The PA College Tour, Leg 1: From Allegheny to CCAC


Bentley Hall, Allegheny College | Photo credit: Allegheny College

Sam Bisno, Editor-in-Chief

It’s no secret that in-state college and university tuitions tend to be cheaper than out-of-state ones. If you’re living in Pennsylvania, you want to go to college, and finances are a concern for you and your family, then your first step in the search for where you’ll spend the next chunk of your life should probably be to look at schools within the borders of the Keystone State. This is doubly true for PPS students, as those who graduate with an unweighted grade point average of at least 2.5 and a 90% attendance record are eligible for the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship, which translates to an annual $5,000 check as long as you remain in Pennsylvania for your postsecondary education.

And you’re in luck, because today marks the kick-off of the official Obama Eagle PA College Tour! In the coming weeks, we’ll visit (metaphorically, of course) a grand total of 30 Pennsylvania colleges and universities for you to consider as you begin the application process. We’ll look at schools big and small, cheap and expensive, STEM-oriented and liberal arts-focused—chances are, by the time we return home, you’ll have found the place that’s right for you.

Climb aboard! First stop: colleges beginning with letters “A” through “C.”

Allegheny College

Allegheny College is a small liberal arts college located in idyllic Meadville, about 80 miles north of Pittsburgh. It is known for its academic rigor, but also for its teachers’ willingness to offer help whenever it is needed. The majority of classes are under 20 students in size, and freshmen must take two seminars designed to acclimate them to college workloads. Within its red brick streets and buildings, Allegheny sports an acclaimed science complex; environmental science, physical sciences, biology, psychology, and biochemistry are among its strongest majors. That said, Allegheny stresses a full learning experience: students are required to take classes in each of eight distribution areas. There is a strong focus on oral communication: sophomores must take a communication seminar and seniors must complete independent research and defend it verbally. Understandably, then, communication is another strong major. About a quarter of students are involved in Greek life; Allegheny allows of-age students to consume alcohol on campus. Sports are also big; the same number of students participate in Division III athletics. Soccer and cross-country are particularly noteworthy. Learn more here.

  • Acceptance rate: 68%
  • Total enrollment (all undergraduates): 1,750
  • Without financial aid, expect to pay: $63,524 per year
  • Percentage of undergraduates receiving financial aid: 99%
  • Average SAT range: 1160–1320. SAT optional.
  • Average ACT range: 23–29. ACT optional.
  • Application track: Early Decision I and II, Early Action, Regular Decision. Accepts Common Application with Allegheny supplement.


Bryn Mawr College

It’s hard to talk about Bryn Mawr without mentioning its gender makeup; since its founding in 1885, Bryn Mawr has focused on providing a top-notch, globally oriented education to young women. That’s right; as long as you do not identify as a man (Bryn Mawr has recently started accepting transgender women as well as intersex and nonbinary students), this might be the place for you. Otherwise, skip this entry. Bryn Mawr is located outside of Philadelphia; the vast majority of students reside within the college’s Gothic-style walls for all four years. Bryn Mawr students have a reputation for fierce independence and for speaking their minds, especially when it comes to social issues; politics skew to the left. Students take their traditions seriously, from an honor code that prohibits sharing grades to the annual May Day celebration, during which students pretend to live in Elizabethan England for a day. Close to one-fourth of students were not born in the United States, and a third of students study abroad. Proficiency in a foreign language (in addition to four semesters of physical education, for that matter) is a requirement for graduation. Strong majors include mathematics, psychology, biology, English, chemistry, classics, history of art, and the Bryn Mawr-specific growth and structure of cities. As a member of the Quaker Consortium, the school partners with nearby Penn, Swarthmore, and, most notably, Haverford for some programs, such as music and fine arts. Bryn Mawr and Haverford undergraduates collaborate on a newspaper, radio station, and orchestra. In fact, Bryn Mawr students can eat and even live at Haverford if they wish. The college also boasts a solid career preparation center. Expect small class sizes and plenty of teacher attention. Learn more here.

  • Acceptance rate: 38%
  • Total enrollment: 1,600
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,320
  • Without financial aid, expect to pay: $72,025 per year
  • Percentage of undergraduates receiving financial aid: 72%
  • Average SAT range: 1310–1500. SATs optional.
  • Average ACT range: 29–33. ACTs optional.
  • Application track: Early Decision I and II, Regular Decision. Accepts Common Application with Bryn Mawr supplement.


Bucknell University

Bucknell is slightly larger than the first two schools on this list, but still consists almost entirely of undergraduates. Moreover, while Allegheny and Bryn Mawr are both socially active and lean left, politics takes something of a back seat at Bucknell, and when there is debate, prevailing opinions tend to be more conservative. Relatively few students of color attend Bucknell, and some say the school is, at least to a degree, self-segregated. Bucknell is located in rural Lewisburg, and the campus is pastoral, with fields and trees abound. Most students live on campus, and some join one of nine themed Residential Colleges. Engineering and management are the most well-known majors; each has a specific college and compulsory curriculum attached to it. Other strong programs include economics, psychology, biology, biomedical engineering, animal behavior, and environmental studies. All freshmen must participate in a series of workshops designed to make the transition to college as smooth as possible. Classes emphasize group work; about half enroll under 20 students. The Bison are Division I, and sports play a large role in social life. Greek life is off limits until you’re a sophomore, but once you are, it’s all systems go: fraternities enlist a third of the men and sororities claim half the women. To this end, parties and events, including several school-sponsored ones, are commonplace. Bucknell partners with more than 400 study abroad programs worldwide; 49 percent of all students spend at least one semester overseas. The Office of Civic Engagement connects students with volunteering opportunities. Learn more here.

  • Acceptance rate: 31%
  • Total enrollment: 3,620
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 3,580
  • Without financial aid, expect to pay: $73,150 per year
  • Percentage of undergraduates receiving financial aid: 60%
  • Average SAT range: 1250–1420. SAT optional.
  • Average ACT range: 28–31. ACT optional.
  • Application track: Early Decision I and II, Regular Decision. Accepts Common Application.


Carlow University

Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1843, Carlow University maintains its Catholic roots; to this day, about one third of all undergraduates practice Catholicism. The college operates under five core values: mercy, hospitality, service, discovery, and sacredness of creation; these principles guide learning, and Carlow students are encouraged to give back to their communities in a variety of ways. As the school puts it, “We aren’t satisfied to simply do well. We must also do good.” In the same vein, the school’s Social Justice Institutes partner with local advocacy groups to educate about and facilitate social change. Located in Oakland and with few barriers between Fifth Avenue and the university itself, Carlow provides excellent access to the city of Pittsburgh; 53% of undergraduates live off campus. 59% hail from Allegheny County and 30% are older than the typical college age. 82% are female, which likely stems from the school’s history of accepting only women until 1945 and of offering dorms only to women until earlier this decade. Popular majors include nursing, psychology, and business. With a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, most classes are small and intimate. Learn more here.

  • Acceptance rate: 86%
  • Total enrollment: 2,075
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,330
  • Without financial aid, expect to pay: $30,528 per year; additional $11,902–$16,388 for room and board
  • Percentage of undergraduates receiving financial aid: 88%
  • Average SAT range: 870–1070. SAT or ACT required.
  • Average ACT range: 19–24. SAT or ACT required.
  • Application track: Carlow-specific application. In-person interview highly encouraged.


Carnegie Mellon University

The first college on this list that is equal parts undergraduate and graduate, Carnegie Mellon (CMU) is known for its science and technology programs, and it’s true: that’s what the school’s bread and butter is. Strong majors include, unsurprisingly, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, and information systems. However, CMU has become one of the few colleges in the country that offers a truly world-class education in both STEM subjects and the arts: the drama department is fantastic, and music and design are also solid. This comprehensiveness is reflected in the school’s “liberal-professional” philosophy: not only will students develop the skills to be competitive in the modern job market (the fully fledged Career and Professional Development Center ensures that), but they will do so while gaining an appreciation for the arts. Courses are challenging across the board, but the administration has taken steps to mitigate the “where-fun-goes-to-die” atmosphere of CMU in recent years, implementing university-wide blocks of time each day in which no classes are held as well as a “mindfulness room.” Students spend their free time, however limited, dining in themed eateries across campus, attending Greek life parties (drinking is allowed in dorms), participating in the various events put on by CMU’s many niche social groups, or exploring Pittsburgh—more and more students come from outside of Pennsylvania, and a substantial number live off campus. While students generally feel safe, some have said that reports of sexual assault are not taken seriously enough. Moreover, the university is heavily stratified; students tend to hang out with other students in their departments. Soccer dominates the Division III sports scene. Although CMU boasts a satellite undergraduate campus in Qatar, few students have time to travel abroad. Learn more here.

  • Acceptance rate: 22%
  • Total enrollment: 13,562
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 6,662
  • Without financial aid, expect to pay: $63,076 per year; additional $11,415 for room and board
  • Percentage of undergraduates receiving financial aid: 51%
  • Average SAT range: 1430–1560. SAT or ACT required.
  • Average ACT range: 32–35. SAT or ACT required.
  • SAT Subject Tests: 2 recommended; varies by program.
  • Application track: Early Decision, Regular Decision. Accepts Common Application. Must apply to specific school or college.


Chatham University

Originally women-only but now coeducational, Chatham boasts the largest campus by land mass in Allegheny County. Its main campus is located in an isolated area on the border of Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, offering easy access to the city while maintaining the quintessential tranquil college atmosphere. Popular areas of study include nursing, biology, psychology, and business management, but if none of those (or the other 36-or-so undergraduate majors the school offers) suit your fancy, you can design your own. Students who complete four-year undergraduate degrees have the choice of staying put for their graduate studies or transitioning to CMU’s Heinz College, which partners with Chatham. In the meantime, expect classes of about 12 students on average thanks to the university’s extraordinarily low 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Most students live on campus; the community service organization Social Work is Real Life and the newspaper, the Communiqué, are noteworthy social diversions. Chatham is also relatively affordable. Learn more here.

  • Acceptance rate: 55%
  • Total enrollment: 2,190
  • Undergraduate enrollment: 1,100
  • Without financial aid, expect to pay: $38,738 per year; additional $7,300-$13,024 for room and board
  • Percentage of undergraduates receiving financial aid: 74%
  • Average SAT range: 1050–1240. SAT optional.
  • Average ACT range: 22–27. ACT optional.
  • Application track: Rolling admission beginning August 1. Accepts Common Application.


Community College of Allegheny County

The Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) offers the most wide-ranging options of any college or university on this list. Students of all ages and backgrounds choose from 160 associate’s degree, certificate, and diploma programs covering virtually every subject area imaginable; many students transfer from CCAC to another school to obtain a bachelor’s degree thereafter. Given the breadth of courses available, individual classes tend to be small; anticipate around 15 peers. There are four CCAC campuses across the Pittsburgh area: Allegheny (on the North Side), Boyce (in Monroeville), North (in McCandless Township), and South (in West Mifflin). There are also five CCAC centers, which feature a mixture of classrooms and other facilities. The Braddock Hills Center houses several state-of-the-art learning areas; the Energy Innovation Center in the lower Hill District sports high-tech laboratories; the Homewood-Brushton Center offers computer labs and resource spaces; the Washington County Center specializes in job training and dual enrollment programs for high school students; and the West Hills Center in North Fayette Township includes computer labs, classrooms, tutoring rooms, and dedicated areas for technical trades such as welding, plumbing, and automotive services. Not only is CCAC affordable, but flexible scheduling options make it easy to work while in school, and since it’s a public county asset, most anyone who applies will be accepted. Consider CCAC if you’re not sure you want to commit to a four-year degree, you don’t know what you want to study, or finances are an obstacle for you and your family even with aid. Learn more here.

  • Total enrollment: 43,697
  • Without financial aid, expect to pay: $116 per credit (not including textbooks or other associated costs)
  • Application track: CCAC-specific application. No SAT or ACT required.

That concludes the first leg of our journey across the state. Thanks for coming along! When we next embark, we’ll be headed for schools beginning with letters “D” through “H.”

This article relied on individual college and university websites, Fiske Guide to Colleges 2020, and a number of national college and university databases for the information presented.