12 Best Colleges in Pennsylvania

Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications?

See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.

Show me what areas I need to improve

What’s Covered:


Pennsylvania is a state built on history and culture. It is known as the Keystone State—due to its foundational role in the inception of the United States—and the Quaker State—due to its association with William Penn and the Quaker faith. In addition to its rich history, the state boasts many of the top colleges and universities in the nation, ranging from large research universities to small liberal arts colleges. Many of these universities and colleges were founded by the Quakers and still emphasize community camaraderie and service, alongside their high-level academic programs.


Keep reading to learn more about the 12 best colleges in Pennsylvania and what they have to offer you.


The 12 Best Colleges in Pennsylvania


University of Pennsylvania


Location: Philadelphia

Acceptance Rate: 8%

Middle 50% SAT: 1450-1560

Middle 50% ACT: 33-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 11,800


What’s special about UPenn?


Penn is an Ivy League school, consistently ranked as one of the top 10 universities in the nation. One of the most renowned schools at the university is the Wharton School of Business, with Elon Musk and Warren Buffett at the top of its alumni roster. While Penn boasts top-tier academic programs, it is also often referred to as ‘the social ivy’ because of its lively student body. With its urban location in Philadelphia, Penn gives students access to vibrant bars, restaurants, museums, art galleries, and parks. While some view Penn as a safety ivy, others view it as a unique school that promotes a healthy balance of academic and social life. Learn more about UPenn and what it takes to get accepted.


Carnegie Mellon University


Location: Pittsburgh

Acceptance Rate: 17%

Middle 50% SAT: 1460-1560

Middle 50% ACT: 33-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,500


What’s special about Carnegie Mellon?


Carnegie Mellon is simultaneously an impressive school in technical fields, like engineering and computer science, and creative fields, like drama and architecture. Because of the school’s multifaceted academic success, it is characterized by a diverse student body—both with regards to race and ethnicity, student backgrounds, personalities, and programs of study. That being said, common traits amongst all CMU students include passion and drive. CMU has name recognition with employers in most industries and graduates typically have great opportunities after obtaining their CMU degree. Learn more about Carnegie Mellon and what it takes to get accepted.


Swarthmore College


Location: Swarthmore

Acceptance Rate: 9%

Middle 50% SAT: 1390-1530

Middle 50% ACT: 31-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,500


What’s special about Swarthmore?


Swarthmore is a private liberal arts college that was originally founded by the Quakers but lost its religious affiliation over a century ago. The college is known for its quirky and engaged student population. Since Swarthmore’s student body is small, the college fosters a tight-knit community. Students at Swarthmore have the unique opportunity to design their own majors and course plans, if they choose to. Another unique opportunity offered to students is participating in the Tri-College and Quaker Consortium. Through the Consortium, Swarthmore students can take classes at Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College, and the University of Pennsylvania. Learn more about Swarthmore and what it takes to get accepted.


Haverford College


Location: Haverford

Acceptance Rate: 19%

Middle 50% SAT: 1400-1520

Middle 50% ACT: 32-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,300


What’s special about Haverford?


Haverford is another small liberal arts college that is part of the Tri-College and Quaker Consortium. Within the Consortium, Haverford and Bryn Mawr have a particularly strong relationship as they share many resources (like a newspaper and a radio station), and also mingle their academic programs. At Haverford, students benefit from a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, with 60% of faculty living on the Haverford campus. Additionally, Haverford is known for its Honor Code and for its dedication to meeting 100% of accepted students’ demonstrated financial need. Learn more about Haverford and what it takes to get accepted.


Villanova University


Location: Villanova

Acceptance Rate: 29%

Middle 50% SAT: 1330-1460

Middle 50% ACT: 31-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,900


What’s special about Villanova?


Villanova is a private Catholic university that emphasizes community service, in addition to strong academic performance. The school offers 48 academic majors within 6 colleges. Student involvement at Villanova largely takes place through volunteering, with most students involved in events like the Special Olympics, Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, weekly service outings through the Campus Ministry, and service trips during academic breaks. When entering the Nova Nation, students describe how they feel immediately welcomed to the university’s caring community. Learn more about Villanova and what it takes to get accepted.


Bryn Mawr College


Location: Bryn Mawr

Acceptance Rate: 34%

Middle 50% SAT: 1290-1510

Middle 50% ACT: 29-33

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,300


What’s special about Bryn Mawr?


Bryn Mawr is the third and final (and only all-female!) part of the Tri-College and Quaker Consortium. Like the other schools in the Consortium, Bryn Mawr has intensive academics and its small student body fosters a close-knit community. Some women from Bryn Mawr say the college feels like one big sorority—they even have a traditional bonding week called Hell Week. Bryn Mawr is a small college town, but it is just twenty minutes away from Philadelphia, so students have easy access to the big city. Learn more about Bryn Mawr and what it takes to get accepted.


Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.


Bucknell University


Location: Lewisburg

Acceptance Rate: 33%

Middle 50% SAT: 1280-1410

Middle 50% ACT: 28-32

Undergraduate Enrollment: 3,500


What’s special about Bucknell?


Bucknell is an innovative liberal arts college on a gorgeous campus in central Pennsylvania. The university is made up of three schools—the College of Arts and Sciences, the Freeman College of Management, and the College of Engineering—and excels in technical fields in addition to the humanities. The student-to-faculty ratio at Bucknell is 9:1 and the average class size is 20 students. One unique aspect of residential life at Bucknell is that students can live in themed residential colleges that are tied to one of their first-semester classes. This allows students to live and learn alongside students who share their interests. Greek life is a popular interest at Bucknell and strongly influences the culture on campus as 41% of students participate in the Greek system. Learn more about Bucknell and what it takes to get accepted.


Lafayette College


Location: Easton

Acceptance Rate: 29%

Middle 50% SAT: 1280-1430

Middle 50% ACT: 28-33

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,600


What’s special about Lafayette?


Lafayette College offers an excellent private liberal arts education to students, though its academic prowess shines through its engineering and science programs. The school’s location gives students access to major metropolitan areas like New York City and Philadelphia, though its location is just the start of the school’s resources. Lafayette students are connected to an extensive alumni network and can easily find job opportunities, including research opportunities. The school has a very high medical school acceptance rate and a high freshman retention rate (indicating student satisfaction). Learn more about Lafayette and what it takes to get accepted.


Franklin & Marshall College


Location: Lancaster

Acceptance Rate: 35%

Middle 50% SAT: 1290-1418

Middle 50% ACT: 28-32

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,300


What’s special about Franklin & Marshall?


Franklin & Marshall is a private liberal arts college that focuses on research and innovative student programming. It is a selective school with bright students. Independence is emphasized at Franklin & Marshall and about two-thirds of students do an independent study or self-designed academic module before graduating. F&M residential life centers around five Harry Potter-style houses where students in each house share residence halls, dining facilities, and programming. Additionally, the college boasts its own art museum and a Writers House that functions as a literary performance space. Learn more about Franklin & Marshall and what it takes to get accepted.


Lehigh University


Location: Bethlehem

Acceptance Rate: 22%

Middle 50% SAT: 1300-1430

Middle 50% ACT: 29-33

Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,000


What’s special about Lehigh?


Lehigh is a distinguished private research university that excels in science, engineering, and business. While the school has a lower enrollment than other research universities, students have access to the courses, advising, research, and other resources offered by large research universities. Lehigh students can easily explore multiple interests due to the cooperation between the university’s five schools: the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Business, the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, the College of Education, and the College of Health. There’s something for everyone at Lehigh. Learn more about Lehigh and what it takes to get accepted.


University of Pittsburgh


Location: Pittsburgh

Acceptance Rate: 59%

Middle 50% SAT: 1260-1440

Middle 50% ACT: 28-33

Undergraduate Enrollment: 19,300


What’s special about Pitt?


Pitt is a selective public research university with many academic opportunities for success in its 82 different majors. Due to the university’s urban setting, students have access to numerous internship and job opportunities, as well as social and cultural opportunities. The university’s student body boasts a lot of Pitt pride, and in accordance with the emphasis on school pride, students have access to a large and active alumni network that they find valuable for career guidance. Learn more about Pitt and what it takes to get accepted.


Gettysburg College


Location: Gettysburg

Acceptance Rate: 45%

Middle 50% ACT: 27-31

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,400


What’s special about Gettysburg College?


Gettysburg College is a private liberal arts college with a 225-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg battlefield. The campus is beautiful—made up of elegant red brick buildings and white buildings, along with ample greenery. The school has outstanding resources and facilities available for students, including a 5-floor, 24-hour library. Gettysburg College’s social scene involves 120 student organizations and clubs, and 33% of the student body participates in Greek life. Academically, the small size of Gettysburg College allows for small class sizes and personal attention from professors and advisors. Learn more about Gettysburg College and what it takes to get accepted.


What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?


While each of these Pennsylvania colleges has a different average acceptance rate, they are all selective. It is great to be interested in selective schools, but it is also important to remember to create a balanced college list. If possible, a student should apply to 8-10 schools, with about 25% being safety schools, 40% target schools, and 35% reach schools. These categories—safety, target, and reach—are determined by your chances of acceptance at the schools you are applying to.


Because your personal chances of acceptance at these schools may differ from the average acceptance rate, we’ve made it easy to figure out which schools fall into which categories with our free Admissions Chances Calculator. By taking into account your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars, we’ll estimate your odds of acceptance at different schools and give you tips on improving your profile.



Want more college admissions tips?

We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.
Brooke Elkjer
Blog Writer

Short Bio
Brooke is going into her senior year at the University of Southern California and is originally from Dallas, Texas. She is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience. Brooke is the associate literary producer for the intersectional feminist production company on campus, ART/EMIS. She also is a Resident Assistant (RA) and a student worker for the Thematic Option Honors GE Program. In her free time, Brooke enjoys reading, writing, and watching Gilmore Girls.

Don't miss out on the best high school & college admissions resources!

Join thousands of students and parents getting exclusive high school, test prep, and college admissions information.