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Top 25 Best Value Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania for 2021

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The state of Pennsylvania offers plenty of options for those looking to further their education with a degree from a college or university. With more than 100 universities and colleges, residents and out-of-state students alike have plenty of options for higher education in this state. The University of Pennsylvania is perhaps the state’s most notable institution and is an Ivy League school and was famously founded by Benjamin Franklin. Students can also choose from University of Pennsylvania locations in both the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions.

The best colleges in Pennsylvania include major public research universities, private liberal arts colleges, Ivy League schools, and smaller specialty colleges. Each type of college or university offers something unique to prospective students, whether it’s research opportunities, highly-respected professors, a wide range of degree options, or tailored degree plans. And, the options in this state aren’t just limited to residents of PA. Many colleges in Pennsylvania maintain agreements with other schools in the state, allowing learners to access courses from multiple institutions.

There are other perks of attending college in this state as well. Graduates who find employment in Pennsylvania can expect, on average, to earn decent wages. While the salary you earn in this state will depend on your job, experience, and other factors, the average annual earnings in the state was about $53,950 as of May 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In this state, lawyers made, on average, about $139,120 per year as of 2020. Elementary school teachers made, on average, about $65,820 per year, and registered nurses made about $74,170 per year on average.

If you want to attend college in this state, a good place to start is by looking at the best value colleges in PA. These schools will help you save money while you earn a valuable degree in a field that interests you.

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The Top 25 Best Value Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania of 2021



  1. University of Pennsylvania
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded by Benjamin Franklin, Penn is a private Ivy League research university located in Philadelphia. Penn offers a variety of bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. The university delivers academic programs through four undergraduate schools and 12 graduate and professional schools.

    Undergraduate students can pursue degrees in the arts and sciences, engineering and applied science, business, and nursing. Penn offers early-decision admission for first-year freshmen. Students admitted during the early-decision consideration are obligated to accept the offer of admission. Legacy applicants with university affiliations receive priority during the early-decision admission period.

    Each graduate school features a unique admissions process. Prospective graduate students should apply directly to their program of interest. Most Ph.D. programs require applicants to submit GRE scores.

    University of Pennsylvania is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

    • Graduation rate: 96% 
    • School status: Private 
    • Tuition cost: $60,042
    • Number of programs offered: 100+
    • City location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    • Admission requirements: 1500 SAT
    • Contact: (215) 898-5000
    • Website/program link
  2. Swarthmore College
    Location

    Swarthmore, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A private liberal arts school, Swarthmore College participates in the Tri-College Consortium. This cooperative academic agreement allows students to cross-register for courses from other colleges in Pennsylvania. Swarthmore College also participates in the Quaker Consortium with the University of Pennsylvania.

    The college reports an 8-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Students choose from more than 40 areas of study and can design their own major. Swarthmore College features an engineering program and offers externship, internship, and research opportunities.

    Undergraduate applicants can submit the Common Application, Coalition Application, or the Questbridge Application. Applicants must submit an essay, high school transcripts, and two teacher recommendations. The college waives the standardized test score requirement during admission cycles between 2020 and 2022.

    Swarthmore College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

    • Graduation rate: 94% 
    • School status: Private
    • Tuition cost: $54,456
    • Number of programs offered: 100
    • City location: Swarthmore, Pennsylvania
    • Admission requirements: 1470 SAT
    • Contact: (610) 328-8000
    • Website/program link
  3. Carnegie Mellon University
    Location

    Pittsburgh, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded by Andrew Carnegie, CMU is a private research university located in Pittsburgh. The university maintains seven colleges and independent schools in fields such as fine arts, engineering, and business. All of these colleges and schools offer both undergraduate and graduate programs.

    Undergraduate applicants must submit high school transcripts, an evaluation from their school counselor, a teacher recommendation, and an essay. CMU typically requires SAT or ACT scores but has made standardized test scores optional for learners applying for fall 2021 admission. Individual programs may post additional requirements.

    Graduate-level admission requirements vary by program, and each department reviews applicants independently. Students may apply to multiple programs at CMU. Most graduate and professional programs require applicants to submit standardized test scores.

    Carnegie Mellon University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

    • Graduation rate: 90%
    • School status: Private
    • Tuition cost: $58,810
    • Number of programs offered: 100+
    • City location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    • Admission requirements: 1510 SAT
    • Contact: (412) 268-2000
    • Website/program link
  4. Lehigh University
    Location

    Bethlehem, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A private research university located in Bethlehem, Lehigh offers more than 100 undergraduate programs, 87 graduate and certificate programs, and 20 interdisciplinary programs. The university reports a 9-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, with an average class size of 29 students.

    Learners can pursue degrees in fields such as business, engineering, education, and health. One of the best universities in Pennsylvania for learners with diverse interests, Lehigh offers dual-degree programs that allow students to earn two bachelor’s degrees in five years. Students can choose from interdisciplinary programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

    Undergraduate applicants must submit the Common Application or Coalition Application, short essays, a counselor recommendation, high school transcripts, a teacher recommendation, and SAT or ACT scores. Lehigh waives the standardized test score requirement for applicants planning to enroll during the 2020-21 school year.

    Lehigh University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

    • Graduation rate: 90%
    • School status: Private
    • Tuition cost: $55,260
    • Number of programs offered: 100+
    • City location: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
    • Admission requirements: 1365 SAT
    • Contact: (610) 758-3000
    • Website/program link
  5. Bucknell University
    Location

    Lewisburg, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Bucknell University is a private liberal arts college located in Lewisburg. The university offers top-ranked liberal arts, engineering, and management programs. Students choose from 65 majors, and the university reports a 9-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

    Bucknell University fosters positive living and learning environments, with small class sizes, collaborative residential communities, undergraduate research opportunities, and study-abroad programs. Students also take writing courses taught by professors in their field to prepare for academic and professional writing.

    Applicants can submit either the Coalition Application or the Common Application. Prospective students need a high school diploma or the equivalent. The university launched a test-optional pilot program beginning in the 2019-20 academic year. Applicants do not need to submit standardized test scores. Candidates should apply directly to the college of their choice.

    Bucknell University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

    • Graduation rate: 90% 
    • School status: Private
    • Tuition cost: $58,202
    • Number of programs offered: 69
    • City location: Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
    • Admission requirements: 1337 SAT
    • Contact: (570) 577-2000
    • Website/program link
  6. Haverford College
    Location

    Haverford, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A private liberal arts college, Haverford College offers a variety of degree options and maintains a 9-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. The school participates in the Tri-College Consortium and the Quaker Consortium. Students can cross-register at other colleges in Pennsylvania.

    Undergraduate students can choose from 31 bachelor's degrees in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. All undergraduate students must complete a senior thesis, during which they conduct independent research in collaboration with faculty members. Through its partnerships with other institutions, Haverford College offers accelerated graduate degree options and joint master's programs.

    Haverford College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

    • Graduation rate: 90%
    • School status: Private
    • Tuition cost: $59,162
    • Number of programs offered: 42
    • City location: Haverford, Pennsylvania 
    • Admission requirements: 1450 SAT
    • Contact: (610) 896-1000
    • Website/program link 
  7. Villanova University
    Location

    Villanova, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A private Catholic university, Villanova offers a variety of degree and certificate programs at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Students can take courses through six colleges, in fields including engineering, business, nursing, and law. Villanova offers distance learning options at all degree levels.

    As the nation's only Augustinian Catholic university, Villanova emphasizes Augustinian values with an administration led by priests. All students take a required Augustine and culture seminar.

    First-year undergraduate applicants must submit essays, high school transcripts, counselor and teacher recommendations, and a midyear report. Optionally, applicants can submit SAT or ACT scores. Graduate applicants should apply directly to their prospective program.

    Villanova University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

    • Graduation rate: 90%
    • School status: Private
    • Tuition cost: $57,460
    • Number of programs offered: 88
    • City location: Villanova, Pennsylvania
    • Admission requirements: 1395 SAT
    • Contact: (610) 519-4500
    • Website/program link
  8. Franklin and Marshall College
    Location

    Lancaster, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    With 175 faculty members and about 2,400 full-time students, F&M offers bachelor's degrees in several areas of study. The college fosters collaboration between students and faculty. More than half of F&M seniors conduct an independent study or design a custom major. Students can engage in research, direct or compose in the performing arts, and participate in global education experiences.

    Unlike other colleges in Pennsylvania, F&M offers a unique summer scholars program during which students work with faculty members for 10 weeks. Learners in the program create innovative projects in areas such as the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences. The summer program often culminates in coauthored publications in peer-reviewed journals.

    Applicants must submit the Common Application or Coalition Application, high school transcripts, recommendation letters from a counselor and a teacher, a midyear report, and SAT or ACT scores.

    Franklin and Marshall College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

    • Graduation rate: 85%
    • School status: Private
    • Tuition cost: $61,062
    • Number of programs offered: 42
    • City location: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
    • Admission requirements: 1360 SAT
    • Contact: (717) 358-3911
    • Website/program link
  9. Lafayette College
    Location

    Easton, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A private liberal arts college, Lafayette educates students at its main campus in Easton and at a satellite campus in New York City. With some of the most diverse Pennsylvania programs, the college offers degree options in 51 areas of study, including the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

    Students declare a major by the end of their sophomore year. Learners can double major or design a custom major. Examples of self-designed majors include behavioral economics, child development and social inequality, and nanoscience. All learners complete core courses. Degree-seekers can also participate in departmental honors programs, interdisciplinary programs, tech clinics, and service-learning opportunities.

    Lafayette bases admission decisions on each applicant's previous academic performance, admission interview, leadership potential, extracurricular activities, and SAT or ACT scores. Fall 2021 applicants do not need to submit standardized test scores.

    Lafayette College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

    • Graduation rate: 88%
    • School status: Private
    • Tuition cost: $55,742
    • Number of programs offered: 39
    • City location: Easton, Pennsylvania
    • Admission requirements: 1325 SAT
    • Contact: (610) 330-5000
    • Website/program link
  10. Muhlenberg College
    Location

    Allentown, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    A private liberal arts college located in Allentown, Muhlenberg College offers 50 undergraduate and continuing studies programs in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Muhlenberg reports an 11-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Learners can enroll in accelerated programs, honors programs, and exchange programs. Students can also pursue double majors, independent studies, internships, and study-abroad opportunities.

    Muhlenberg delivers pre-professional programs to prepare students for legal and health careers. Graduates often become dentists, veterinarians, optometrists, and pharmacists. The college's academic partnerships allow students to earn degrees at an accelerated pace and to transfer easily into medical and law programs.

    Applicants must submit recommendations from a counselor and a teacher, a midyear report, and SAT or ACT scores. While standardized test scores are optional for general admission, applicants to academic partnership programs must submit ACT or SAT scores. Graduate-level application requirements vary by program.

    Muhlenberg College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

    • Graduation rate: 84%
    • School status: Private
    • Tuition cost: $54,600
    • Number of programs offered: 45
    • City location: Allentown, Pennsylvania
    • Admission requirements: 1237 SAT
    • Contact: (484) 664-3100
    • Website/program link

  • Methodology: Here's How We Rank Schools


    At Best Value Schools, we help students of all ages get the best possible value for their education. When choosing the best schools and programs, we prioritize tuition rates, student debt, financial aid opportunities, graduation rates, and the availability of online programs.
    We source unbiased data from government and educational databases like the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 6,374 schools across the U.S. We organize that data into five weighted categories to compile our school rankings.































    Metric Data Used Percentage
    Academic Quality Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates 25%
    Affordability Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid 35%
    Reputation Admission and enrollment rates 15%
    Program Offerings Number of program options 10%
    Online Enrollment Score Portion of learners taking at least one online course 15%

    You can read more about our comprehensive evaluation process on our methodology page.

Have Questions About the Best Value Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania? We Have Answers.


  • How long do you have to live in Pennsylvania to get in-state tuition?

    To qualify for in-state tuition rates, students must reside in Pennsylvania for at least 12 continuous months prior to enrollment. During that time, residents must be in the state for a purpose other than pursuing an education.


  • Does Pennsylvania offer free college?

    Some of the best colleges in Pennsylvania provide heavily subsidized options and scholarships based on financial need and academic potential. These opportunities may cover the full cost of obtaining a degree.


  • How many colleges and universities are located in Pennsylvania?

    Pennsylvania contains more than 160 colleges and universities, including 58 public schools and numerous private liberal arts schools.


  • What is the average cost of college in Pennsylvania?

    For the 2017-18 academic year, the average cost of tuition and fees at Pennsylvania public schools was $14,534 for in-state students and $40,068 for out-of-state students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.


In-State Tuition Cost in Pennsylvania

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), students paid, on average, about $9,212 for tuition at public institutions and $30,723 for tuition costs at private schools in the U.S during the 2018-2019 school year. 

On average, tuition costs in the state of Pennsylvania were a bit higher than the national average. That said, if you attend a public school like University of Pittsburgh, the tuition cost will be much lower than tuition at a private college or university. The average in-state tuition cost in Pennsylvania for the 2018-2019 school year was about $14,812. Private school tuition in this state cost students, on average, about $41,703 per year during the same time. 

Out-of-State Tuition Cost in Pennsylvania

If you’re a student from out of state who wants to attend a school in the state of Pennsylvania, you need to be prepared to pay more for tuition than students who are residents of the state. 

Out-of-state tuition costs in Pennsylvania averaged about $28,527 for the 2018-2019 school year, which is nearly twice the cost of in-state tuition. Fortunately, students can help make up the difference by applying for scholarships and other financial aid options.

Average Cost of Room and Board in Pennsylvania 

Another higher education cost to consider is room and board, which is separate from your tuition costs. Students can expect to pay nearly as much in room and board in Pennsylvania as they do for tuition at public schools in this state.

The average cost of room and board for students attending a four-year public school in Pennsylvania was about $11,475 during the 2018-2019 school year, according to NCES. Students who attended private schools paid about $13,545 on average during the same time frame. That’s slightly higher than the national average cost for room and board, which was about $11,386 per year at public schools and $12,787 at private schools during the 2018-2019 school year. 

You also have the option to live off-campus in many cases. This may help save money on housing costs, but it depends on a number of factors. In Pennsylvania, rent for off-campus housing costs will vary depending on the city you attend school in, the area you live in, and other factors.  
For example, off-campus housing costs when attending the University of Pennsylvania average about $14,000 per year. On the other hand, the average cost of living off-campus while attending Penn State is about $9,600, according to the college cost estimates offered by the school.

Scholarships for Students in Pennsylvania

Students attending colleges in Pennsylvania can qualify for various scholarships, including some reserved for state residents. Organizations award scholarships based on financial need and academic merit. Some scholarships support learners in a specific field or minority demographic. Learners enrolled in Pennsylvania programs can apply to the three scholarships below.

Clarkston Scholars Program

Who Can Apply: Clarkston Consulting awards this scholarship to a sophomore attending a four-year college or university in Pennsylvania. Applicants must be majoring in the life sciences. The scholarship winner also receives mentorship from Clarkston Consulting during the two-year scholarship period.
Amount: $10,000

D. Colman Witte Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports high school and college students who are enrolled in or plan to enroll in an art, architecture, or interior design program. Candidates must attend a college or university in the Philadelphia area and need a minimum 2.75 GPA. Applicants submit a portfolio that includes 10 images.
Amount: $500-$6,000 per year

Feinstein Fund for Philadelphia Scholars

Who Can Apply: High school seniors who live in Philadelphia and demonstrate financial need can apply. Applicants need a minimum 3.25 GPA and must submit high school transcripts, a college acceptance letter, and a financial aid award letter. Candidates must also provide a copy of their FAFSA report, a recommendation letter, and SAT or ACT scores.
Amount: $10,000

Top 10 Best Value Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania for 2021

Rank School Location
1 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
2 Swarthmore College Swarthmore, PA
3 Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA
4 Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA
5 Bucknell University Lewisburg, PA
6 Haverford College Haverford, PA
7 Villanova University Villanova, PA
8 Franklin and Marshall College Lancaster, PA
9 Lafayette College Easton, PA
10 Muhlenberg College Allentown, PA

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Amanda Push

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Amanda Push is a freelance writer who covers education topics for Best Value Schools, Grad School Hub, and Criminal Justice Degree Schools, and others. Her writing has also been featured at TheSimpleDollar.com, Interest.com, MyMove.com, and Safety.com.

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Angelica Leicht

SCHOOLS EDITOR

Angelica Leicht is the schools editor at Best Value Schools who oversees our college rankings, school profiles, and other higher education coverage. She previously served as an education reporter at Kearney Hub, and an editor at the Dallas Observer and Houston Press. Her writing has appeared in Affordable Colleges Online, Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, and elsewhere.

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