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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

The 19 Best Colleges in Pennsylvania

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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.


Our Ranking Methodology


Below is a list of the 20 best colleges in Pennsylvania. The list was constructed with a focus on school quality, outcomes, and return on investment (ROI), along with considering a host of other factors such as retention rate, selectivity, endowment per student, student-faculty ratio, median earnings, and cost of attendance. You can find CollegeVine’s rankings in their entirety here.


The 19 Best Colleges in Pennsylvania


1. University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)


Location: Philadelphia, PA

Acceptance Rate: 6%

Middle 50% SAT: 1460-1570

Middle 50% ACT: 33-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 9,872


Penn is an Ivy League school, consistently ranked as one of the top ten 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.


2. Swarthmore College


Location: Swarthmore, PA

Acceptance Rate: 9%

Middle 50% SAT: 1400-1530

Middle 50% ACT: 31-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,437


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.


3. Haverford College


Location: Haverford, PA

Acceptance Rate: 18%

Middle 50% SAT: 1370-1510

Middle 50% ACT: 32-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,307


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.


4. Carnegie Mellon University


Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Acceptance Rate: 17%

Middle 50% SAT: 1460-1560

Middle 50% ACT: 33-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,073


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 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.


5. Lehigh University


Location: Bethlehem, PA

Acceptance Rate: 45%

Middle 50% SAT: 1280-1420

Middle 50% ACT: 29-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,203


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.


6. Lafayette College


Location: Easton, PA

Acceptance Rate: 41%

Middle 50% SAT: 1330-1440

Middle 50% ACT: 30-33

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,725


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.


7. Bryn Mawr College


Location: Bryn Mawr, PA

Acceptance Rate: 38%

Middle 50% SAT: 1260-1470

Middle 50% ACT: 26-32

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,301


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.


8. Franklin & Marshall College (F&M)


Location: Lancaster, PA

Acceptance Rate: 38%

Median SAT: 1379

Median  ACT: 30

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,426 


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.


9. Bucknell University


Location: Lewisburg, PA

Acceptance Rate: 37%

Middle 50% SAT: 1230-1390

Middle 50% ACT: 27-31

Undergraduate Enrollment: 3,695


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.


10. Villanova University


Location: Villanova, PA

Acceptance Rate: 30%

Middle 50% SAT: 1330-1460

Middle 50% ACT: 31-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,037


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.


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11. Dickinson College 


Location: Carlisle, PA

Acceptance Rate: 52%

Middle 50% SAT: 1250-1370

Middle 50% ACT: 27-31

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,932


Chartered in 1783, Dickinson College is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the country. Despite its long and rich history, Dickinson has an eye on the future. In 2020, Dickinson became carbon neutral and its campus is home to six LEED-gold certified buildings and one LEED-platinum certified residence hall. The college also has numerous student-focused sustainability initiatives aimed at making the campus more environmentally friendly. Dickinson’s campus also features an 80-acre USDA-certified organic farm—a significant amount of its harvest is served in the school’s dining halls. 


Learn more about Dickinson and what it takes to get accepted.


12. Gettysburg College


Location: Gettysburg, PA

Acceptance Rate: 48%

Middle 50% SAT: 1270-1410

Middle 50% ACT: 27-32

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,505


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 five-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 and what it takes to get accepted.


13. Pennsylvania State University (Penn State)


Location: University Park, PA

Acceptance Rate: 48%

Middle 50% SAT: 1280-1450

Middle 50% ACT: 29-33

Undergraduate Enrollment: 39,809


Penn State is one of the biggest schools in the nation—it’s home to almost 40,000 undergraduates and more than 45,000 total students! Penn State offers a huge number of opportunities to its students. Penn State offers more than 275 majors and 1,000 student organizations. To say football is a big deal at Penn State is an understatement—Penn State’s Beaver Stadium is the second-largest football stadium in the country (it holds more than 100,000 people) and on football Saturdays, Penn State is the third-most-populous city in Pennsylvania. 


Learn more about Penn State and what it takes to get accepted.


14. University of Pittsburgh (Pitt)


Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Acceptance Rate: 64%

Middle 50% SAT: 1243-1420

Middle 50% ACT: 28-32

Undergraduate Enrollment: 19,197


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.


15. Temple University 


Location: Philadelphia, PA

Acceptance Rate: 70%

Middle 50% SAT: 1110-1270

Middle 50% ACT: 23-30

Undergraduate Enrollment: 27,306


Temple is the largest institution of higher education in Philadelphia, one of the nation’s most historic cities and within easy reach of other major metropolises like New York City and Washington, D.C. Temple has a reputation as a longtime leader in professional education and is among the nation’s largest educators in the combined fields of dentistry, law, medicine, pharmacy, and podiatry. However, resources like Temple’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute (IEI) at the Fox School of Business are helping students build the skills to disrupt current industries and bring new ideas to life. 


Learn more about Temple and what it takes to get accepted.


16. Muhlenberg College


Location: Allentown, PA

Acceptance Rate: 62%

Middle 50% SAT: 1170-1340

Middle 50% ACT: 26-31

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,017 


Muhlenberg is a highly regarded liberal arts college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and has its roots in the Protestant faith. That said, the college welcomes students of all faiths and is home to a diverse student body—about a third of students are of the Catholic faith, and about a third are Jewish. Muhlenberg has provided test-optional admissions since 1996 and practices holistic admissions. 


Learn more about Muhlenberg and what it takes to get accepted.


17. Thomas Jefferson University 


Location: Philadelphia, PA

Acceptance Rate: 70%

Middle 50% SAT: 1090-1270

Middle 50% ACT: 20-27

Undergraduate Enrollment: 3,783


Thomas Jefferson simultaneously feels like a place unto itself and part of a bustling city. The university’s tree-lined, 104-acre campus offers tranquility that feels miles away from the city, but world-class restaurants, museums, and entertainment are within easy reach of students. Thomas Jefferson University recently merged with Philadelphia University—together the two institutions are committed to delivering a modern curriculum designed to prepare students for success in an ever-changing world.    


Learn more about Thomas Jefferson and what it takes to get accepted.


18. University of the Sciences 


Location: Philadelphia, PA

Acceptance Rate: 71%

Middle 50% SAT: N/A

Middle 50% ACT: N/A

Undergraduate Enrollment: N/A


The University of the Sciences was founded in 1821 as Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and has the distinction of being the first college of pharmacy in the nation. Today the university offers a range of life science and health science majors—from Biochemistry to Spanish for Healthcare Professionals—through its three colleges: Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Samson College of Health Sciences, and Misher College of Arts and Sciences. The price of college is something that the University of the Sciences is conscious of; the school has put an end to the cycle of 3% to 7% annual tuition and fee increases over the course of a student’s education and students who enroll as undergraduates for fall 2021 will not pay more than $27,500 per year in tuition until they complete their degree. 


Learn more about the University of Sciences and what it takes to get accepted.


19. Duquesne University


Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Acceptance Rate: 77%

Middle 50% SAT: 1130-1250

Middle 50% ACT: 23-28

Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,383


Duquesne University is the only Spiritan Catholic institution of higher education in the United States and one of the most prestigious Catholic-affiliated schools in the nation. Duquesne is deeply committed to the Spiritan values of:


  • Openness to the Spirit
  • Global Vision
  • A Sense of Community
  • Concern for the Poor
  • Commitment to Service
  • High Academic Standards
  • Academic Freedom


Duquesne comes from humble roots; it was founded in 1878 to educate Pittsburgh’s poor immigrants, but today is considered one of the best colleges in Pennsylvania and is known nationwide. It offers more than 80 majors through nine academic schools. 


Learn more about the Duquesne 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’s 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.

Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.