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Timothy Peck
6 Financial Aid

The 10 Cheapest Colleges in Pennsylvania

What’s Covered:


There’s no shortage of great colleges and universities in Pennsylvania—the state is home to large, well-respected institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon as well as well-regarded liberal arts colleges like Haverford and Swarthmore. While prestige is at the top of the mind of many college-bound students, another key consideration for a lot of students is cost. 


Tips for Saving Money on College


For students focused on controlling their college expenses, there are numerous proven strategies for keeping the cost of college down. 


Apply to Generous Schools


When trying to reduce college costs, it’s tempting to apply to schools with low sticker prices. However, equally important as the sticker price of a school is how much financial aid a school gives you, which makes the net price—the cost of a school minus grants and scholarships—a better metric for judging what college will actually cost. The fact is, the schools awarding the most generous merit aid are rarely the least expensive schools. Consider that schools that award the most merit aid are private and, on average, students receiving a scholarship or grant from a private 4-year college will get $7,834 more than a student at a public 4-year college.


Local Scholarships


Colleges offer substantially more scholarship dollars than outside organizations—$175 billion annually compared to $11 billion—and should be the priority; however, outside scholarships still represent an important avenue for students looking to earn money for college. Local scholarships (like those offered by regional organizations, local businesses, nonprofits, and places of worship) are much less competitive than larger, more well-known awards and provide a great opportunity to chip away at college costs.


Earn Affordable College Credit


College is expensive and the more credits you can earn off campus, the better. AP exams are a great way to earn affordable credits in high school. Many colleges award credit to students who earn a 3 or better on their AP exams. This has the added bonus of giving a student’s college career a kick start—something that is more valuable than many students realize. Less than half of college students graduate in four years, which adds expenses and delays entrance into the workforce.  


The 10 Cheapest Colleges in Pennsylvania


1. Curtis Institute of Music


Tuition In-state/Out-of-state: $0/$0

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Acceptance Rate: 2%

Undergrad Enrollment: 200


In addition to being the cheapest college in Pennsylvania—all students receive merit-based full-tuition scholarships—the Curtis Institute of Music is also commonly considered the best music school in the nation. Admission to the Curtis Institute of Music is extremely selective and only students with exceptional musical talent are admitted, hence the school’s staggeringly low 2% acceptance rate; for comparison, Harvard’s acceptance rate is 5%. The school’s reputation attracts the world’s most promising musicians and as much as 50% of the student body comes from outside the U.S., with 20 nations represented on campus by students in a typical year.  


Learn more about the Curtis Institute of Music and what it takes to get accepted.


2. Mansfield University of Pennsylvania


Tuition In-state/Out-of-state: $7,716/$10,032

Location: Mansfield, PA

Acceptance Rate: 96%

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,500


Mansfield University of Pennsylvania was founded in 1857, four years before the Civil War, and has a long, storied history. Today, the school has a reputation for delivering the qualities of a small liberal arts college with the resources of a larger research university. Mansfield University offers 39 undergraduate degree programs, ranging from accounting to world languages and cultures. In addition to offering especially affordable tuition to in-state students, New York and New Jersey residents are also eligible for reduced-rate tuition. 


Learn more about Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and what it takes to get accepted.


3. Edinboro University of Pennsylvania


Tuition In-state/Out-of-state: $7,716/$11,574

Location: Edinboro, PA

Acceptance Rate: 85%

Undergrad Enrollment: 3,500


As the name Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (or, as it’s often called, PennWest Edinboro) may suggest, the school has a rich Scottish heritage: its athletic teams are nicknamed “the fighting Scots,” the school’s fight song is “Scotland the Brave,” and the college has its own pipe band. One of the most beloved traditions at PennWest Edinboro is the annual Highland Games and Scottish Festival, which the college has hosted for almost three decades. PennWest Edinboro is preparing to integrate with two other western Pennsylvania colleges—California University of Pennsylvania and Clarion University—a move intended to provide a wider variety of academic opportunities to students and keep costs affordable.     

Learn more about Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and what it takes to get accepted.


4. Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania


Tuition In-state/Out-of-state: $7,716/$11,574

Location: Slippery Rock, PA

Acceptance Rate: 74%

Undergrad Enrollment: 7,500


Just because Slippery Rock University is one of the cheapest colleges in Pennsylvania, don’t expect a low-budget college experience. The website Niche ranks “The Rock” 39th (out of 1,392 schools) on their list of best dorm rooms in America. Freshmen are required to live in residence halls, all of which are equipped with air conditioning, wi-fi, and digital cable. The university is also home to more than 150 on-campus clubs and organizations as well as a vibrant Greek life. In the classroom, students have a wide breadth of academic opportunities available—the school offers more than 150 undergraduate majors and minors.     


Learn more about Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania and what it takes to get accepted.


5. Kutztown University of Pennsylvania


Tuition In-state/Out-of-state: $7,716/$11,574

Location: Kutztown, PA 

Acceptance Rate: 93%

Undergrad Enrollment: 7,300


Established in 1866, Kutztown University (KU) is another Pennsylvania college with a long history. KU is located in a beautiful rural Pennsylvania Dutch community, but provides easy access to cities like Reading and Allenstown—both are less than 20 miles away—as well as major metropolises such as Philadelphia (70 miles away), New York (120 miles away), Baltimore (160 miles away), and Washington, D.C. (160 miles away). KU helps students control college expenses in a number of ways. For example, all incoming freshmen are considered for four tiers of merit aid—ranging from $1,000 to $5,000—based on their academic performance in high school.


Learn more about Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and what it takes to get accepted.


6. Clarion University of Pennsylvania


Tuition In-state/Out-of-state: $7,716/$11,574

Location: Clarion, PA

Acceptance Rate: 94%

Undergrad Enrollment: 3,900


Clarion University of Pennsylvania, or PennWest Clarion, began as a seminary school in 1867. Each college will retain its own unique name and identity, but students will benefit from expanded academic programs and better-controlled costs. The college offers more than 100 undergraduate degree programs ranging from applied technology to women’s and gender studies. 


Learn more about Clarion University of Pennsylvania and what it takes to get accepted.


7. California University of Pennsylvania


Tuition In-state/Out-of-state: $7,716/$11,574

Location: California, PA

Acceptance Rate: 97%

Undergrad Enrollment: 5,800


California University of Pennsylvania, or PennWest California has ranked among the best schools in the Northeast by Princeton Review for 15 consecutive years. The college prides itself on offering hands-on learning opportunities, such as internships, research, fieldwork and more. PennWest California also offers a Four-Year Graduation Plan with individual attention and advising.


Learn more about California University of Pennsylvania and what it takes to get accepted.


8. Cheyney University of Pennsylvania


Tuition In-state/Out-of-state: $7,716/$12,732

Location: Cheyney, PA

Acceptance Rate: N/A

Undergrad Enrollment: 400


Cheyney University of Pennsylvania has the distinction of being one of just two HBCUs in Pennsylvania as well as the country’s first HBCU (it was established in 1837). Cheyney is also the only HBCU in the Pennsylvania state system as well as the oldest of the 14 member institutions. According to a 2017 New York Times study, Cheney University ranked 31st out of 369 selective colleges for social mobility—the likelihood that a student will move up two or more income quintiles


Learn more about Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and what it takes to get accepted.


9. Lock Haven University


Tuition In-state/Out-of-state: $7,716/$17,290

Location: Lock Haven, PA

Acceptance Rate: 93%

Undergrad Enrollment: 3,000


Lock Haven University (LHU), or simply “The Haven,” was established in 1870 to train teachers and has been preparing students for success in careers and in life ever since. LHU’s main campus is located in the historic town of Lock Haven, which is noted for its tree-lined streets, beautiful Victorian homes, and quiet, safe neighborhoods. LHU is less than an hour from State College and Williamsport and four hours from major cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Pittsburgh. The website Niche ranks Lock Haven University 71st (out of 854) on its list of most conservative colleges in America


Learn more about Lock Haven University and what it takes to get accepted.


10. West Chester University | WCUPA


Tuition In-state/Out-of-state: $7,716/$19,290

Location: West Chester, PA

Acceptance Rate: 86%

Undergrad Enrollment: 14,500


West Chester University is the largest school of the 14 universities in the Pennsylvania state system. WCUPA offers 118 undergraduate programs through its six colleges and one school:


  • College of Arts and Humanities
  • College of Health Sciences
  • College of Business and Public Management
  • College of the Sciences and Mathematics
  • College of Education and Social Work
  • University College
  • Wells School of Music


WCUPA has taught music since its founding in 1871 and is one of only 100 colleges in the country with an “All-Steinway” designation.


Learn more about West Chester University and what it takes to get accepted.


How Much Will You Pay for College?


Net price—a calculation that uses factors like financial aid and scholarships—is the best metric for gauging what college will actually cost. While you can use each individual school’s net price calculator, our free Financial Aid Calculator lets you estimate the cost of hundreds of schools in just minutes. Use it in conjunction with our free Chancing Engine—which predicts your chance of admission based on grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and demographics—to improve your profile, increase your odds of acceptance, and plan your college finances!

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.