged citizens. The college has twice received the prestigious Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization, with more than two-thirds of students participating in study abroad fellowships and programs.

In addition, all students at Dickinson, regardless of their major, engage with a liberal arts curriculum that promotes diverse ideas and perspectives and builds intercultural skills.

The college offers bachelor's degrees in Arabic, international business and management, military science, and social innovation and entrepreneurship. Upon enrollment, all first-year students meet with a faculty advisor who provides personalized guidance and leads a seminar on writing, research, and critical analysis. Freshmen also can choose to live in learning communities organized by academic interest.

While the college provides some orientation modules online, Dickinson does not currently administer distance education programs.

Applicants must submit high school transcripts and at least one letter of recommendation. However, Dickinson does not require prospective students who attended a secondary school in the United States to take the ACT or SAT.

Saint Vincent College View School Profile Latrobe, PA

Although founded in 1846 by Benedictine monks, Saint Vincent welcomes students from all faiths and backgrounds. In addition to 50 undergraduate majors in fields like art history and philosophy, the school offers master's degrees in education, business, health science, and criminology.

Students at the college can also enroll in one of several special undergraduate programs. For example, the Benedictine Leadership Studies program features seminars on leadership, internship opportunities, and a three-credit capstone trip to Rome. Participating students also receive a $2,000 annual fellowship award. The Fred Rogers Scholars program provides similar classroom and extracurricular learning experiences to learners who hope to work in early childhood education.

Undergraduate admission requires a high school diploma and ACT or SAT scores. Students may also submit letters of recommendation and a personal essay. On top of need-based aid, learners can apply for up to $27,000 per year in academic scholarships.

Temple University View School Profile Philadelphia, PA

Originally founded as a night school, Temple University is now the largest university in Philadelphia. Temple educates roughly 40,000 students each year through undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs.

In addition to offering a fully online bachelor's degree in business administration, Temple allows learners to earn 15 master's and doctoral degrees on their own schedule from the comfort of their homes.

The university also offers a diverse selection of accelerated programs, helping students save money and more quickly advance in their careers. Business, education, and engineering students, for instance, can earn both their bachelor's and master's degrees in just five years. Through a 3+4 program, students can also earn a bachelor's and doctorate in medicine, dentistry, or pharmacy in only seven years.

First-year applicants must have a high school diploma, and prospective students under the age of 22 must also take either the ACT or SAT. All admitted students receive automatic consideration for more than $100 million in annual scholarships.

Messiah College View School Profile Mechanicsburg, PA

A Christian institution in Harrisburg, Messiah College offers more than 150 undergraduate majors in areas like applied health science, cybersecurity, graphic design, and nutrition and dietetics. Students may also pursue one of the college's 35 master's degrees with most graduate coursework available online.

Messiah offers several ways for students to earn their bachelor's in just three years. To begin, incoming students can receive credit for prior learning and relevant professional experience. The college also allows students on an accelerated track to take extra courses each semester without paying more in tuition. Additionally, undergraduate students can take a series of online courses in the summer to earn additional credits and pay a reduced tuition rate.

To apply to Messiah, you must have a high school diploma or GED certificate. The college also requires all applicants to submit ACT or SAT results. In addition, prospective students must write a personal essay describing why they want to attend a faith-based college.

Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Great Valley View School Profile Malvern, PA

Penn State Great Valley exclusively offers master's degrees and graduate certificates, giving students in the greater Philadelphia area the opportunity to develop critical professional skills. Alongside formal programs in data analytics, engineering, finance, and healthcare, the university hosts noncredit professional development programs in project management, leadership development, and agile business analysis.

The university designs academic offerings to meet the needs of working professionals. All classes run for seven weeks with six start dates throughout the year, meaning students can schedule their learning around busy periods in their lives. While many courses require two face-to-face meetings per week, blended classes with an online component allow learners to commute to campus less frequently.

To enter a degree program at Penn State Great Valley, you must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. Depending on the program, you may also need to submit a resume, GMAT or GRE scores, and a personal statement.

Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania View School Profile Slippery Rock, PA

A member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania awards bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in disciplines such as athletic training, environmental geosciences, music therapy, and counseling psychology. The university's 660-acre campus hosts a variety of arts, cultural, and social activities, along with comprehensive health, academic support, and counseling services.

SRU also delivers strong online programs. Students with previous college-level coursework can enroll in one of the university's online degree-completion programs, earning a bachelor's in management, nursing, or the liberal arts. In addition, fully online master's and doctoral programs provide distance learners with the freedom to prepare for specialized and supervisory roles without leaving their current job.

First-year applicants must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate and submit scores from the ACT or SAT. Generally, SRU looks for candidates with a 3.0 high school GPA or higher, an ACT score of at least 20, or an SAT score of 1030 and above.

Philadelphia University View School Profile Philadelphia, PA

The "Nexus Learning" approach at Thomas Jefferson University combines a traditional liberal arts education with experiential learning opportunities, professional skill development, and interdisciplinary inquiry. As evidence of the success of this model, the university points to the fact that 95% of students find a job or enroll in a graduate program within one year of earning their bachelor's degree.

Programs of study at Jefferson include applied health economics, cardiac sonography, human resources management, and occupational therapy. In addition to the university's extensive on-campus bachelor's and master's programs, Jefferson hosts more than 30 fully online degrees in subjects like law enforcement leadership and nurse midwifery.

Undergraduate applicants must possess a high school diploma or GED certificate, but the university does not require ACT or SAT scores. Graduate applicants typically must hold a bachelor's degree and submit a professional resume and letters of recommendation. Roughly 96% of undergraduates and 36% of graduate students receive some form of financial aid.

Chatham University View School Profile Pittsburgh, PA

Consistently ranked as one of the "greenest" schools in the country, the Pittsburgh campus of Chatham University in Pittsburgh serves as home to a 39-acre arboretum and LEED-certified academic halls and residences. Students interested in environmental studies can choose from majors in areas like botany, ecology, and sustainable business administration.

The university also offers bachelor's and master's degrees in subjects such as communication, interior architecture, and physician assistant studies. A variety of online and evening programs serve students who need to balance their education with a job or family responsibilities. Additionally, integrated degree programs give learners the option to earn both a bachelor's and master's in less time and for less money.

Undergraduate admission requires high school transcripts, an essay or writing sample, and at least one letter of recommendation from a guidance counselor or teacher. Chatham is a test-optional institution, but students who elect not to share ACT or SAT scores must instead submit a resume and graded writing sample and participate in an on-campus interview.

Juniata College View School Profile Huntingdon, PA

Close to 95% of undergraduate learners at Juniata College graduate in just four years, a rate significantly higher than both the state and national averages. The college also strongly encourages students to engage in service-learning activities, with 80% participating in an internship and 60% completing volunteer work.

Instead of majors, programs of emphasis at Juniata give students the chance to critically examine topics like conflict resolution, data science, fisheries and aquatic science, and international politics. Nearly one-third of all undergraduate students at the college design their own program, choosing a customized slate of courses in close collaboration with an academic advisor.

Your application package to Juniata must include high school transcripts, one letter of recommendation, and an essay. Applicants can decide not to submit ACT or SAT scores if they feel their results do not reflect their strengths as a student.

Juniata awards roughly $40 million in grants each year, and students can also apply to special scholarship programs. The Eagles Abroad program, for example, provides up to $3,000 to learners who plan to study in another country.

Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Wilkes-Barre View School Profile Lehman, PA

Penn State Wilkes-Barre caters to students who want a more rural and intimate learning environment. The university enrolls only about 500 students each year, operating its campus on a park-like estate roughly 13 miles west of Wilkes-Barre. The average class size is just 18 students.

Along with associate degrees in surveying technology and business administration, Penn State Wilkes-Barre offers bachelor's degrees in the administration of justice, corporate communication, and project and supply chain management. Many students choose to begin their undergraduate education at the university before transferring to another Penn State campus in their junior year.

To apply, you must have a high school diploma or GED certificate and satisfactory scores on the ACT or SAT. The university generally accepts students with an ACT score of 21 or above or a combined SAT score of 1470 or higher.

As part of the admissions process, students can also apply for more than 60 scholarship funds. In total, Penn State Wilkes-Barre awards approximately $572,00 in scholarships each year.

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