To identify the Best Colleges in Pennsylvania for 2017-2018 we averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems with thousands of real student review scores from around the web to produce a unique College Consensus rating for each school. You won’t find a more comprehensive ranking of the top colleges and universities in Pennsylvania anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges & Universities in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s best colleges and universities are hallmarks of American higher education, from pioneering women’s colleges to the Ivy League. With its roots at the very heart of the American Revolution – site of the writing of Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – and the influence of the 18th century Enlightenment, Pennsylvania has been a leader in higher education since before there was a US, and played critical roles in educating Founding Fathers and the earliest American business, religious, and educational leaders. Pennsylvania’s higher education system is so incredibly rich that naming the ten highest-ranked colleges means leaving out world-renowned institutions like the Penn State 68 and Carnegie Mellon University 70 – there are so many elite colleges, and they literally cannot be included.
The colleges and universities included are some of the world’s most prestigious. They include the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania 79 , a globally-recognized private research university founded by Benjamin Franklin, and Little Ivies like Bucknell University 75 and. The names of Founders and Revolutionary War heroes are spread across the state: Franklin and Marshall College 73 , Dickinson College 71 . They include the renowned Quaker Consortium, with Bryn Mawr College 78 , Swarthmore College 79 , and Haverford College 78 , institutions that dominate rankings of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation. From front to back, Pennsylvania’s best colleges and universities define “best.”
Here are the top colleges and universities of the Keystone State.
Bryn Mawr College
One of the eminent Seven Sisters – the prestigious consortium of historically women’s colleges that were once the counterparts to the Ivy League – Bryn Mawr College was founded in 1885 by Pennsylvania Quakers. Bryn Mawr (named for the town, a Welsh name meaning “high hill”) is also part of the Tri-College Consortium along with Swarthmore College and Haverford College, two other institutions founded by the Society of Friends, though Bryn Mawr has been non-denominational for most of its history. Widely recognized as one of the top women’s colleges in the world, Bryn Mawr is also ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the best small liberal arts colleges nationwide.
Bryn Mawr was a pioneer in women’s education, creating the first academic social work program, and advocating professional and technical education for women in a time when women’s education was focused on teaching and nursing. Today, Bryn Mawr keeps up the tradition of a liberal arts foundation, with students taking core courses and the interdisciplinary Emily Balch Seminar, which focuses on critical thinking and communication, while looking to the future with international conferences on women’s rights and progress. A highly selective institution, Bryn Mawr accepts only the best, and helps them fulfill their potential.
Like Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore College was founded by members of the Religious Society of Friends, and though it has been nondenominational for over a century, Swarthmore is still part of the “Quaker Consortium,” a cooperative agreement that allows students to take courses at Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and the University of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1864 as a coeducational college, Swarthmore was designed around the Quaker philosophy of open thought and tolerance, accepting students of all backgrounds, and that tradition continues. Often called a “Little Ivy,” Swarthmore has regularly been ranked in the very top of U.S. News & World Report rankings of liberal arts colleges, often in the #1 spot.
Swarthmore is particularly known for its rigorous Honors Program, a sequence based on the British Oxford and Cambridge standards. Honors students complete a demanding junior seminar performing original research, then sit for extensive written and oral exams in their senior year. In other areas, Swarthmore is noted for its bachelor program in engineering, a rarity in small liberal arts colleges, and for its pioneering work in psychology, peace studies, and cognitive science. With a small student body and one of the lowest student:faculty ratios in the nation (just 8:1), Swarthmore is known as one of the greatest undergraduate educators in the world, and easily stands as one of Pennsylvania’s best colleges.
The oldest of the Tri-College Consortium/Quaker Consortium, Haverford College was founded in 1833 as an all-male Society of Friends school. According to Quaker values, Haverford was intended to foster tolerance and cooperation, based around holistic, humanistic liberal arts education for the mind, body, and soul. Haverford today is coeducational and no longer officially affiliated with the Friends, though its basic values remain the same: faith in students, self-determination, and acceptance. Haverford is regularly ranked among the best liberal arts colleges in America by U.S. News & World Report and Forbes, and is currently tied for #12 in U.S. News.
Forbes also recognized Haverford for producing the most entrepreneurs (by proportion of the student body) of any small liberal arts college in the nation, a testament to Haverford’s tradition of independence and motivation. The Haverford curriculum is steeped in the classical liberal arts, with an interdisciplinary core drawing on the humanities, social sciences, and sciences, and all departments require a rigorous senior thesis project for graduation. Haverford has earned recognition from the National Science Foundation for being one of the best liberal arts colleges for prospective science and engineering PhDs, and Haverford’s pre-law and pre-med programs are particularly successful for graduates as well. Haverford College is the real deal, and one of Pennsylvania’s top colleges.
University of Pennsylvania
Founded by Benjamin Franklin himself, the University of Pennsylvania dates its start back to 1740, making it the fourth-oldest university in the US, though it did not begin to offer undergraduate degrees until fifteen years later. According to Franklin’s intentions, Penn was intended to unify practical scientific and technical education with the classical liberal arts – in the spirit of his own self-taught mastery of many disciplines – and though Franklin’s own curriculum was not used, his vision lives on. Today, the University of Pennsylvania is a world-renowned, private research university and part of the illustrious Ivy League, and has long been ranked one of the most desirable colleges in the world (on the Princeton Review’s Dream Colleges listing). U.S. News & World Report currently ranks UPenn #8 in the nation.
The University of Pennsylvania has been one of America’s most pioneering institutions since its beginning; it was one of the first universities to adopt the now-standard concept of departments, creating multi-disciplinary schools within the college, and the first American university to combine graduate education alongside undergraduate. In these ways, UPenn literally created the model for American higher education, while also establishing the nation’s first medical school and business school. From business and law to nursing and medicine, UPenn is one of the nation’s most prestigious, and its emphasis on interdisciplinary learning continues to inspire and influence other universities. The University of Pennsylvania is not just Pennsylvania’s best university – it’s one of the greatest in the US.
Bucknell University was founded in 1846 by a Baptist church in Lewisburg, PA; initially a high school, the college had to prepare students for bachelor-level work before beginning its undergraduate program. Bucknell acquired its name in 1886, after philanthropist William Bucknell, whose donation of $50,000 (well over $1 million by today’s standards) saved the college from financial disaster. After Bucknell’s gift, Bucknell University set off on the right foot, and over the course of the 20th century developed a reputation for excellence that continues today. Named a “Hidden Ivy,” Bucknell is ranked in the top 50 national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report and Forbes.
Bucknell is made up of three colleges: Arts & Sciences, Engineering, and Management, making it one of the few small liberal arts colleges with a dedicated engineering school. Among master’s level engineering schools, Bucknell’s programs are regularly ranked in the top 5, while Bucknell’s business program is top in the nation for business PhDs. Bucknell also offers numerous dual degree concentrations, including Engineering & Management for engineering students who intend to have a leadership role in their careers. With its core curriculum rooted in the liberal arts, and top-tier professional programs, Bucknell is an institution of rare excellence, and earns its placement among Pennsylvania’s best universities.
Named for the Marquis de Lafayette, an American Revolution hero from France, Lafayette College was founded in 1826, just after Lafayette’s triumphant return tour of the United States. While founded as an independent, local college, Lafayette became associated with the Presbyterian Church during a time of financial difficulties in the 1850s; while that historic affiliation is still recognized, Lafayette is no longer governed by the church. Often referred to as one of the Little Ivies, Lafayette is recognized as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation, ranked in the top 40 by U.S. News & World Report, and named one of the best institutions for return on investment by both Payscale and Kiplinger’s.
Lafayette college remains committed to its liberal arts heritage, including highly regarded humanities and social science programs, but in recent years the college has been renowned for its engineering degrees as well. With many concentrations, Lafayette’s engineering graduates have been exceptionally successful, with a near-perfect passing rate on the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination (a requirement for engineering licensure). In addition to accolades for their educational quality, Lafayette is widely regarded as one of the best colleges for students who want to get rich (according to Business Insider), and the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education has commended Lafayette for their support of African-American STEM students. Lafayette is an esteemed liberal arts college clearly deserving attention in Pennsylvania and across the US.
University of Scranton
A highly respected private Catholic institution, the University of Scranton was founded in 1888 by the Diocese of Scranton. Over the years, control of the college passed hands from the diocese, to the Xaverian Brothers, the Lasallian Christian Brothers, and finally to the Society of Jesus; today, Scranton is governed by a board of lay people, but still a member of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. In keeping with the Jesuit emphasis on educational rigor and excellence, the University of Scranton is widely regarded as one of the best Catholic colleges in the nation, and is consistently ranked one of the top 5 regional universities in the North by U.S. News & World Report.
As a Jesuit university, Scranton maintains a deep faith in its combination of traditional liberal arts education with the foundations of Catholic faith and belief. That has led to a reputation as one of the finest undergraduate educators in the region, as well as recognition as one of the most socially-engaged and service-oriented universities in the nation. In the 21st century, though, Scranton has become equally known for the Kania School of Management and the Panuska College of Professional Studies, which house some of Pennsylvania’s most respected programs in business, nursing, and physical therapy. From entrepreneurship to community action, the University of Scranton is a top university for the good of Pennsylvania’s people and society.
Franklin and Marshall College
Franklin & Marshall College dates its founding back to 1787, to the original Franklin College. Named for Benjamin Franklin (one of its first donors), Franklin College was an innovative institution, founded as both coeducational, and bilingual (with classes in both English and German). With its mission to preserve the new republic through education, Franklin College struck hard financial times in the 19th century, merging with Marshall College in 1853 to preserve both struggling institutions. Today Franklin & Marshall is known as a leading institution in the region, and is ranked in the top 50 national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report.
Franklin & Marshall is a highly selective institution once named among the 5 most rigorous schools in the nation by Newsweek. Students benefit from the small class sizes and low (9:1) student:faculty ratio favored by liberal arts colleges, and F&M has been praised for the accessibility and mentorship of its faculty. The college is also known for community engagement and service, with programs like the F&M College Prep, which brings at-risk and underserved students for a summer program introducing them to college life; since 2011, all participants have been accepted into college. With a two-century long heritage and growing, Franklin & Marshall is one of the best colleges in Pennsylvania.
The first college to be chartered in the new United States, Dickinson College was founded in 1783, but it can date its existence back ten years earlier, to the Carlisle Grammar School. Nicknamed John and Mary’s College, Dickinson was named for John Dickinson, a Founding Father, signer of the Constitution, and governor of Pennsylvania, and his wife. Its founder, Benjamin Rush, was a noted leader of the Revolution and a pioneering doctor who helped popularize concepts of public health and mental illness. Dickinson College’s heritage is immense, in other words, and Dickinson lives up to its history, and is regarded among the finest liberal arts colleges in the nation, despite its refusal to participate in rankings.
Dickinson College is a traditional liberal arts college, with a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary learning. Besides its traditional and interdisciplinary majors (over 40), Dickinson has developed a strong reputation in engineering, with a 3:2 engineering partnership with Columbia University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Case Western Reserve University. Dickinson is also extremely active in global education, with a dozen educational centers worldwide and even more study-abroad partnerships for students, and has been nationally recognized for their commitment to sustainability and environmental education. By any count, Dickinson is not just one of Pennsylvania’s top colleges, but an international leader.
The name “Gettysburg” evokes the legendary Civil War battleground, but just at the edge of that historical landmark is Gettysburg College, one of the foremost liberal arts colleges in Pennsylvania. Founded in 1832 as a Lutheran college, Gettysburg was inspired by abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, a Gettysburg native. The college nearly went under during the Civil War, when Southern students left, but Gettysburg endured through the 20th century and entered the 21st stronger than ever, ranked one of the 50 best liberal arts colleges in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
Gettysburg has a small student body of just over 2500, and has become well known for its excellent student support and mentorship. With a student:faculty ratio of 9:1, and small classes, Gettysburg students are assured of close personal attention; meanwhile, a high level of financial support and excellent job prospects after graduation have helped to earn Gettysburg recognition from the Princeton Review as a best value. Gettysburg has also been named one of the best colleges for internships, and 98% of graduates are employed or accepted into graduate school within a year. As one of the most selective and esteemed colleges in Pennsylvania, Gettysburg College is a name trusted throughout the northeast.