Seven Sisters Colleges: What You Need to Know

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What are the Seven Sisters? These colleges have a long and illustrious history—and could be the perfect fit for you. Learn all about this group of prestigious, liberal arts colleges.


A Brief History of the 7 Sisters

The name “Seven Sisters” describes a group of seven historically all-women’s colleges, including:


  • Barnard College
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Mount Holyoke College
  • Radciffe College
  • Smith College
  • Vassar College
  • Wellesley College


These colleges were all founded in the 19th century to give women educational opportunities. Today, most of the schools continue to be women-led. Of the seven, five are still all-women’s colleges. Vassar became coed in 1969, and Radcliffe merged with Harvard College of Harvard University beginning in 1977. The merger was completed in 1999.



The Seven Sisters designation was established in 1927 based on the colleges’ affiliations with their Ivy League male-college counterparts.


The Seven Sisters: The Colleges

Barnard College

Founded: 1889

Location: New York, NY

Notable alumnae: Martha Stewart, Zora Neale Hurston, Lauren Graham

Admissions rate: 13.9%

Located in New York’s Morningside Heights, Barnard provides plenty of opportunities for its students. The college maintains a close partnership with Columbia University, and students have the best of both worlds: they are able to take classes and participate in student groups at Columbia while still enjoying the benefits of a close-knit, liberal arts college.


Bryn Mawr

Founded: 1885

Location: Bryn Mawr, PA

Notable alumnae: Katharine Hepburn, Dorothy Goodman, Margaret Ayer Barnes

Admissions rate: 38%

Known for distinctive traditions such as Lantern Night and May Day, Bryn Mawr is located right outside of Philadelphia. The college was also the first to offer PhDs to women.


Mount Holyoke

Founded: 1837

Location: South Hadley, MA

Notable alumnae: Emily Dickinson, Frances Perkins, Virginia Apgar

Admissions rate: 52.1%

The oldest member of the Seven Sisters, Mount Holyoke is also part of the Five-School Consortium with Amherst College, Hampshire College, Smith College, and UMass Amherst. The group shares resources and transportation services, and students may take classes at other colleges within the Consortium.



Founded: 1871

Location: Northampton, MA

Notable alumnae: Julia Child, Sylvia Path, Gloria Steinem

Admissions rate: 42%

Comprised of 37 “self-governing” houses, Smith is one of the largest women’s colleges in the United States. Like Holyoke, it is part of the Five-School Consortium, enabling it to offer even more opportunities to students.



Founded: 1861

Location: Poughkeepsie, NY

Notable alumnae: Meryl Streep, Elizabeth Bishop, Katharine Graham

Admissions rate: 23.8%

Notable for its art galleries and architecture, Vassar is particularly passionate about theater and dance, graduating many well-known performers. The college has been coed since 1969.



Founded: 1881

Location: Wellesley, MA

Notable alumnae: Madeleine Albright, Nora Ephron, Hillary Rodham Clinton

Admissions rate: 22%

One of the most prestigious women’s colleges, Wellesley is known for its esteemed alumnae. Located in Greater Boston, Wellesley sits in close proximity to many other colleges and universities, and students can cross-register with schools including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brandeis University, Babson College, and Olin College.


Originally, the Seven Sisters included Radcliffe College as well, but the college is no longer independent of Harvard.

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Why Should I Attend a Seven Sisters College?


1. Liberal Arts Education


The Seven Sisters boast rich histories and strong networks, as well as close-knit communities. Being an alum of a prestigious, liberal arts school can open up many doors, which will serve you well in the future.


2. Less Selective


Admissions rates may seem deceptively high, because students who apply to members of the Seven Sisters tend to be more self-selecting. Furthermore, many of the schools are all-women, already limiting the pool of applicants. Still, this doesn’t mean your chance of acceptance to some of the Sevens Sisters isn’t a bit higher compared with that of peer institutions.


3. Strong Networks


You’ll also enjoy the resources of the colleges with which the Seven Sisters are affiliated. Many of them have established relationships with neighboring colleges, giving you the opportunity to connect with students and professors from those schools.


4. Inclusive


Finally, historically all-women’s colleges tend to offer a welcoming atmosphere to LGBTQ students. Of the Seven Sisters members that are still women’s colleges, all admit transgender women and graduate anyone who transitions while enrolled. Mount Holyoke also admits transgender men and nonbinary students.


3 Tips for Getting into Seven Sisters Colleges

In addition to having a strong academic and extracurricular profile, these other nuances will help you in the admissions process when you’re applying to a Seven Sisters college


Tip #1: Make sure you’re using the right language.


It’s a huge faux pas to misstate facts or frame information incorrectly on your college application. Pay attention to the language the Seven Sisters use in their admissions materials, on tours, and anyplace else you encounter.


For example, those that are female-only refer to themselves as all-women’s colleges as opposed to all-girls’ colleges. Pay attention to this and other nuances to prevent yourself from committing avoidable gaffes on your application.



Tip #2: Do your research.


Research is an important aspect of the college admissions process in general. You need to make sure the college is the right fit for you as well as demonstrate to the college that you’ll thrive in its environment.


Many of the Seven Sisters have strong ties to their surrounding communities and neighboring colleges. Research, in this case, is essential to understanding these relationships and the resources they provide.



Tip #3: Demonstrate your commitment in your essay.


Many of the Seven Sisters specifically ask you to explain why the college or specific aspects of the college appeal to you. For example, Wellesley’s prompt states:


When choosing a college community, you are choosing a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. Generations of inspiring women have thrived in the Wellesley community, and we want to know what aspects of this community inspire you to consider Wellesley. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but the ”Wellesley 100” is a good place to start. Visit and let us know, in two well-developed paragraphs, which two items most attract, inspire, or energize you and why. (p.s. ”Why” matters to us.) (2 paragraphs)


In your response to this and other Seven Sisters prompts, you need to make it clear that you’re committed to this college in particular. Performing your research is fundamental to crafting a solid response.


Additionally, perhaps more so than for other selective colleges, history and culture are qualities that are especially important to Seven Sisters colleges, which boast strong communities and thrive on their original missions of delivering educational opportunities to those who didn’t have access to them previously. Make sure to incorporate elements of the colleges’ cultures, noting, for example, traditions that appeal to you.


Is a Seven Sisters college for you? To learn more about these and other all-women’s colleges, check out:


A Guide to Single-Sex Colleges

FAQs: Applying to a Women’s College


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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.