With Vassar now co-ed and Radcliffe College absorbed by Harvard, the original Seven Sisters colleges for women are now only five — Wellesley, Smith, Barnard, Bryn Mawr, and Mount Holyoke — but perhaps to keep the metaphor of the myth alive, they’re still often referred to as the Seven Sisters. The Sisters colleges remain highly competitive among liberal arts colleges in the United States. The average GPA’s of successful applicants are close to perfect and they have high SAT/ACT scores as well as strong extra-curricular leadership credentials.
Wellesley was rated #3 and Smith was tied at #12 in the national liberal arts category of the 2016 US News and World Reports. As a group, the Sister colleges retain over 90 percent of their first-year students and graduate over 80 percent of them within four years. These are extraordinary performances for any type of post-secondary institution.
Since only women apply, the US News rankings of three of the Sisters schools (Barnard #27, Bryn Mawr #31, Mt. Holyoke #36) are higher than a number of other peer colleges. This is a result of their relatively high admissions rates, caused by the fact that their women-only applicant pools are significantly smaller than many coed liberal arts colleges. A larger factor is that the Sister schools discourage excessive application volume by relying heavily on their early admissions programs.
The Seven Sisters were innovators of early admissions beginning in the 1950’s. At that time, the most elite institutions in the country were for men only or, if they were co-ed, accepted only a small minority of women. For highly qualified women, the best schools at which to earn a top-ranked degree were the Seven Sisters, elite colleges that were established in the 19th century to provide an Ivy League-equivalent education for women.
To increase their chance of admission to one of the Seven Sisters, many applicants would apply to all of them. This caused a problem for each admissions office because it made it difficult to predict the yield, i.e., the percentage of accepted students who would matriculate at their school. To cope with this problem, the Sisters collectively introduced the first binding early admissions program in 1959. It was an immediate success. The program generated a marked decline in application volume and improved each school’s ability to manage the yield rate. Within a decade, other top-tier institutions, including the Ivy League schools, had emulated the Seven Sisters by initiating early admissions programs as tools to manage yield.
The campuses of the Sister colleges vary widely in nature, from the urban Barnard in Manhattan to suburban Wellesley outside of Boston and Bryn Mawr near Philadelphia and to the more bucolic settings like Mount Holyoke and Smith. Students who aspire to attend a Sisters college are encouraged to visit each campus. They’re located relatively close together in the northeast, with three in Massachusetts (Smith, Wellesley, and Mount Holyoke), one in New York (Barnard), and one in Pennsylvania (Bryn Mawr). The driving distance from Bryn Mawr in eastern Pennsylvania to Wellesley in eastern Massachusetts is only 290 miles. The other three schools lie within this arc.
The Sister schools each have relationships with other colleges and universities that expand the educational options available to their students through shared courses, degree programs, and resources. Bryn Mawr is involved in consortia and partnerships with Haverford, Swarthmore and the University of Pennsylvania. They also offer dual degree programs in engineering with Cal Tech. Barnard is closely affiliated and shares many facilities and programs with Columbia University, which is adjacent to the Barnard campus. Mount Holyoke and Smith are members of the Five Colleges Consortium that also includes Amherst and Hampshire Colleges and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Mount Holyoke, like Bryn Mawr, offers dual degree programs with Cal Tech and also shares degree programs with Dartmouth. Wellesley is in a consortium with nearby Olin and Babson and is a partner with MIT. These partnerships result in men having a regular presence on the campuses in classes, libraries, dining halls, and other public places, giving the impression of co-ed campuses during class hours. In addition, the excellence of the engineering partners of the Sisters schools means that the STEM degrees that they award are of the highest quality. The Sister colleges all award more than 20 percent of their degrees in STEM subjects.
As a premiere college admissions consulting firm for those students seeking admission to the most elite institutions, IvySelect understands the nuances of the individual admissions policies of schools in this category. As is the case with many other top-tier institutions, we have been successful in guiding students to gain admission to Sisters colleges.
IvySelect’s approach is to understand our students so well as unique individuals that we’re able to develop an effective strategy to present their best possible selves to the schools that they wish to attend. Then, using this strategy as a guide, we assist each student in developing the elements of a successful admissions campaign involving the selection of optimum high school courses and extracurricular activities as well as the preparation of essays, interviews, and applications adapted to suit the preferences of each targeted school.