The Seven Sisters: Liberal Arts Education in the US
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The Seven Sisters: Liberal Arts Education in the US

Admission Counselling :
  • Written by UnivAdmitHelp
  • Category: Admission Application
  • Published on 17 Jul 2021

Let's understand some facts about the US Universities and their acceptance rates. 

Did you know that at one time, Ivy League colleges were reserved for men. In fact, for much of American history, U.S. colleges catered almost entirely to the male population, and for a long time, only the elite. 

 

In 1837, nearly a century before women gained the right to vote, Mount Holyoke was established as a place where women could develop their intellect, hone the power of their voices, and cultivate courage. In 1915, four colleges: Vassar, Smith, Wellesley and Mount Holyoke, got together to discuss fund-raising strategies. Over the next decade, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe also joined the league. By 1927, This group came to be known as the Seven Sisters. The name Seven Sisters has its origin in Greek mythology with reference to the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas transformed into stars. 

 

The Seven Sisters is an alliance of highly selective East Coast women’s colleges in the Northeastern United States, and are often termed as the female equivalent of the Ivy League. 

  1. Bryn Mawr
  2. Barnard College
  3. Mount Holyoke
  4. Radcliffe (merged with Harvard in 1999)
  5. Smith 
  6. Vassar (co-ed since 1969)
  7. Wellesley College 

For many candidates, the idea of going to an all-women's college is unthinkable and may even seem archaic in the 21st century. Yet, today a women’s college could be a great choice for students interested in leadership and gender advocacy. Choosing a place where you are surrounded by peers, role models, and mentors who see you and value you could transform your progress as a leader. 

Women's colleges emphasize leadership, and design coursework around that concept. However, one of the most valuable features of all the Seven Sisters schools, particularly right now, is that they all promote the importance of women taking leadership roles and succeeding in the world. Women of strength and conviction give rise to a better world, and this thought has led to the strong foundations of the Seven Sisters as we know them. 

 

This Alliance is not exactly all-women either. 

At the Seven Sisters, there is a sense of commitment to gender equity and gender advocacy.  To begin with, all seven colleges were established to create equal opportunities for women’s education. As Lynn Pasquerella, President, Mount Holyoke, said in her recent statement, the school remains committed to its mission as a women's college, but "what it means to be a woman is not static." Accordingly, all seven schools now admit transgenders, and some colleges still have slightly varied admissions policies. Mount Holyoke has the most liberal policy, Smith welcomes non-binary students and the admission policy at Barnard is more conservative. They welcome applicants who "consistently live and identify as women, regardless of the gender assigned to them at birth." Vassar accepts students of all gender identities; it has been co-ed since 1969. Lastly, Radcliffe merged with Harvard in 1999 and no longer admits undergraduate students.

By keeping the definitions of gender dynamic, one can see how gender advocacy, equitable rights, and strong women create a strong foundation for the Seven Sisters.

The acceptance rates 

Every year a large number of students apply to US colleges and universities. Only a certain percentage make it through. This percentage is referred to as the Acceptance Rate. The lower the acceptance rate, the more selective the college, and the harder it is to gain admission. 

Here's a list of the top five liberal arts colleges in the country and their acceptance rates.
School Name: Admission Rate
Pomona: 7%
Amherst: 11%
Haverford: 16%
Swarthmore: 9%
Williams: 13%

Ivy League Acceptance Rates too fall in a similarly sobering range. Put together, this year there were nearly 400,000 applicants to the Ivy League, and only ~21,000 acceptances - this gives us an average acceptance rate of 5.3%. 53 out of 1000 applicants. (For the Class of 2025)

 

Enrollment

Applicants

Acceptance Rate

Brown

2,537

46,568

5.4%

Columbia

2,218

60,551

3.7%

Cornel

5,836

~68,000

~8.6%

Dartmouth

1,749

28,357

6.2%

Harvard

1,968

57,435

3.4%

Penn

3,202

56,333

5.7%

Princeton

1,498

37,601

4.0%

Yale

2,169

46,905

4.6%

Total

21,177

~401,750

~5.3%

 

Looking back at the admission rates of the Seven Sisters, the percentages vary from 10% to 38%. It might seem strange, but if you look again, there’s a small difference: the pool of applicants is significantly smaller than for the Ivy League because these are women’s colleges. This could be the reason why the percentages seem markedly higher and is in no way a measure of the college’s selectivity. 

 

Year 

Name

Acc. Rate

Intl Applicants

Enrollment

Co-Ed

1889

Barnard, NY

10.8 %

11%

2,682

No

1880

Bryn Mawr, PA

33.2 %

21%

1,384

No

1836

Mt. Holyoke, MA

38.0 %

18%*

2,300

No

1894

Radcliffe, MA

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

1871

Smith, MA

32.5 %

12%*

2,894

No

1861

Vassar, NY

23.8 %

10%*

2,441

Yes

1870

Wellesley, MA

21.6 %

 

2,519

No

 

On the face of it, it might even be easier to gain admission to the Seven Sisters, and gain an additional advantage because they all have a strong Ivy League affiliation. 

 

Curriculum and Partnerships

A Seven Sisters education promises to give you: 

  • Small class sizes
  • Great student-faculty ratios
  • A strong focus on academics

The seven schools have partnered with nearby institutions that allow students to take classes there as well to expand on their academic horizons. They provide co-ed classes and a different learning experience. Five out of the seven colleges have a strong exchange program with other nearby co-ed institutions. Most of these colleges allow you to cross-register with one or more co-educational colleges and universities. Of the seven colleges, four still function as independent, private women's colleges. Radcliffe College does not function as a separate institution admitting students. It dissolved in 1999 after a gradual integration with Harvard beginning formally in 1963. Barnard College still exists as a separate legal entity, but is closely affiliated with Columbia. Yale and Vassar did not merge, though Yale extended an offer to do so, and Vassar became a coeducational college in 1969, remaining independent. Each of the other colleges remains a private women's college, after considering coeducation.

 

College

Ivy League Affiliates and Partnerships

Barnard, NY City

Columbia University

Bryn Mawr

University of Pennsylvania

Haverford College

Swarthmore College

Mt. Holyoke

Dartmouth 

Radcliffe

Harvard

Smith

Mt. Holyoke

Hampshire

Amherst College

U. MA

Vassar

Yale 

Wellesley

MIT

 

Barnard is almost a part of Columbia University as it is located just across Broadway from Columbia's main campus, and is one of four undergraduate schools within the Columbia University system. This accessibility allows students to take classes outside of their school. There’s a lot of crossover between these two schools as clubs and resources are shared. One can take any class at Columbia (except for the Columbia core classes) and any Columbia students can take a class at Barnard.

 

Excerpts from Barnard.edu

“I’m a humanities major who loves space, and within my first few weeks at Barnard, I joined a Columbia aerospace engineering club. I get to spend time each week actively working with space, and I don’t think that would be true if it weren’t for Barnard and Columbia.

Statistics and Bhangra: Akshaya Nataraj ’17 fully leveraged the best-of-both-worlds resources of Barnard and Columbia. While studying statistics in the Columbia Department of Statistics, Akshaya taught herself coding languages so that she could better assist leading researchers in answering important medical questions. At the same time, she led Columbia’s Bhangra dance team to competitions around the U.S., making lifelong friends along the way.”

The other colleges, with their affiliations and strong partnerships, allow an equally open-ended experience for their students. If you are thinking of applying for any of the Sister colleges, you can rest assured that it comes with an opening for experiences at the Ivy League colleges as well. 

 

Why should you choose a Seven Sister college?

The Seven Sister Alliance has created a strong and secure world of education for women. With their age-old focus on multidisciplinary learning and Open Curriculums, they make learning an open-ended affair. A bilateral focus on gender equity and gender advocacy allows these colleges to create strong leaders ready to bring change into the world. Their close affiliations with Ivy League partners like Yale and Columbia provide even wider opportunities to their students. 

A Seven Sister student is a well rounded individual with a deep and wide spectrum of learning, and a possibility to learn more. They have a connected sense of understanding the world around them thanks to the nurturing system of education. The world needs more leaders like these students!

 

Further Reading:

Why do we need the Liberal Arts?

Williams College: The finest in Liberal Arts

Why does the college application have so many parts?

The Call of the Humanities