8 Best Liberal Arts Colleges in Pennsylvania

One important choice you’ll make when applying to college is the type of school you want to attend. Liberal arts colleges (LAC) often appeal to students who prefer an intimate setting and community. Along with several other states, Pennsylvania is home to a host of prestigious LACs, each with its own personality and strengths.

 

How are Liberal Arts Colleges Different?

 

Liberal arts colleges differ from research universities primarily in size and focus. 

 

Most LACs are under 3,000 students, and their average course size is about 15-30 students. A class of 50-100 students would be considered “large” at a liberal arts college, and these are uncommon! Professors also focus on teaching, rather than research, and undergraduate academics are heavily emphasized (only a handful of LACs have grad programs, anyways). The extra engagement with professors is especially helpful for those hoping to attend graduate school, as a stronger student-professor relationship leads to better mentorship and especially powerful letters of recommendation.

 

Liberal arts colleges also offer a different academic focus. While universities typically work on preparing students for their future careers, the purpose of LACs is to develop their students into critical thinkers and global citizens. Liberal arts colleges generally have broader general education requirements, encouraging their students to get a well-rounded education. On the flip side, some may have an open curriculum, or no general education requirements, which also encourages students to explore a variety of interests.

 

For more about liberal arts colleges, see our post: What is a Liberal Arts College, and How Are They Different?

Best Liberal Arts Colleges in Pennsylvania

 

1. Bryn Mawr College

Location: Bryn Mawr

Acceptance rate: 34%

U.S. News Ranking: 27

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1290-1510 SAT, 28-33 ACT

Enrollment: 1,334

 

One of the prestigious Seven Sisters institutions, Bryn Mawr is an all-women’s college located just outside Philadelphia (note that the graduate programs are coed!). Along with the many academic programs within the institution, students can also take advantage of courses offered by Haverford College, Swarthmore College, and the University of Pennsylvania, thanks to the Tri-College and Quaker Consortiums.

 

Bryn Mawr itself offers 35 majors, including the unique Growth and Structure of Cities program, an early interdisciplinary major established in 1871. Students also have the option of creating independent majors. Within their major, students choose electives and pursue a senior project, as well as complete a writing-intensive requirement.

 

2. Bucknell University

Location: Lewisburg

Acceptance rate: 33%

U.S. News Ranking: 35

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1200-1380 SAT, 28-32 ACT

Enrollment: 3,627

 

Situated in scenic Lewisburg, Bucknell offers an abundance of opportunities, including small class sizes, study-abroad programs, and residential colleges, in which students live among like-minded classmates in themed residences.

 

The university is comprised of three colleges: Arts & Sciences, Engineering, and the Freeman College of Management. These colleges offer plenty of unique opportunities, such as five-year dual-degree programs in the College of Engineering. The Writing Across the Curriculum Program ensures students are equipped to write in multiple contexts, and there is plenty of funding available for undergraduate research.

 

3. Dickinson College

Location: Carlisle

Acceptance rate: 49%

U.S. News Ranking: 46

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1240-1410 SAT, 28-32 ACT

Enrollment: 2,345

 

Dickinson has a deep commitment to experiential learning, and students can get involved in research as early as their first year. They also are dedicated to sustainability and social awareness. Dickinson was the first college in the state to achieve carbon neutrality, and according to a recent survey, 81% of alumni participate in community service or volunteer work. Meanwhile, 65% of students study abroad while in school.

 

As freshmen, students participate in a First-Year Seminar, which helps them build skills like research, writing, and critical thinking. Students may also live in a Residential Learning Community with others who share their interests.

 

4. Franklin & Marshall College

Location: Lancaster

Acceptance rate: 35%

U.S. News Ranking: 38

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1400-1470 SAT, 29-32 ACT

Enrollment: 2,426

 

One prominent facet of the Franklin & Marshall (or F&M as it’s known) is that a majority of seniors participate in an “independent study or self-designed major,” many more than at any other liberal arts college in the U.S. Along with more traditional majors, F&M offers programs in Creative Writing, Scientific and Philosophical Studies of Mind, and Bioinformatics.

 

The school also offers plenty of international learning opportunities; the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement, for example, provides community-based learning classes and internships in Africa. 

5. Gettysburg College

Location: Gettysburg

Acceptance rate: 45%

U.S. News Ranking: 53

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1250-1400 SAT, 27-31 ACT

Enrollment: 2,623

 

Located just by the eponymous battle that changed the course of American history, Gettysburg is a college with a strong commitment to history and tradition. In homage to its designation as the site of the infamous Civil War battle, first-year students participate in a procession through the town and listen to a guest read the Gettysburg Address annually.

 

Today, the college continues to offer stellar academics, with four types of undergraduate degrees conferred: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Music, and Bachelor of Music Education. Gettysburg offers numerous programs, including ones focused on the Civil War and a five-year, dual-degree engineering program with prestigious universities such as Columbia. Students may also design their own majors with approval.

 

6. Haverford College

Location: Haverford

Acceptance rate: 19%

U.S. News Ranking: 11

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1360-1530 SAT, 32-34 ACT

Enrollment: 1,310

 

Founded on Quaker values, Haverford has no religious affiliation today, though some traditions persist. Enforced by students themselves, Haverford’s Honor Code has been in place since 1897 and is revised and re-ratified annually. It affects many aspects of the college and shapes a cooperative, respectful environment. Notable features include a lack of proctors during exams and RAs in dorms.

 

Many classes are seminar-style, featuring lively debates and discussions. Nearly half of faculty live on campus, making them accessible and contributing to the close-knit nature of the Haverford community.

 

7. Lafayette College

Location: Easton

Acceptance rate: 29%

U.S. News Ranking: 39

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 650-720 (EBRW); 670-770 (M)/30-34

Enrollment: 2,610 

 

Offering 51 majors, Lafayette is particularly well-known for its top-notch engineering programs. It also has the unique Tech Clinic, a two-semeter program where students from diverse majors come together to develop solutions for real-world clients. Previous projects include trout farming to a self-guided automobile tour.

 

As a Division I school, Lafayette dominates on the field as well as in the classroom. There are also plenty of clubs and organizations, including fraternities and sororities.

 

8. Swarthmore College

Location: Swarthmore

Acceptance rate: 9%

U.S. News Ranking: 3

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1380-1540 SAT, 31-34 ACT

Enrollment: 1,641

 

Swarthmore’s gorgeous arboretum is just one reason students flock to the prestigious liberal arts college. The academics, of course, are another. All programs foster collaboration and exploration, encouraging students to develop and pursue unique ideas. Some students participate in the Honors Program, focusing on seminars and special projects. Thanks to the Tri-Co Consortium, students can take courses at Bryn Mawr and Haverford. 

 

Currently nonsectarian, the institution continues to uphold Quaker principles, emphasizing individual responsibility for living simply and in accordance with one’s truth, pursuing hard work, and being generous.

 

Looking to attend a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania? No matter what your profile or interests, we can help you get there. Check out CollegeVine’s admissions platform for guidance on building your college list and improving your applications. The best part is that it’s totally free!

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.