The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education encompasses just 14 universities across the Keystone State, but the full roster of college and university options is much broader than that. In fact, only three states in the U.S. are home to more four-year colleges than Pennsylvania, according to 2017 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
With so many schools to choose from, knowing how they stack up against each other on key metrics can be a great help when it comes to deciding where to get your degree. We did a far-reaching study of data from the NCES and other statistical sources to help determine which institutions could be called the best traditional and online colleges in Pennsylvania. We've included our full methodology at the end of the article to show you just how we chose the winners.
Are you more likely to find a certain degree at a large central campus or a regional satellite location? Which schools work with the Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center (PA TRAC) to streamline university admissions for graduates of Pennsylvania community colleges? We'll give you information on these points and more, including affordability, flexibility and student success data from our ten best schools in the state. You can also check out our ranking for the best community colleges in Pennsylvania to help you reach your educational goals.
Best 4-Year Colleges in Pennsylvania
We gathered intel about the things that matter most to students -- affordability, flexibility, student debt and academic success -- and analyzed it to determine the top ten colleges and universities in Pennsylvania. Tap the methodology button to see how we did it, and read on to find out which Pennsylvania colleges can be called the best Pennsylvania colleges.
Pennsylvania State University operates two dozen campuses in cities and towns across the commonwealth, from the Philadelphia metro area to the shores of Lake Erie. The flagship location in University Park has come to be known as one of the best schools in Pennsylvania, particularly when it comes to business and engineering.
Penn State also holds a spot among the top colleges and universities in Pennsylvania for online students, thanks to its World Campus distance education initiative. With more than 40 undergraduate degrees, over 50 graduate plans and nearly 70 certificate programs, online students have a wide range of options for degree programs.
What's more, earning a degree here can give you access to unexpected benefits after graduation. Penn State boasts the largest alumni network in the nation.
Located in the University City neighborhood of Philadelphia, Drexel University ranks among the largest private universities in the country. Its 15 colleges and schools offer more than 200 degree programs, and research partnerships with China and Israel can help students and faculty stay abreast of worldwide innovation.
Drexel has long been one of the most forward-looking Pennsylvania universities in terms of technological advancement, which could be a good sign if looking for an online degree program. It required incoming students to have access to computers as early as 1983, and it led the charge toward establishing campus-wide wireless connectivity in 2000.
Students looking to combine their academic training with professional experience should check out the Drexel Co-op program. Co-op students can take on entry-level careers in their field to add real-world perspective to their lessons and earn while they learn.
First established in Philadelphia in 1851, this Catholic university in the Jesuit tradition encourages students to "Live Greater" by using their skills and talents to work toward the global good. Saint Joseph's University became a full-fledged university in 1978 and has grown in leaps and bounds since then.
The catalog at SJU features over 50 bachelor's programs and more than 50 pathways for graduate study. The Erivan K. Haub School of Business at SJU offers a few degree programs that may not be widely available elsewhere, including master's degrees and graduate certificates in food marketing and healthcare marketing.
SJU also goes out of its way to ensure that its faculty has high-level credentials. No less than 100 percent of tenure-track professors here hold the most advanced degrees available in their discipline.
Student-faculty ratio can be a solid predictor of professors' availability to work individually with students, and Duquesne University stood out in that category. This private Catholic school reported just 14 students per faculty member in 2018 -- around 12 percent better than the national average.
On top of that, half of the classes in Duquesne's more than 180 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and professional degree programs contain fewer than 20 students. If a close-knit educational experience is what you're after, this Pittsburgh school might be worth a second look.
Duquesne also stands out among the top schools in Pennsylvania for its focus on online degrees in health care and education fields. Eighty percent of the online graduate programs offered here focus on education administration, instructional technology and nursing.
With nearly 40,000 students counted on the rolls, the flagship Philadelphia campus of Temple University is one of the largest colleges in the commonwealth by enrollment. It's also a decidedly global institution, maintaining satellite campuses in Rome, Italy, and Tokyo, Japan, which could be a good indication for those who appreciate online courses.
The variety of learning opportunities at Temple is as vast as you might expect at such a large campus. Undergraduate degree programs number in the 100s, and graduate and post-graduate students can browse a selection of nearly 300 degree plans and close to 100 graduate certificates.
Temple also might be one of the best colleges in Pennsylvania for students who love the arts. Not only are there more than 150 arts courses in the catalog, but the university puts on around 1,400 arts events for students and the public each year.
The University of Pittsburgh has an impressive record of firsts in the medical sciences. Not only did professors and researchers here invent cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and synthesize insulin for the first time, but a research team from Pitt helped Dr. Jonas Salk create and perfect his polio vaccine in 1955.
Since its initial founding as the Pittsburgh Academy in 1787, Pitt has grown into a robust institution that serves more than 25,000 students on campus and online. It also offers a range of massive open online courses (MOOCs) online and free to the public.
Students looking for a good value for their college dollar shouldn't overlook this old-guard institution, either. Kiplinger's Personal Finance has selected Pitt as one of the 100 best-value public colleges in the U.S. for more than 15 straight years.
Known as Saint Thomas College when it was founded in 1888, the University of Scranton is another one of our best universities in Pennsylvania with roots in the Jesuit faith. As is typically the case with Jesuit universities, degree programs here aim to impart to students a respect for all disciplines by beginning with a firm foundation in the liberal arts.
Degrees at the University of Scranton come from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Kania School of Management and the Panuska College of Professional Studies. Each college has its own academic advising center to address the needs of students looking for program-specific assistance.
Internship opportunities are available to all students at Scranton. Some internships feature faculty oversight and lead to course credit, while others focus on providing experience alone.
Villanova University has learned a thing or two about fostering student success in its 170+ years of history. Its retention rate -- the percentage of first-year students who return as sophomores -- hovers around 95 percent, and nine out of ten students stick with their programs until graduation.
A focus on maximizing the quality of each student's time spent in school may have something to do with those impressive numbers. An average class size of 22 and a student-faculty ratio of 12:1 were reported in 2016, allowing for easier engagement between professors and students.
The law school is one of the points of pride for this Roman Catholic institution. Six total law degrees are available, including a regular Juris Doctor (J.D.) program, a joint J.D./M.B.A. and a Master of Laws (L.L.M.) in taxation.
There are a handful of Pennsylvania schools with low student-faculty ratios, but few are as attractive as the number reported at Lehigh University. This Bethlehem school boasts a ratio of just nine students per faculty member, meaning you likely won't be left wanting if you need additional help from your professors.
Research is a big part of the culture at Lehigh, particularly research that blurs the boundaries between subjects of study and encourages meaningful exchange across the disciplines. The university produces several research and scholarship publications, focusing separately on the arts and sciences, engineering, education and business.
Interdisciplinary degree programs also contribute to the boundary-crossing mission at Lehigh. Undergraduate crossover degrees include computer science and business (CSB), business and engineering (IBE) and engineering, arts and science (IDEAS).
Thanks to a total student enrollment figure that came in above 17,000, West Chester University of Pennsylvania is the largest of the 14 colleges in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). It admits around 8,500 first-year students and 2,000 transfer students annually.
WCU takes pride in its dedication to serving military veterans in the most complete way possible. G.I. Jobs named the West Chester school on its list of military friendly universities in 2017, and the school maintains a study and support center designed to meet the needs of active duty and veteran military personnel.
Students at WCU also pitch in and give back to their community and the world at large. More than 750,000 hours of volunteer service were generated by WCU students in 2016-17, at home in Chester County and internationally, making this top college in Pennsylvania a good choice for those in favor of community service.
Most popular degree programs in Pennsylvania
The list of a state's most popular degree programs can help prospective students understand the academic priorities of their college cohort, as well as get a picture of which degrees are likely to be most commonly represented on the state's career market. Here's a snapshot of the most popular undergraduate degrees in Pennsylvania.
In-Demand Careers in Pennsylvania
The landscape of state and national job markets tends to shift year after year, and knowing which industries are most in need of qualified applicants can help you tailor your education to suit regional employment demand. Check out this list of Pennsylvania's top careers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Home Health and Personal Care Aides||26.9%||183,430||$25,810|
|Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers||26.5%||39,590||$99,280|
|Information Security Analysts||25.8%||3,340||$101,390|
|Physical Therapist Aides||25.7%||1,990||$31,550|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||25.6%||5,330||$55,520|
|Operations Research Analysts||25.2%||3,380||$86,110|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||24.2%||2,670||$57,200|
|Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary||23.1%||3,420||$81,760|
|Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary||23.1%||15,130||$99,200|
|Medical and Health Services Managers||20.9%||17,330||$98,560|
|Computer Numerically Controlled Tool Programmers||19.5%||770||$58,550|
|Occupational Therapy Aides||19.2%||320||$32,610|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||17.6%||2,820||$66,270|
|Medical Secretaries and Administrative Assistants||16.9%||17,860||$36,640|
|Fast Food and Counter Workers||16.6%||167,840||$21,970|
|Business Teachers, Postsecondary||16.5%||4,970||$107,050|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Pennsylvania
Most college students know about federal opportunities for student financial aid, but there are some state-based programs in Pennsylvania that can be good to have on your radar:
- The Pennsylvania State Grant Program awards student aid to Pennsylvania residents based on financial need.
- The Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP) provides need-based awards to students seeking degrees relevant to the manufacturing, agriculture and energy industries.
- The Pennsylvania Educational Gratuity Program provides tuition waivers and room and board assistance to children of Pennsylvania military and paramilitary personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
February 16 (FAFSA deadline); March 1 (nomination form)
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
February 16 (FAFSA deadline); March 1 (nomination form)
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
$5,000 recipient may re-apply; $20,000 recipient may only apply once.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Recipient must maintain good academic standing and full-time status on the undergraduate level to retain award.
- Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education
- Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency
- Pennsylvania Student Aid Guide
- Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Center
- Pennsylvania Recreation Guide
- Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges
To get our list of the best colleges, we ranked 1,383 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. Each school was scored on a 100-point scale, using the following data points and the weights specified. In order to be included in the ranking, schools had to report data for each of the following data points:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- The average amount of institutional grant aid awarded to full-time, first-time undergraduate students as a percentage of in-state tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of full-time first-time undergraduates awarded any financial aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Median debt of graduates, College Scorecard, 2015-16
- 3-year student loan repayment rate of graduates, College Scorecard, 2015-16
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered on campus, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2016
- Full-time student retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2016
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2013-14
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Dual credit
- Credit for life experience
- Advanced Placement credit
- Programs of study that can be completed entirely on weekends or in the evening
- Remedial services
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Guaranteed tuition plan
- Tuition payment plan
- Any other alternative tuition plan
Note:Tuition prices are based on data for the 2016-17 academic year reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The actual cost of tuition may vary.
All of the National Center for Education Statistics data came from IPEDS:
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2016-17, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
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- Sponsored Schools for Veterans, G.I. Jobs, accessed March 23, 2018, https://www.gijobs.com/schools-for-veterans/#W
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- Funding Opportunities, Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, accessed March 30, 2017, http://www.pheaa.org/funding-opportunities/index.shtml