Study in Pennsylvania | Top Universities

Study in Pennsylvania

User Image

Laura Tucker

Updated Aug 21, 2023



Study in Pennsylvania main image

Pennsylvania, located in the northeast of the US in the Great Lakes region, is the sixth most populated US state, with a GDP equivalent to Indonesia’s.

Nicknamed the Keystone State for its proximity to numerous regions, Pennsylvania is bordered in the north by Lake Erie, across which lies Canada, and to the south by the Mason-Dixie line which traditionally marks the beginning of America’s southern regions. Also in the east lies the cultural capital of New York and, in the west, the states of Ohio and West Virginia.

Although Pennsylvania’s major urban centers dominate common perceptions of the state, its geography is varied.  Spanning incredibly diverse terrain, including rivers, coasts and plateaus, Pennsylvania also plays host to a large section of the Appalachian Mountains, which run straight through its center, linking the state to the Canadian province of Newfoundland. Other natural forests and mountain areas include the Poconos region and the Allegheny National Forest.

If you want to get out of the city, there’s no shortage of options. The battle sites of Gettysburg and Valley Gorge will excite history buffs, or you might like to visit the great Amish communities in the south. Many small towns which crop up throughout the state are also worth visiting for their artsy locals and trendy shops.

Of the universities in Pennsylvania, seven are featured in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings®, with one belonging to the prestigious Ivy League.

Top universities in Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania

The fourth oldest university in the US, ranking an impressive 13th in the world, the University of Pennsylvania is a private, Ivy League research university with a student population of over 24,000, located in the city of Philadelphia (one of the world’s top 50 cities for students, according to the 2013 Best Student Cities index). The founder of the University of Pennsylvania was none other than Benjamin Franklin, who advocated a multidisciplinary model and enabled the school to become respected in a wide number of fields. Its research and development budget is one of the largest in the nation, with over US$800 million being spent yearly on subjects as diverse as cancer research, pensions and retirement, government and cartographic modeling.

Based on the 2014 QS World University Rankings by Subject, the university is currently within the global top 20 for its offerings in medicine, psychology, linguistics, English language and literature, economics and accounting and finance.

Carnegie Mellon University

Another private research university, Carnegie Mellon University has a much lower current enrollment of just under 13,000 students. Ranked 57th in the world, the university’s main campus is located three miles from downtown Pittsburgh on 144 acres amongst a suburban neighborhood surrounded by parks and greenery.

Asides from its main Pittsburgh location, Carnegie Mellon University has campuses in California’s Silicon Valley, New York’s financial district (the Tepper School of Business), Australia and Qatar, with plans to open a campus in Rwanda. The school has a strong presence in the FAME subjects (finance, accounting, management and economics), and ranks within the global top 20 for mathematics, material sciences, statistics and computer science (in which it ranks third in the world). The school is also well known for its research in the field of sustainable energy.

University of Pittsburgh

Also located in Pennsylvania’s second city of Pittsburgh is the University of Pittsburgh, which ranks 106th in the world. Home to a current student population of almost 29,000, the University of Pittsburgh is a state-related (receiving funding from the state but operating independently) research institution that has been noted for its service to the local community and its impact on the economy. The school is particularly notable for its historic architecture and its 42-story Cathedral of Learning.

The University of Pittsburgh makes its strongest appearance in the  2014 QS World University Rankings by Subject in the field of philosophy, for which it’s ranked third in the world.

Pennsylvania State University

Affectionately known as Penn State, Pennsylvania State University is the largest and highest-ranked public institution in the state, with a current enrollment of over 45,500 students in its flagship University Park campus alone (90,000 in total). Ranked joint 107th in the world, the school’s main campus is situated between the big cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, approximately two to three hours’ drive away from each. The campus is surrounded largely by forest, perfect for students with a love for nature.

Pennsylvania State University is ranked within the world’s top 100 in a number of subject areas, including agriculture and forestry, Earth and marine sciences, geography and material sciences.

Other universities in Pennsylvania which feature in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings include Drexel University (481-490 in the world), Lehigh University (551-600 in the world) and Temple University (551-600 in the world).

Top student cities in Pennsylvania



Home of the Fresh Prince until his mum made him move away, Philadelphia is an urban hub less than 90 miles away from New York City. Although not quite competing with the glamour and international popularity of NYC, Philly is every bit as alive.


Developed in education and financial services, Philadelphia is one of the most affluent cities in the country, belonging to the sixth biggest metropolitan area. Those wishing to study in Pennsylvania within the fields of law or medicine are particularly spoilt for choice, with many of the universities in Philadelphia known within these areas.

The culture of the city is also truly appealing, with food, music and arts scenes continuing to burgeon and a nightlife that is student-oriented and never boring. Each of the city’s neighborhoods holds a distinct personality, some affluent and brimming with manicured gardens, some still holding on to blue-collar roots, and some serving as reminders of America’s past with well-preserved historic buildings and gothic architecture.

The city’s historic district, home to the iconic Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, holds an especially important place in US history, as this is where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. And in between the mixture of modern and historic buildings, the city also contains 10,334 acres of parkland within its limits.

See where Philadelphia ranks in the latest QS Best Student Cities index >



The state’s other major city is Pittsburgh, home to 2.4 million people. Formerly known as an industrial center during the 19th century, Pittsburgh has developed into a city dominated by financial services and the digital sector. Instead of the fumes of steel and coal factories, Pittsburgh now bears the title of one of the most “livable” areas in the country.


Sitting at the convergence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers which join to form the Ohio River, Pittsburgh is characterized by its waterways and hilled neighborhoods connected via an extensive number of pedestrian-friendly bridges.

Not only does the city boast a number of the state’s best museums and parks, it also can offer a vibrant selection of places to eat, drink and socialize. Many significant musicians have also come out of the city, and it has been named the “Best Sports City” in the country, thanks in part to the strong sports culture prevalent at many of the universities in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania: Fast facts

  • Pennsylvania has the US’s sixth biggest population, currently at 12.7 million.
  • Before Washington DC was founded, Philadelphia was the capital of the US.
  • Pennsylvania is home to one of the largest Amish communities in the world, a religious group known for their avoidance of advanced technologies and focus on communal life.
  • Pittsburgh is a city of firsts – the US’s first baseball stadium, commercial radio station and automobile service station were all produced in the city.
  • Philadelphia has its own signature sandwich, the Philly cheesesteak – a sandwich of (you guessed it) cheese and steak.
  • On the second of February every year, the residents of Punxsutawney hold the world’s largest Groundhog Day celebrations (a ceremony to predict the arrival of spring starring a groundhog, otherwise known as a woodchuck) with groundhog Punxsutawney Phil holding celebrity status.
  • Famous Pennsylvanians include actor Will Smith, comedian Tina Fey, artist Andy Warhol, poet Ezra Pound, academic Noam Chomsky, scientist and Founding Father of the US Benjamin Franklin, and current US vice president, Joe Biden.
  • Pennsylvania grows more mushrooms than any other state – Kennet Square in Chester County is known as the “Mushroom Capital of the World”.