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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


“Seven Sisters” is a name given to a group of seven historically all-women’s colleges, including:


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


These colleges were all founded in the 19th century to offer women educational opportunities equal to those provided to men at the time. They also offered women broader employment opportunities in heavily male-dominated academia.  


Today, five of the seven colleges remain women’s colleges. Vassar became coeducational in 1969, and Radcliffe merged with Harvard College of Harvard University beginning in 1977, and the merge 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  was originally founded as a response to Columbia University’s refusal to admit women. Nowadays, Barnard maintains a close partnership with Columbia. The schools are just across the street from each other, and Barnard students can take classes and participate in student groups at Columbia while still enjoying the benefits of a close-knit, liberal arts college.


Unique to Barnard is the Foundations curriculum that prides itself on its rigor as well as flexibility. Women at Barnard forge their own futures, and can be confident in receiving an education that encourages different modes of thinking and global awareness. 


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. As a member of the Tri-College Consortium, which includes Swarthmore College and Haverford College, Bryn Mawr offers its students the benefits of cross-registration and convenient transportation between the other two colleges. 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 in western Massachusetts 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.


At Mount Holyoke College, students are encouraged to be open-minded thinkers–a value reflected in the academic curriculum. Mount Holyoke does not have a core, but has distribution and subject requirements. The requirements in foreign language, multicultural perspectives, and physical education prepare students to be fearless, global individuals. 



Founded: 1871

Location: Northampton, MA

Notable alumnae: Julia Child, Sylvia Path, Gloria Steinem

Admissions rate: 42%


Comprised of 40 “self-governing” houses and complexes, Smith is one of the largest women’s colleges in the United States. As members of the Five-School Consortium, Smith students can take advantage of the opportunities offered at Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire, and UMass Amherst, ranging from classes to career fairs to parties. Smith College is also home to the first all-women ABET-accredited engineering program. 



Founded: 1861

Location: Poughkeepsie, NY

Notable alumnae: Meryl Streep, Elizabeth Bishop, Katharine Graham

Admissions rate: 23.8%


Vassar is home to a sprawling 1,000-acre campus that is also a designated arboretum. The school is just 2 hours north of Manhattan, allowing students access to a major metropolitan area from their small college town. Notable for its art galleries and architecture, Vassar is particularly passionate about theater and dance, and is the alma mater of many well-known performers. Originally founded as an all-women’s institution, the college has been co-ed 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, such as Nora Ephron and Hillary Clinton. Located just 40 minutes from downtown Boston by train, Wellesley sits in close proximity to many other colleges, 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.

Why Should I Attend a Seven Sisters College?


1. Liberal Arts Education

As liberal arts colleges, the Seven Sisters boast rich histories, strong alumni networks, close-knit communities, and above all, a dedication to quality undergraduate teaching. As a student at any of these womens’ liberal arts college, you can be sure that you will have small class sizes, attentive and dedicated professors who prioritize teaching, strong support resources, and an education that emphasizes intellectual inquiry and ability.   


3. Strong Networks

Womens’ colleges exist to empower women by offering an experience that will not only prepare you for the world with a world-class education, but also ensuring that you remain well-supported by the relationships you foster and connections you make during your four years as well as the particularly strong alumni networks. 


The Seven Sisters offer a myriad of opportunities with other institutions, and many of them have close relationships with neighboring colleges, such as Bryn Mawr in the Tri-College Consortium and Smith and Mount Holyoke in the Five-College Consortium.  


4. Inclusivity

The Seven Sisters’ pride themselves on the inclusive environment they offer towards minorities, including LGBTQ students and people of color. Of the Seven Sisters members that are still women’s colleges, all admit transgender women, and any student who transitions while enrolled will have no problem graduating. 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 http://www.wellesley.edu/admission/100 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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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.