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THE USA: Destination Guides

The ultimate student guide to Philadelphia

Philadelphia is one of the biggest cities in the USA and is known for its diversity. The city is often called the home of American democracy as the famous ‘Declaration of Independence' document was signed here. We explore what else this city offers.

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The largest city in Pennsylvania and the sixth largest in the whole of the USA, Philadelphia (or Philly as it is often known) is renowned for being a vibrant hub of diversity and entertainment. With an Ivy League university and the third largest student population on the East Coast, if you dream of studying in the USA, Philadelphia is a great option to make sure you have the experience of a lifetime.


What is Philadelphia like?

Location and demographics

Philadelphia is in the north-east of the USA, not far from the coast. The city has a temperate climate and benefits from being close to several other urban hubs, including New York City and Washington DC.


With a population of almost 1.6 million, Philadelphia is one of the USA’s great metropolises. Famed for its friendly neighbourhoods, it is also one of the country’s most ethnically diverse cities and is renowned for being an attractive and affordable place to live for young professionals.


Read about the different types of American accents you could hear if you study in the USA.


Culture and history

As such a diverse city, it is also full of culture. With over 2,000 outdoor murals, it is a top destination to visit for street art. If performing arts are more your scene, you won’t be disappointed by what Philadelphia has to offer – the city is even home to the oldest continually running theatre in the world, the Walnut Street Theatre.


And if history is your scene, you might be interested to learn that Philadelphia was the first World Heritage City in the USA. Although the area has been inhabited for thousands of years, Philly is famous for being the “Birthplace of the United States” after the 'Founding Fathers' signed the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution in the city.


Philadelphia is also famed for being the hometown of many of the USA’s most successful individuals, including Grace Kelly, Will Smith, Noam Chomsky, and Kobe Bryant.


Find out what the USA offers international students.



What universities are in Philadelphia?

If you’re keen to study in Philadelphia, you’ll be pleased to hear that several universities and colleges are based in the city. In this guide we list a few of the most popular, but it’s worth researching others in the area too.


If you’re interested in studying medicine, you’ve come to the right place. Philadelphia is renowned for its medical sector, with one in six US doctors having trained in the city.


The University of Pennsylvania, also known as UPenn, is perhaps Philadelphia’s most famous university. This prestigious Ivy League school is a private institution ranked at number 13 in the QS World University Rankings 2023 and has a long list of notable alumni, including Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, and John Legend.


Other popular universities in Philadelphia include:


  • Villanova University – a private university on the outskirts of the city, ranked at joint 51st in the U.S. News & World Report 2022 (UNSWR)
  • Drexel University – private university ranked 105 in USNWR 2022
  • Temple University – public university ranked 121 in USNWR 2022
  • Thomas Jefferson University – private university ranked 127 in USNWR 2022


If you are prepared to travel outside of Philadelphia itself, you might also consider the following colleges:


  • Lehigh University – a private university in the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, ranked at joint 51 in USNWR 2022
  • West Chester University – a public university in West Chester, Pennsylvania, ranked at 250 by USNWR 2022
  • Pennsylvania State University – a public university located in central Pennsylvania, ranked number 93 on the QS World University Rankings 2023.


If you are hoping to apply to a community college to obtain an associate degree, consider the Community College of Philadelphia.


Discover the top universities in the USA.



What does Philadelphia offer students?

What is transport in Philadelphia like?

Philadelphia is considered one of the best cities in the USA to walk and bicycle in. But for times when you need to use public transport, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) provides plenty of options.


SEPTA has an extensive bus system connecting key locations in Philadelphia with some routes running 24 hours a day. Train travel is also a strong choice in the city. The rail network is set up with commuters in mind, meaning you can get to most places quickly. Other travel options include the subway and the city’s famous trolleys.


For all of Philly’s public transport, you can buy one-off tickets on board. For regular travel, purchase a SEPTA Key. If your university is registered with SEPTA, you may also use a monthly or semester-based University Pass Programme to access travel discounts. For global travel, Philadelphia International Airport has direct flights to 146 destinations worldwide.


Do you want to know more about the top student cities in the USA?


What about entertainment and food?

Although the city is most famous for its mouth-watering Philly cheesesteaks – a kind of bread roll known as a ‘hoagie’ packed full of beef and melted cheese – there is plenty more to the city’s food scene that you’ll want to explore. Enjoy a range of diverse flavours from every corner of the globe, with street food, independent eateries, and coffee shops on every corner.


If you’re looking for a night out, head downtown to Philly’s Center City and explore its entertainment venues. You’ll be pleased to hear that Philadelphia has a vibrant live music scene and regularly hosts international artists, as well as its local talent. Whether you’re looking for an intimate setting or a vast arena, you’ll find it all in this city.


Explore some things you must do as a student in the USA.


Are there public services for students?

Studying in Philadelphia, you’ll have access to resources at the government, state, and university levels to help you navigate your way through the higher education system.


The US government provides a substantial amount of free information to assist international students. Access student resources via the US Department of State website. Or explore financial aid options across Pennsylvania with Education USA’s helpful tool.


Your university’s international office will be able to assist you with any queries or concerns you have, from accessing healthcare to settling into life in Philadelphia. To better understand the American higher education system, make sure to read our USA grading guide.


Find out how to apply for a student visa in the USA.


How much does it cost to live in Philadelphia?

The general cost of Philadelphia

Although the city may not be the cheapest in the USA, rest assured that the cost of living in Philadelphia is significantly less than living in neighbouring New York City or Washing DC. Of course, you’ll need to budget, but if you’re looking for a fantastic student experience at a manageable price, Philly is an attractive option.


Get more information on the student living costs in the USA.


Student budget

You’ll already be aware that international students living in the USA will have to pay several upfront costs, such as health insurance and visa fees. But once those are settled, UPenn suggests an annual budget of USD 19,700 to USD 22,300.


Discover how much tuition in the USA costs.



Studying in the USA, most people choose to live on campus for the iconic student experience. You’ll find that costs vary widely between institutions with more prestigious institutions often charging more. But the benefit of campus living is that your bills are typically included in your rent. For an approximation of accommodation costs in Philadelphia, UPenn suggests an annual rental budget of USD 10,000 to USD 11,750.


Read more on how to apply to study in the USA.


What are Philadelphia’s main attractions?

Philadelphia is packed with things for students to do. If you’re interested in history, this is the city for you. Aside from its national significance and all the fascinating sites linked with the country’s independence, Philadelphia is full of museums and historical landmarks, which are all well worth a visit.


The city is also a hotspot for performing arts. Exceptional dance, theatre and live music are a constant in Philly. Whether you want to experience the world-famous Philadelphia Orchestra or watch a pop concert, there’s something for everyone. Or simply eat, drink, and dance in one of the city’s incredible entertainment venues. From classic diners to sophisticated cocktail bars, Philadelphia has it all.


The city is also a stronghold for major league sports. Watch Philadelphia’s pro teams play basketball, baseball, American football, ice hockey and soccer. Or get involved in a sport yourself and enjoy the trails in some of the city’s scenic parks and green spaces. Whatever your interests, we feel sure that this vibrant hub of entertainment will not leave you disappointed.

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