Pennsylvania has a rich history of higher education beginning with the founding of the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League member, in 1740. Today, it has over 180 colleges and universities ranging from large research institutions to private liberal arts colleges to religious-affiliated schools.
Pennsylvania’s long-standing commitment to both public and private education has resulted in many of its schools being among the best in the country. Whether you’re looking for a small, intimate college or the hustle and bustle of a sprawling university, Pennsylvania has many different options to choose from.
Founded in 1885 as a Quaker institution, Bryn Mawr is one of the original liberal arts women’s colleges in the Northeastern United States during the nineteenth century. While its undergraduates remain all women, men are now allowed in graduate programs. Bryn Mawr was the first college to offer doctoral programs for women and has long-standing partnerships with the University of Pennsylvania, Haverford College and Swarthmore College. Bryn Mawr College is located in Bryn Mawr, PA which has a population of around 4,000. Students enjoy the quietude of their surroundings, while still having access to Philadelphia, which is less than thirty miles away.
Located in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, Bucknell was founded in 1846. This private school is on a 450-acre rural campus and has a 9-1 student-to-teacher ratio. All classes are taught by faculty members, not graduate students, and 97 percent of faculty has terminal degrees. With a curriculum built around a liberal arts core, Bucknell is divided into three colleges: arts and sciences, engineering, and management. Yearly traditions include the Chrysalis Ball, a faculty, staff and student event, and First Night, which celebrates the completion of first-year students’ first semester.
Carnegie Mellon University was founded in 1900 as the Carnegie Technical Schools. In 1912, it began offering four-year degrees as the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and its current incarnation was created in 1967 when it merged with the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research. Located only three miles from downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this private research university is well known for its School of Computer Science and Tepper School of Business. It boasts twenty Nobel Prize winners among past and present faculty and alumni, and Randy Pausch, author of the bestselling book The Last Lecture, was a computer science faculty member.
Chartered in 1783, Dickinson College was the first college founded in the newly created United States. This private school is well known for its study abroad opportunities that include twelve global education centers located in other countries, including Australia, China, England, Japan, Korea and Russia. There’s also an accelerated program to earn a law degree through three years at Dickinson followed by three more years at the Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University. The campus is in picturesque Carlisle, population 20,000, and students may rent bicycles from the college to navigate around town.
Located in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, this private school was founded in 1899 by the Church of the Brethren and is informally known as “E-town.” The college supports all expressions of faith and has been governed by an independent board of trustees since 1993. The school’s philosophy emphasizes education for service: learning in all fields is best used to serve others. To further this aim, in 2004 Elizabethtown created the Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking to promote civic engagement through international programs. For students interested in journalism, The E-Townian, the student-run newspaper, is a highly regarded small-college newspaper.
Franklin & Marshall College is a private undergraduate liberal arts college located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1787, it was the first coed institution of higher education in the United States. The school’s educational philosophy is built upon four pillars: academic excellence, a supportive community, individualized experience and post-graduation success. All first-year students must live in one of five “College Houses” overseen by residential faculty members. The campus is within walking distance of Lancaster’s downtown where students can shop at the Central Market, the oldest continually operating farmers market in the country.
Founded in 1832, this private college is located next to the Gettysburg National Military Park, site of a defining battle in the American Civil War and where Abraham Lincoln delivered “The Gettysburg Address.” The school’s philosophy is to use experiential learning to build leaders dedicated to lives of service. Numerous internship and externship opportunities are available with travel costs paid by the Gettysburg Center for Career Development. Career immersion trips are also common. On these trips, students travel around the country on three-to-five-day trips to meet with alumni in different career fields, participate in case studies and attend industry presentations.
Located in Haverford, Pennsylvania, this private college was founded in 1833 by Quakers although it no longer has any religious affiliation. Haverford has no fraternities or sororities, but there are almost 150 student organizations to choose from. In addition, it has the only varsity cricket team and the oldest collegiate soccer team in the United States. Faculty members involve students in their research as part of the students’ educational experience. Students and faculty alike are bound by an honor code over one hundred years old that emphasizes honesty, mutual respect and trust.
Lafayette College was founded in 1826 and is in Easton, Pennsylvania, seventy miles from New York City and sixty miles from Philadelphia. Community-based and service-learning projects are a foundation of the college’s curriculum. In addition, the school has made a commitment to environmental sustainability and characterizes its campus as a living laboratory. Students can opt to study abroad for a month, a semester or even an entire year. As a residential college, almost all students live on campus, as only seventy or so seniors a year are approved to live off campus.
Founded in 1865, this private university in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is seventy-five miles west of New York City and fifty miles north of Philadelphia. Located at the base of South Mountain, half of Lehigh’s 2,358-acre campus is preserved as green space. The school is divided into four colleges: engineering and applied science, arts and sciences, business and economics, and education. There is a long tradition of service as exemplified by the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act) that originated at Lehigh. This act requires schools using federal financial aid programs to publish annual comprehensive campus crime data.
Located in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, this private Christian liberal arts college was founded by the Brethren in Christ Church in 1909. The school’s motto is “Christ Preeminent,” and its educational philosophy is based on the direct relevance of Christianity in all facets of life. A variety of Christian faiths are represented among the student body although its overall makeup is broadly evangelical. To meld community engagement and career development, Messiah implemented the Experiential Learning Initiative (ELI) requiring all students to complete an internship; service-learning course; or off-campus, cross-cultural program or to fill a leadership position or participate in undergraduate research.
Muhlenberg College is a Lutheran-affiliated private liberal arts institution founded in 1848 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. This undergraduate college’s curriculum is built upon the classic liberal arts core in conjunction with an emphasis on curiosity and creativity. Thanks to a one-billion-dollar investment, Allentown has three historic districts and a stellar park system. It also has a population with diverse political beliefs, which frequently puts the town and the school on the national stage. For example, Muhlenberg’s Institute of Public Opinion, whose polls in the field are conducted by students, is considered one of the best polling services in the country.
Founded in 1851, this private Jesuit Catholic university is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The school’s philosophy is summed up by the phrase cura personalis (“care for the whole person”). In addition to its rigorous, student-centered liberal arts education, Saint Joseph’s offers students many opportunities to prepare for their post-graduation endeavors. For example, students at the Erivan K. Haub School of Business go beyond the traditional classroom experience by using the cutting-edge Wall Street Trading Room. Students can also conduct their own original research via the Summer Scholars Program and earn a stipend while also having faculty oversight.
Located in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, this private liberal arts college was founded in 1864 by Quakers but has been non-sectarian since 1906. Swarthmore is one of the few liberal arts colleges with an engineering program. Students can also take classes at Haverford and Bryn Mawr. Swarthmore is considered an elite liberal arts college due in large part to its Honors Program. Honors students participate in small seminars and typically write three ten-page papers, one of which will usually be expanded to an end-of-semester, twenty-to-thirty-page thesis. Outside subject-matter experts conduct oral and written exams for honors students after their final semester.
The University of Pennsylvania, as noted in the opening paragraph, was founded in 1740 and molded by Benjamin Franklin’s educational tenets. The university is one of eight Ivy League schools. Its educational philosophy combines the classic liberal arts curriculum with pre-professional preparation. Penn has four undergraduate schools: arts and sciences, nursing, engineering and applied science, and business. There are also many interdisciplinary programs available, including the Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management and the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business. Opportunities for global education are offered by Penn Abroad, which allows more than 600 undergraduates to study abroad for a semester or more each year.
Founded in 1787, this state-related university is in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, only three miles from the city’s downtown. Several of its programs such as engineering and education are highly regarded, and this also includes Pitt’s School of Medicine, which works in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Students ride public transportation for free and have free admission to cultural centers, including the Andy Warhol Museum. The student body is well known for its devotion to both collegiate and professional sports, and the “Oakland Zoo” student cheering section is a staple at basketball games.
Located in Scranton, Pennsylvania, this private Jesuit Catholic research university was founded in 1888. The school is divided into three colleges: arts and sciences, management, and professional studies. The classic liberal arts core develops the critical thinking and communication skills students will need in their personal and professional lives. Each year, approximately fifty first-year students are selected for the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts (SJLA) Honors Program. In the SJLA, faculty members are paired with inductees to explore philosophy, literature, and theology and how they relate to serving the common good. Other select opportunities include the Business Leadership Honors Program and the Faculty/Student Research Program.
Ursinus College was founded in 1869 in the aptly named Collegeville, Pennsylvania. This private, small school is located twenty-five miles from Philadelphia. It offers a range of majors from wellness education to applied economics, but all students must take the Common Intellectual Experience seminar. Designed to prepare students for the remainder of their college education, this class asks them questions such as “What should matter to me, and what should I do?” and “How can we live together and understand the world?” Ursinus College was one of forty schools included in the 2006 bestselling guidebook Colleges That Change Lives.
Founded in 1842, this Roman Catholic-affiliated private research university is in Radnor Township, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition forms the foundation of Villanova’s educational philosophy as embodied in the school’s six colleges: liberal arts and sciences, business, engineering, nursing, professional studies, and law. Villanova offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs, which emphasize the collaborative pursuit of knowledge. More of its students participate in Habitat for Humanity projects than any other school in the country, and the annual Special Olympics competition is the largest student-run event of its kind in the world.