This is the third in a series of three articles about some of the best colleges and universities in Pennsylvania. You can read the first, Lafayette College, here, and the second, Lehigh University, here.
The first time that I became aware of Villanova University more than 15 years ago was in the context of the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. But while that may be one of ’Nova’s claims to fame, the university is far from a one-trick pony. With an ideal suburban location, a scenic campus and a variety of strong academic programs, Villanova has gained a reputation far beyond just athletic prowess.
The Fiske Guide draws a parallel between Villanova and Boston College, and indeed the similarities between the two are striking. Like BC, Villanova is a mid-size Catholic university, and the sense of pride in its Augustinian heritage is palpable across campus. One will quickly notice the many crosses on buildings and other structures. Villanova’s impressive church is at the heart of campus, next door to the monastery where the local Augustinian friars reside. Our tour guide delighted in telling us about his interactions with the friars in different contexts, and it is clear that they are a cherished part of the campus community. The tour guide also emphasized that students do not need to be Catholic in order to feel welcome on Villanova’s campus, but it should be noted that students who do not wish for religion to be part of their college experience may feel somewhat uncomfortable. However, the core values of ethical leadership, compassion and a strong sense of community can certainly be appreciated by students from all backgrounds and beliefs.
The campus itself is well-maintained and visually appealing, a mix of old stone buildings and newer, more modern architecture. There are several distinct quads and green spaces for students to gather, and on the day of my visit the area outside the student center was hosting a club fair to recruit students for the coming academic year. As we passed through the cheerful hubbub, our tour guide highlighted the many opportunities that students have for campus involvement through numerous clubs and service opportunities (especially popular on campus, where students annually log a collective total of 250,000 community service hours), as well as the Greek scene. About 20% of men and 25% of women choose to pledge at Villanova, meaning that although there is a spirited Greek community, those who are not interested in Greek life still have many options for socializing, both on campus and off campus in the Main Line area. The fact that Philadelphia is just a 15-minute train ride away doesn’t hurt either!
One aspect of ’Nova’s campus life that students may find particularly appealing is that housing is guaranteed for three years, and many students do choose to stay on campus. Our tour guide was excited to point out the new residence complex that is linked to the main campus by a pedestrian bridge over busy Lancaster Ave, a main drag in the Main Line area. In addition to residence halls, the complex offers quick food options, restaurants, a bookstore and a performing arts center.
Academically, Villanova offers a wide range of excellent programs. Some of the most well-known are business and engineering, but students interested in a liberal arts education may also find the school appealing. It is important to note that students must designate the college to which they are applying (the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, or the Fitzpatrick College of Nursing) on their application and are reviewed with this choice in mind. While it is possible to transfer internally, this method of direct entry admissions may be unappealing to students who are not as sure about their area of interest. Villanova also offers a highly-selective honors program to the most academically talented students.
Admission to Villanova is selective, and becoming more so every year. The overall acceptance rate in the most recent cycle, for the Class of 2027, was 20.5%. We do not yet have early decision data for the Class of 2027, but it is likely that applying ED still conferred a significant advantage; for the Class of 2026, the ED admit rate was 55.5% (vs. a 23.4% overall rate – which, it should be noted, includes ED applicants) and approximately 46% of the class was admitted in the early decision round. However, regardless of whether a student is applying ED or not, the admissions committee is looking for a high level of accomplishment. More than 75% of enrolled students in the Class of 2026 reported an unweighted high school GPA of 3.75 or higher (35% reported a perfect 4.0). Standardized test scores are optional in the admissions process, and for the Class of 2026, only 43% of enrolled students chose to apply with an SAT or ACT score. Students considering sending a test score should generally be above a 1450 on the SAT or a 33 on the ACT. Fortunately, the high percentage of students enrolling without a test score indicates that Villanova is truly test-optional and that omitting a test score will not hurt a student in the review process.
No discussion of Villanova would be complete without a mention of its powerhouse Division I sports program, which tends to make its students lifelong ’Nova fans. While basketball may be the most well-known team (winning the NCAA tournament most recently in 2018), the school also fields Big East conference champions in women’s swimming and diving as well as cross country. For those students not competing at the varsity level, Villanova offers a variety of fun club and intramural options, from more traditional sports like soccer and basketball to several Esports teams such as Rocket League and Super Smash Brother Ultimate.
Any student interested in a mid-size, suburban campus with elite academics and a spirited social life would be well-served to consider a visit to experience Villanova for themselves. Students who are interested in an education grounded in the ideal of service to others will find the university’s ethos especially appealing.