Updated 4 months ago

Located between New York and Baltimore, Philadelphia – affectionately called Philly, has a massive historical heritage that needs no introduction. Did you know that it is nicknamed the City of Brotherly Love from its literal meaning in Greek?

If you're looking to move to Philadelphia, you're very likely to enjoy a good quality of life and a lower cost of living than in New York, for example. Philadelphia is known for being a vibrant and dynamic city with many museums and restaurants if you're looking for ideas to have a good time with your friends or family. This city is also famous for its prestigious universities such as the University of Pennsylvania, which is a major research centre, and Drexel University.

In 2015, Philadelphia attracted over 41,000 international students with 36% coming from China, 13% from India, 7% from South Korea and around 3% from France. Pennsylvania is one of the ten States with the biggest number of international students, so it might be a good idea to move there if you're looking to indulge in a multicultural environment.

Universities in Philadelphia

Before going further, let's distinguish between public and private universities in the USA. Public universities are State-funded, by Pennsylvania for instance, while private universities are not. Note, however, that university can be quite costly on a yearly basis. If you're planning to enroll in the Pennsylvania State University, which is the State's public university, consider some US$17,000 if you already live there, else fees can amount up to US$31,000.

University of Pennsylvania

Founded in 1740 by none other than Benjamin Franklin – the 6th President of the USA, the University of Pennsylvania, also known as Penn or UPenn, is world famous private university specialising in research. It is also part of the Ivy League comprising the eight elite USA universities and comes up 18th worldwide in the QS Top Universities ranking. Year after year, it has been among the top ten universities in the USA.

UPenn is especially famous for advanced scientific research. It even came up 7th in the USA and 28th worldwide in the Scimago Rankings in 2012.

In 2013, a team of doctors from Penn's Perelman School of Medicine was in the news headlines for their efforts in cancer prevention. Following years of research, they have been able to isolate attacking cells from HIV and program them in such a way to kill cancer cells.

UPenn is well known not only in the field of research but also for its business school. Indeed, most of the CEOs listed in Fortune 500 come from the Wharton School of Business. It has even been ranked by the Business Insider as the best business school in the world. Its reputation has been attracting nearly 20% of international students with 72% enrolling in post-doctoral studies or MBA.

Other than its MBA program, UPenn also offers Bachelors of Science in four-year courses. In general, students are more likely to enroll in finance, business, medicine, economics and biology programs.

William Harrison, the 9th President of the US, Warren Buffet, an extraordinary investor, Kwame Nkrumah, the 1st President of Ghana, Google and Apple's CEOs, and Donald Trump, the 45th President of the US, are some of the most famous UPenn alumni.

UPenn's Harry Potter style campus is found in University City in eastern Philadelphia. Find more information on enrollment formalities on the university website.

Did you know that the university's mascot is Quaker Ben Franklin?

Drexel University

Founded in 1891, Drexel University is a private university comprising – like many other US universities – 16 schools and colleges. Each of these specialises in a particular field, namely Arts and Science, Business, Engineering, Law, Health and Medicine, etc. International students can choose from a total of 80 Majors.

Ranking among the top 100 US universities according to US News & World Report, it is world famous for innovation and its quality higher education especially in the fields of business and engineering.

Compared to other universities in Philadelphia and on a national level, Drexel's biggest strength seems to be its Co-op system, referring to internships. If you come from Europe, for instance, this might not surprise you. However, only a few universities in the US include internships as part of their programs. Students can, therefore, acquire some professional experience before stepping into the labour market.

Drexel also offers a five-year Bachelor of Science (BS) and an over five-year Bachelor of Arts (BA). The university year comprises of three semesters.

The main campus is found in western Philadelphia near UPenn in the University City. International students can hence be part of the vibrant urban life whether they are working or just living in the area.

Drexel has been attracting many international students over the years. Today, they make up 21,000, that is 17% of the total number of enrollments. Find more information on Drexel University here.

Good to know:

John Langdon, the assistant professor of Drexel's Arts and Media Department, has created the ambigrams of Dan Brown's book and movie Angels and Demons. Tom Hanks' role as Professor Robert Langdon is inspired by him.

Mary Corinna Putnam Jacobi, the first woman to join the National Academy of Medicine, graduated from Drexel.

Find more information on enrollment requirements on the university website.

Drexel's mascot is "Mario the Dragon".

Pennsylvania State University

Pennsylvania State University, also known as Penn State, was the first State-owned university in the region. Founded in 1855, it now comprises a total of 24 campuses across the whole State – each one offering its own Bachelor program over four-year courses. It is, therefore, one of the biggest Universities with 14 distinct Colleges, over 160 courses and around 100,000 students.

While the first two years of the core curriculum are available on most campuses, some specialisation courses are available only on some. University Park, the main campus, is found in State College at some 300 km from Philadelphia. It is especially famous for its alumni network although it is found outside the city. In 2016, Penn State had 15% of international students enrollment. Note that it comes up 95th in the QS World University Rankings.

Business, management, marketing and engineering are the most sought-after courses. The university is also well known for its expertise in scientific research and its involvement in fundraising for research in child cancer through its yearly THON dance marathon. Thousands of students get together at the Jordan Center to dance non-stop without sleeping during 46 hours. In February 2017, the mara-THON raised $ 10,045,478.44!

Hillary Clinton's father, High Ellsworth Rodham and Mark Parker, Nike CEO, are Penn State's most famous alumni.

Find more information on enrollment requirements on the university website.

Penn State's mascot is the "Nitanny Lion".

Temple University

Located in the northern Philadelphia which is continuously developing and expanding, Temple University is quite similar to Penn State. Founded in 1884, it is a public university that is partly funded by the State of Pennsylvania. It's interesting to note that it is the less expensive of the four universities listed in this article. Indeed, Pennsylvania residents are likely to pay $ 15,000 per year while international students need $ 25,000.

With more than 33,000 enrollments every year, Temple University only attracts 8% of international students. However, it has 2 overseas campuses, namely in Tokyo and Rome. It also provides many international programs, namely in China, Israel and France, etc. Temple University offers 175 Bachelor, 148 Masters and 65 PhD programs as well as MBA. Business, management, marketing and audiovisual are the most sought-after courses.

Bill Cosby, Jesse Williams and Kunal Nayyar who plays the Raj's role in the "Big Bang Theory" are the most popular alumni.

Find more information on enrollment requirements on the university website.

Temple University's mascot is the "Temple Owl".


US universities host an impressive number of international students every year. Therefore, most major lectures are delivered in amphitheatres. Some specialised courses such as Logistics Operations courses at Drexel are provided in smaller conference rooms. To put it this way, broader courses are taught in wider spaces. For instance, there's a greater demand for 101 business marketing courses than for courses that focus on a more specific aspect of marketing.

To make lectures more lively and interactive, most faculties are likely to organise workshops or group presentations. Note that US students are used to making expose in front of their class – which can be quite surprising for you. You can contact your lecturers via e-mail but don't expect them to remember you.

In universities having over 25,000 students, you will also be considered as a local. Also, remember that all courses will be taught in English. You are free to share your international experience with your fellow students as diversity is very much appreciated.

Cost of living for international students

We've briefly mentioned university fees in this article, so bear in mind that you will need around $ 50,000 a year to study in private universities like Drexel and UPenn. Financial support is also available for international students but these are quite limited. Also, these do not apply to postgraduate studies and MBA. You could perhaps consider applying for a scholarship from your home country.

Housing in Philadelphia is quite costly. According to Numbeo, you will need around 1,400 euros per month to rent a studio in the city center. For the same type of housing outside the city center, estimate 880 euros. Overall, the cost of living in Philadelphia is almost as high as in many European metropolis. If you've chosen to live on the campus, Room & Board can be a good option. Moreover, if you have enrolled in any of the four universities mentioned above, count an additional $ 11,000 to $ 15,000 per year for your daily expenses.

Flatsharing is also a common practice in Philadelphia. You can opt for flatsharing or roomsharing if you're planning to study at Temple, UPenn or Drexel. The International House is quite popular with international students for being a cultural center. Rent is also quite flexible as you can pay on a monthly basis, although the rooms are quite small.

On campus leisure

US universities are well known for organising many extracurricular activities, not to mention the number of existing clubs. However, you have to be a full-time student to join any of these clubs or brotherhoods. Once you have, you will also feel that pride and sense of belonging to the university called the school spirit. Among the four universities mentioned in this article, Penn State and Temple have the strongest school spirit. Penn State's campus is particularly vibrant during the American football season. Indeed, the university's football team is world famous in spite of the breaking of a major scandal in 2011.

Located in western Philadelphia, the University City – comprising Upenn and Drexel – has a dynamic student population and is quite lively. These are easily accessible by public transportation on a 5 to 10 minutes ride. Needless to say that Philadelphia is a top destination for student trips as well. For more information on Philadelphia, feel free to browse city guides on the Internet or even inquire from locals.

Visas and internships

In all cases, you need a visa to study in the US. If you have enrolled as a full-time student, you will have to obtain a F1 visa that allows you not only to study in the chosen university but also to perform an internship. It also entitles you to get a job after the internship and then for the Green Card or H1B.

If you're moving to the USA with a student exchange program, you will probably be entitled to a J1 student visa which does not make you a full-time student. You can still perform an internship under some conditions, but you're not allowed to work in the USA. In Drexel, for instance, professional and placement assistance is not available for exchange students. Moreover, you cannot join any club or other association.

Regardless of your visa status, internships in the USA involve a lot of administrative procedures. These can be quite strict, depending on your profile, the duration of your studies, your professional experience and your visa, and therefore determining the duration of your internship. You can find more information on the J1 visa on the Department of State website. Regarding the F1 visa, see the Optional Practical Training section at the bottom of the page.


Enrollment deadlines usually vary from one university to another and depend on the period of the year. You may have to produce results obtained from a SAT test. Find more information on the US News website. Also, feel free to ask your questions, should you have any, on the USA Forum or have a look at the USA Expat Guide.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.