Best Value Colleges And Universities In Pennsylvania

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Are you ready to find your fit?

By Iris Stone

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Looking for a top college in Pennsylvania? This ranking will serve as your go-to resource for high value, low cost schools in the state. And Pennsylvania has plenty to offer in terms of higher education – it provides easy access to city hot spots like New York; Boston; Washington, D.C.; and of course Pennsylvania, and it’s home to some of the best-ranked universities in the country, from the UPenn to Carnegie Mellon.

For a look at the top online offerings in PA, see Best Value Online Colleges and Universities in PA.

When thinking about where to go to college, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s no one, perfect choice for everyone. Not only that, but it might not be possible to find a college that checks off every last item on your wish list. That’s because the very best schools in terms of academics and athletics often unavoidably come with a higher price tag, or they sacrifice another want, like small class sizes. But even when it comes to compromising, there are some deals that are better than other. And that’s what we bring to you: a list of Pennsylvania colleges that provide a blend of affordability, accessibility, and quality that will appeal to most applicants.

Methodology

We determined the ranking as follows:

Graduation Rate: Defined as the number of students who complete their degree within 150% of “normal time” (i.e. six years for a four-year program), graduation rate provides a good indication of a college’s ability to keep students on track and engaged during their studies. We collected this information from College Navigator and weighted it 25% of the total score.

Net Price: Unlike tuition, net price offers a more representative idea of what a student might pay for college. It takes into account everything from room and board expenses and cost of living to average scholarship and financial aid packages, and of course tuition (using in-state rates for public universities). We collected this information from College Navigator and weighted it 35% of the total score.

Acceptance Rate: This statistic indicates the percentage of students who were accepted to the university out of all those who applied. It is generally taken as an indicator of both the school’s selectivity and its popularity, as schools that receive more applications generally have lower acceptance rates, with some exceptions. We collected this information from College Navigator and weighted it 25% of the total score.

20-Year R.O.I.: “Return on Investment” refers to the amount of money a student will recoup after graduating college, determined by calculating the average salary of graduates and subtracting the four-year cost of tuition. This figure provides an approximation of how much money graduates from any particular university can expect to make in the 20 years after graduation, and serves as an accurate representation of the school’s career preparation abilities and students’ success post-grad. We collected this information from PayScale and weighted it 15% of the total score (weighted less than other categories because this information was not available for all colleges).

When all was said and done, we tallied the points and gave each school a score out of 200. No schools received a perfect score, and we wouldn’t expect them to (see the point about compromise above). But the following 30 colleges will undoubtedly bring you value: they all excel in various areas of academics, athletics, research, and extracurriculars, and more than half boast an annual net price less than $23,000 a year.

Rank School Location
1 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
2 Curtis Institute of Music Philadelphia, PA
3 Lafayette College Easton, PA
4 Swarthmore College Swarthmore, PA
5 Haverford College Haverford, PA
6 Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA
7 Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA
8 Bucknell University Lewisburg, PA
9 Lincoln University Jefferson City, MO
10 Franklin and Marshall College Lancaster, PA
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  1. University of Pennsylvania
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Pennsylvania has a distinguished reputation that is well earned; from its rigorous coursework to comprehensive research programs, UPenn is synonymous with serious intellectual horsepower. Undergraduate degrees are divided between the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of Nursing, and the Wharton School of Business - and it boasts top-rated programs in each of these disciplines. Life at Penn is also rich in culture, art, and athletics, and it will be practically impossible for you to not get involved. But no matter how you spend your time, students here can feel comforted in the knowledge that they belong to what many consider the best university in Pennsylvania.

  2. Curtis Institute of Music
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Curtis is not like the rest of the universities on this list, and for good reason. In short, if you want to attend one of the best Pennsylvania colleges for music, the Curtis Institute is the way to go. The college has an acceptance rate of just 5% and only admits "exceptionally gifted young musicians" who have the potential to perform "on the highest professional level." Only about 165 young learners form the student body, but in exchange for their hard work, they benefit from celebrated professors, individualized attention, and enviable resources. And although admittance is based solely on artistic promise, Curtis Institute of Music rewards all those accepted with full tuition scholarships (the net price listed below represents living costs and additional fees, although Curtis often provides financial help to cover those expenses as well).

  3. Lafayette College
    Location

    Easton, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    If there's one best way to judge a college, it's by asking the students themselves. Lafayette excels when it comes to student reviews, and the National Survey of Student Engagement reveals that learners appreciate the academic challenge, active learning, and student-faculty interaction that characterizes this traditional liberal arts college. Lafayette works to develop the whole person - 20% of students report engaging in activities to enhance their spirituality, while more than 50% have studied abroad at least once by their senior year. You'll enjoy strong academic support no matter what field you choose, from Government and Law and Foreign Language (yes, that's one major!) to Electrical and Computer Engineering. It's no wonder Lafayette sports a graduation rate of 90%!

  4. Swarthmore College
    Location

    Swarthmore, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Swarthmore is another liberal arts college looking to redefine the private school experience. It places equal emphasis on humanities and engineering majors and promotes a global outlook, drawing students from all 50 states and numerous other countries. It also seeks accessibility, and the college's generous financial aid packages keep its doors open to students of all socioeconomic levels. That being said, this affordable Pennsylvania college is exceedingly selective, admitting just 17% of applicants. Swarthmore is also big on community service and offers resources like the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, which integrates hands-on learning with opportunities to give back and address local issues.

  5. Haverford College
    Location

    Haverford, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    If you're looking for a challenging academic experience that will push even the smartest students to their limits, consider Haverford College. One of the best colleges in Pennsylvania, HC accepts only the brightest students and has an acceptance rate of just 25%. The pristine, wooded campus is located just a short distance from Philadelphia, serving as a quiet weekday retreat for students who need a buffer between them and the hubbub of the big city. Campus is inclusive and cozy, and 98% of the more than 1,000 students choose to make their home in the dorms. Haverford is also known for the freedom it gives students, who enjoy substantial flexibility to chart their own course, from writing their own honor code to designing their own senior thesis.

  6. Carnegie Mellon University
    Location

    Pittsburgh, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Carnegie Mellon University's distinguished reputation in research, science, and engineering makes it a powerhouse in STEM education on the East Coast. Students choose CMU for its unparalleled academic experience, which features small class sizes and experienced professors (96% of whom have PhDs). Whether you're looking for a degree in computer science or robotics, you can't go wrong with CMU - it even has campus in Silicon Valley! In general, the university has established itself as an advocate for innovation, an attitude that has fostered growth in its business and economics departments. In fact, it is one of just 25 universities to be a member of the World Economic Forum's Global University Leaders Forum, and you'll find the CMU name behind more than 1,000 startups and entrepreneurial ventures.

  7. Lehigh University
    Location

    Bethlehem, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Lehigh University is one of the largest private schools in the country, taking claim to more than 2,300 acres of beautiful woodlands and manicured lawns. But that's not the only way this top Pennsylvania college has made a "big" impact; Lehigh supports nearly 7,000 students and has built an international reputation for its contributions to academic research. And yet despite its stature, the university maintains a small school feel for students who are looking for something a little cozier. Lehigh puts an emphasis on inclusivity in all its affairs, and students practice kindness and compassion in Greek life, community service, and religious organizations. And this approach seems to pay off - nearly 90% of graduates earn their diploma within six years.

  8. Bucknell University
    Location

    Lewisburg, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Bucknell University bucks the stereotypes of a traditional liberal arts college, offering a much wider selection of majors than you'd find at most small schools. Academic options include Animal Behavior, Global Management, Biomedical Engineering, Environmental Geosciences, East Asian Studies, and much more. Similarly, BU offers a cornucopia of activities outside the classroom, from Greek life to student government. Artists can find their niche with the Bucknell Opera Company or the Gallery Engagement Team, while social butterflies can apply for the first-year "Building on Foundations" teambuilding activities or go on a wilderness excursion known as "BuckWild."

  9. Lincoln University
    Location

    Jefferson City, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The history of Lincoln University dates back to the mid-1800's, when John Miller Dickey established Ashmun Institute as the very first college in the world dedicated to educating African American men. Eventually the school took on the name of President Abraham Lincoln and opened its doors to women as well. The university continues to welcome an interracial, international group of students to campus each year and has produced a list of impressive alumni, including Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall. Undergraduate programs include all the basics, such as Biology and History, as well as more contemporary degrees in Environmental Science, Information Technology, and Mass Communications.

  10. Franklin and Marshall College
    Location

    Lancaster, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Franklin and Marshall College, which boasts a more than 200-year history in education, attracts students who are interested in hands-on learning and immersive experiences. F&M students enjoy small class sizes and professors who are constantly thinking of new ways to get them out of the classroom and expand their horizons. Research is an essential part of study at Franklin and Marshall College - at least 50% of seniors engage in some sort of independent research or self-designed project. Compare this to other liberal arts schools, where less than a third of students participate, and it's easy to see why F&M is one of the best colleges in Pennsylvania. The school also emphasizes a quality it calls "connections," which encourages students to collaborate with peers in other majors and identify links between disciplines.

Sources:
College Navigator
PayScale ROI

About the Author:
Iris Stone began her writing career as a freelance writer and researcher. She now owns and operates a writing and editing firm that works with clients all across the country. Her work has included articles related to education policy, colleges and universities, academic programs, and careers.

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