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101 N Merion Avenue
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
p. 610-526-5000
w. www.brynmawr.edu

Bryn Mawr College

Bryn Mawr College Rating: 4.8/5 (5 votes)

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Ranks 7th in Pennsylvania and 50th overall
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Your first glimpse of Bryn Mawr is unforgettable. At the end of a winding Montgomery County road, the wooded manses will give way to a spectacular view of the famed collegiate gothic architecture. From across a hilly expanse of lawn, you will glimpse Pembroke Arch, gateway to the main campus, where the mighty spire of Goodhart Auditorium peeks above the towers of Thomas Great Hall. This is Bryn Mawr College where women have been offered the finest liberal arts education imaginable since 1885.

When Dr. Joseph Taylor, a Quaker physician from New Jersey, founded Bryn Mawr he intended it to be a trailblazing institute of higher learning for young women, with particular emphasis on the sciences. It was also the first women’s college to offer the Ph.D. Bryn Mawr, Welsh for “big hill,” is one of the four remaining independent Seven Sisters of the Ivy Leagues, those late nineteenth-century colleges built exclusively for women when coeducational environments were not yet in vogue.

Today, Bryn Mawr is known for its vast array of rigorous academic programs, including thirty-six majors and thirty-eight minors to choose from. Indeed, Bryn Mawr’s strong reputation in all liberal arts disciplines places it among the top schools in the country. Approximately 1,300 undergraduates comprise the student body in addition to the co-ed postbaccalaureate program (“post-bacs”) and assorted grad students from the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Its intimate size is perhaps one of Bryn Mawr’s greatest strengths as a liberal arts institution, offering as close to “one on one” instruction as it gets in the United States.

While the English tutorial system is very much alive on campus, as exhibited by seminar classes of eight to fifteen students and more traditional lecture-style classes with typical enrollment of twenty to forty students. There are also independent studies available to upper-level undergraduates in which you truly do get to work with one or two advisors on a self-designed extended project. The student-faculty ratio is an astounding eight to one so you’re definitely going to get a lot of face time with your professors. All the more reason to make sure you’ve read the material in preparation for each class! Your professors and your peers expect you to come to class ready to engage in lively discussion, so don’t be shy. If there’s one thing a Mawrter is not, it’s a wallflower, but we are a supportive bunch and understand that this is quite a change from high school.

Situated on one-hundred and thirty-five pastoral acres, Bryn Mawr occupies a lovely niche of the Main Line, just eleven miles west of central Philadelphia. Easily accessible by car and train, Bryn Mawr is convenient to several notable shopping and recreational destinations; most famously, perhaps, the King of Prussia Mall, which rivals the Mall of America in sheer size. Of course, the historical city of Philadelphia with its 250,000 college students and numerous museums, restaurants, and nighttime hotspots is of great appeal to Mawrters who want to cut loose on the weekends and socialize off campus. As an added bonus, Bryn Mawr is part of a college consortium with Haverford, Swarthmore, and the University of Pennsylvania. Students may take courses at any of the four schools, but the relationship with Haverford is an especially close one. Majoring at either institution, participating in Bi-College (bi-Co) programs and events is the norm and encouraged. Between Haverford and Bryn Mawr there are more than 3,000 cross-registrations per year. Within the college consortium there are more than 5,000 courses to choose from. (Yes, ladies, there might just be a member of the opposite sex in your eighteenth-century satire class.)

Bryn Mawr is an investment on several levels. In order to make the most of it, you’re going to have to work. You better believe we earn that title of “Mawrter.” Everyone struggles through a class or two during their time at BMC. This may not be something that a high school honors student is prepared for at the end of her senior year, but it makes your multilayered liberal arts education all the richer for the effort. The truth is, when you finally pass through the stone arches at the end of your undergraduate career, you aren’t leaving with a mere diploma. You leave Bryn Mawr with a purposeful vision of your life and a desire to make a meaningful contribution to the world. You leave Bryn Mawr with your lantern, a light bearer, ready to illuminate the way for others to follow.


It is impossible to describe the typical first-year course load, as freshwomen have surprising freedom when choosing their classes. For a detailed list of requirements, see the sidebar. Each student, like it or not, participates in the somewhat stressful “shopping period” at the start of the new semester. This privilege can be a curse when it means that rosters are not finalized until a class is lotteried by necessity (admittedly a rare occurrence outside of in-demand History of Art and Creative Writing, which keep class sizes under sixteen) if there are too many people preregistered for it. Worst case scenario, an underclasswoman is asked to register again the next time the course is offered. If you plan accordingly, you will have no regrets when it comes to squeezing in every course you eagerly highlighted in the catalog you received during Customs Week (first-year orientation).

Situated on one-hundred and thirty-five pastoral acres, Bryn Mawr occupies a lovely niche of the Main Line, just eleven miles west of central Philadelphia. Easily accessible by car and train, Bryn Mawr is convenient to several notable shopping and recreational destinations; most famously, perhaps, the King of Prussia Mall, which rivals the Mall of America in sheer size. Of course, the historical city of Philadelphia with its 250,000 college students and numerous museums, restaurants, and nighttime hotspots is of great appeal to Mawrters who want to cut loose on the weekends and socialize off campus. As an added bonus, Bryn Mawr is part of a college consortium with Haverford, Swarthmore, and the University of Pennsylvania. Students may take courses at any of the four schools, but the relationship with Haverford is an especially close one. Majoring at either institution, participating in Bi-College (bi-Co) programs and events is the norm and encouraged. Between Haverford and Bryn Mawr there are more than 3,000 cross-registrations per year. Within the college consortium there are more than 5,000 courses to choose from. (Yes, ladies, there might just be a member of the opposite sex in your eighteenth-century satire class.)

Many Mawrters opt to major and minor, or double major, double major or even double major with a minor or concentration.

Honor Code

To give you an idea of how invested we are, academically speaking, the Honor Code looms over all campus activity. Haverford and Swarthmore have their own variations on this governing principle, but the essentials are as follows: There is no discussion of grades or GPA standing among students, not even best friends. While it is ridiculous to assume that this is universally upheld, it is extremely rare to overhear this type of chatter on campus. Why? Because Bryn Mawr encourages competition with the self and only the self. You’re here to learn, not gossip and undermine others. GPAs are not weighted, there is no curve, and you get what you deserve, end of story.

This honor code extends into social life as well and covers all things under the Golden Rule of “do unto others.” It’s common sense. Don’t steal, don’t lie, and rest assured, if you are caught you will go to the Honor Board and that is a very public process. Quakers don’t hold back. Additionally, to maintain these basic rights, Bryn Mawr makes good use of its Self Government Association, or SGA, the oldest in the nation, founded in 1892. Plenary, a tedious but necessary convening of the entire student body (at least two-thirds in attendance is needed to make Quorum) is held twice a year. You meet, you listen, and you vote on current issues. It is a privilege and one of the standouts of academic and campus life. Overall, BMC is a very liberal environment but no one will force her views on you unless solicited. Mawrters respect one another for their differences, as well as their similarities.

Advisors and Faculty

At Bryn Mawr, you’re treated as a peer and an adult. This can be an adjustment for many freshwomen, some of whom have never even done their own laundry before. You are assigned a Dean, alphabetically, and he or she will act as your chief academic advisor for the first two years before you declare a major at the end of your sophomore year. Once you have a major, your class year will be assigned an advisor or you can choose a mentor, usually a professor with whom you have worked closely in the past, to see you through scheduling for the remainder of your time at Bryn Mawr. Your support network of faculty and staff is more than happy to find the time to meet with you. Office hours are a hallmark of the collegial give-and-take present at Bryn Mawr that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. It is not uncommon for professors to invite students to their homes, to meet in town at Starbucks, or in one of the cafes on campus, or just to lend a sympathetic ear after class. These bonds you create, departmentally and otherwise, you will nurture for the rest of your life.

After cramming in four to five academic classes per semester and one or two gym credits, you’re probably wondering where you go to learn everything you need to know. Bryn Mawr has numerous quiet lounge/study spaces or loud and social spaces, depending on how much work you actually plan to do. The recently renovated campus center is a popular nocturnal perch where two men named Ben and Jerry are always available and your best friend is just a cozy chair away. Try the gourmet sandwiches and assortment of bubble teas if you plan to make a night of it.

Liberal Arts Majors

It’s not uncommon for Mawrtyrs to double or triple up on majors and minors. And if you don’t see it here, you can design your own.

  • Africana Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Architecture
  • Arts Program
  • Astronomy at Haverford
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology
  • Classics
  • Comparative Literature
  • Computer Science
  • East Asian Studies
  • Economics
  • Education
  • English
  • Environmental Studies
  • Film Studies
  • French and French Studies
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Geology
  • German
  • Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies
  • Growth and Structure of Cities
  • Hebrew and Judaic Studies
  • Hispanic and Hispanic-American Studies *History
  • History of Art
  • International Studies
  • Italian
  • Linguistics at Swarthmore
  • Mathematics
  • Middle East Studies Initiative
  • Neural and Behavioral Sciences
  • Peace and Conflict Studies
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Religion at Haverford
  • Romance Languages
  • Russian
  • Sociology
  • Spanish

Labs and Libraries

For those times when only silence will do, there’s a computer lab and three libraries on campus; Canaday is the largest, housing the rare books and general collections (hello, English majors), Carpenter, the Classics and Art History Library, is the belle of the architectural ball, built in 1997, and finally, there’s Collier Science Library (no mystery there). Bryn Mawr houses over one million volumes; an astounding number for a college of its size. There is a wonderful electronic resource called Blackboard where profs post course syllabi, assignments, PDFs of that night’s reading and even facilitate discussion groups. You get all the biblio-perks of the Tri-Co, as well, meaning you can order a book from Harverford or Swarthmore via EZ Borrow and it arrives, in most cases, the next day. They even e-mail you to tell you it’s in. This is handy for seniors in thesis mode and for special projects but be warned, you can’t keep it just because you ordered it. If someone requests it, you need to turn it in and then a book war ensues.

Academics at Bryn Mawr are rigorous. This accounts for the tee-totaling vibe on campus, though Bryn Mawr is not technically a “dry” school, and means that even on a warm spring evening toward the end of the year, the dutiful scholars will be click-clacking away on their laptops, sprawled on the lawn (there’s wireless on Merion Green) or bent over Proust, sunning on Carpenter Beach. Mawrters take breaks, for sure, whether it be Pilates in the gym, a quick run to Starbucks, or a good movie in the dorm living room. Mawrters know how to kick off their shoes but only after an honest day’s work. Here it’s work hard, play hard, and one need only look to the Great Kate as an example.

Tired of studying for final exams, Katharine Hepburn famously stole away to the Cloisters Fountain, stripped down to her birthday suit, and plunged into the icy waters for a refreshing dip. Many students honor Kate with a ritual skinny dip before graduating, though the fountain is now chlorinated and nudity is optional. (I recommend doing this under cover of darkness, as there are 360 degrees of classrooms surrounding the cloisters but hey, if you feel lucky…)

Most Popular Fields of Study

Financial Aid

So you’ve been accepted? Congratulations! Before you freak when you look at the yearly tuition bill (and please save your parents a heart attack, too) know that fifty-eight percent of the student body receives need-based financial aid. While Bryn Mawr doesn’t operate on merit-based scholarships, need-based financial aid is available. In addition to Federal Aid and Bryn Mawr grant aid, seventy percent of the student population holds down a campus job through the work-study program. For more information, contact a representative from the Financial Aid Office. It doesn’t come cheap but believe me, you can afford a Bryn Mawr education and it’s worth every penny in post-grad paybacks.

Student Financial Aid Details

Ranks 4456th for the average student loan amount.
Secrets to getting the best scholarships and financial aid in Pennsylvania.


Dining Services

During your time at Bryn Mawr you will grow and in more ways than one; dining services sees to that freshman year, as your waistline bears the effects of five-star meals in your choice of three full-service dining halls and two student-operated cafes. The food is truly spectacular, offering award-winning creations for all tastes—vegan, vegetarian, or carnivorous. Haffner is home to the rotating “international bar” where you can sample such delicacies as Pho noodles or Tapas. Erdman is the largest of the halls, open for three meals a day. Inside its cavernous halls you’ll find a spectacular offering of ice cream and fro-yo (with toppings) and a short-order line for when all you really want is a good burger. Rhodes, the smallest, is the most traditional in appearance with wood-paneled walls, leaded windows, and chandeliers, but it gets crowded because it stays open late to feed hungry athletes returning from the battlefield. Get there early for a seat and expect to cozy up to a neighbor.

Fitness Center

Never fear: there is a fully equipped fitness center to take care of the aforementioned “growth,” not to mention twelve varsity athletic teams, a rugby club, and, oh right, that pesky Phys. Ed. Requirement (see sidebar or details). Active minds need active bodies so put down that book and join a dance or yoga class, if the commitment of Division III sports isn’t for you. And once you curb your enthusiasm over the free-for-all dining experience, the growing is more figurative than substantive.

Student Body

Bryn Mawr challenges you in unexpected ways, both academically and interpersonally. Campus life is a close-knit network of relationships that encourages you to coexist with women from multifarious backgrounds and viewpoints, some of which you may never have been exposed to before. With more than forty-nine states and forty-three countries represented in the student body, you’re sure to meet some incredible young women with whom you’ll forge a lasting bond of friendship. To help ease the transition from high school to college, Bryn Mawr’s Residential Life department sorts incoming students into hall groups throughout the thirteen residence halls, each a uniquely charming building in varying architectural styles, matching them with roommates based on a compatibility questionnaire. A hall group consists of ten to twenty-two freshwomen living in traditional doubles, triples, or quads (and in some dwindling cases, singles) who are watched over by two upperclasswomen called Customs People.

Customs People

The Customs People are usually energetic sophomores or juniors who encourage socializing on the hall during orientation week and carry out the role of “big sister” and counselor throughout the year. They are also the sources behind “hall teas,” a hangover from the days of petticoats and, well, high tea, though now the ritual frequently revolves around junk food or hot cocoa before packing the frosh off to study. As far as dorm life is concerned, you couldn’t ask for a better setup than Bryn Mawr. It’s all women sharing the bathroom, which is about as close to collegiate heaven as it gets. But be advised, despite the Victorian grandeur, traditional bunk beds are still a part of the first-year experience if you’re placed in a triple or quad, but there are also perks such as oversized window seats with sweeping views of campus, or ornate (nonworking) fireplaces. Remember: John D. Rockefeller’s niece went here so you know the digs are pretty sweet.

The Customs People are overseen by one Hall Advisor, generally a senior, who is the equivalent of an RA at larger universities. She is more of a “hall mother,” responsible for the practical things such as hall maintenance and checking in with the housekeeper, coordinating Hell Week events with the other HAs in the building, and overseeing the traditions budget for the year. There are also class quotas on each hall to ensure that no dorm or section of a building is exclusively for freshwomen or exclusively for seniors. There’s a little Quaker process called Room Draw that sees to that. (Freshwomen don’t go through it until the end of their first year.) It is worth noting that your hall group is your introduction to life on the Mawr and many Mawrters form the closest bonds with their original hall mates, while others remain friendly over the next three years but move on to live with other people. It all depends on the luck of the draw but the personal evaluations help the process of matching up roommates. Plus, it’s a nice confidence boost to have a built-in network of upperclasswomen when you’re just a “froshling” on campus.

There are nearly one-hundred clubs and student-run organizations available for the joining. Part of the beauty of self-government is the privilege of a healthy activities budget so if, by some miracle, you don’t see the club for you already listed, you have the opportunity to create your own. From political and religious groups to community service and culturally based clubs, there’s something for everyone. In addition to student-run activities, the Residential Life office sponsors some pretty amazing day-trips to New York, Philadelphia, a shuttle to King of Prussia Mall, event nights with Karaoke, Guitar Hero, and perhaps Wii, so you don’t even have to leave campus if you don’t want to. There are humanitarian-minded weekends of service sponsored by community service organizations that anyone can participate in. The options are all there but you have to take the initiative.

Career Development Office

Similarly, Bryn Mawr’s Career Development Office is an oft-overlooked gem that has access to several databases listing over 2,000 internships and externships with alumnae. Take advantage of this incredible resource during your first two years and you’ll be happy you did when it comes time for the real job hunt. While Bryn Mawr doesn’t generally offer academic credit for summers of service, you make up for it in real-world contacts that will open doors you didn’t even know existed. There’s free peer counseling or you can schedule an appointment with a career coach to go over interviewing skills and resumes. The bonds of sisterhood truly do extend into the workplace and you’re sure to meet some incredibly talented and accomplished Mawrters along your life’s journey, beginning with apprenticeships and leading to bigger and better things beyond.

Katharine Hepburn once remarked that Bryn Mawr ‘isn’t nylon, isn’t plastic, but is pure gold.’ During my four years there, I met the most intelligent, dedicated, and determined women (whether in the classroom, the chem lab, or rowing on the Schuykill) with whom I had ever or will ever come in contact. They became some of my best friends. I also had the opportunity to lead discussion in small, intensive English classes and pursue original research as an undergraduate with various faculty members supported by the college’s Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowship. These experiences more than prepared me for graduate education and my future responsibilities teaching undergraduates of my own. If you want the best and brightest, the pure gold standard, you should absolutely choose Bryn Mawr.


Traditions are an integral part of the Mawrter’s experience and essential to understanding the bonds of sisterhood. A word of caution: Some people take them really, really seriously and others don’t get into it at all. In typical Bryn Mawr spirit, you will never be forced to participate in anything that makes you uncomfortable but you should definitely give them a shot. The main traditions are as follows: Parade Night takes place the first night of classes when unwitting first years run the gauntlet through sophomores spraying water guns/throwing water balloons, “sympathetic juniors” toss candy at you to make it all better, and seniors stand around in various states of sobriety because they are “apathetic” and have seen this three times before. It’s wacky, it’s fun, it’s a bit of light humor to start the year off right.

The next tradition is appropriately placed around Halloween. Lantern Night brings out the witch in every woman, as we dress up in seriously antique “bat robes” from the turn of the century, chant Greek hymns to the goddess Athena, and prepare to receive the ultimate emblem of Bryn Mawrterdom—the mighty lantern. Each class is assigned a color corresponding to the four elements (light blue for air, dark blue for water, green for earth, and red for fire.) The panes of glass in your lantern will match your class color and make you a bonafide, recognizable Bryn Mawr alum when you take it out into the world. This is a highly symbolic evening, as it is your official welcome to the class of 20__. Many people lose it, emotionally, so tuck some tissues into your little bat wing.

A few other favorite traditions include the mother of them all, Hell Week, where freshwomen prove if they really have what it takes to stick it out for another three years (just kidding! It’s fun!) as their sophomore “hellers” give them tasks to complete, ranging from the daring to the moderately humiliating. Example: Ever proposed to your calculus professor in front of a roomful of peers? This is a true bonding experience, rewarded with a pancake breakfast at IHOP after you run your buns off at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning to the Haverford Duck Pond. Did I mention this is fun? Finally, there’s May Day to close out the year.

On the first Sunday after classes end in spring, Mawrters and their professors take to Merion Green to welcome in the May with ye olde faire on the lawn. There are four poles erected for the four classes, each with appropriately colored ribbon, and there’s a “May Hole” for the more progressive-minded where you can toss flower petals and listen to Dar Williams until your heart is content. It’s a daylong picnic with performances and music and merriment culminating in a feast to rival Henry VIII’s finest, as well as a midnight screening of “The Philadelphia Story.”

From the moment you arrive on campus, the observant freshwoman will note the many owls carved into the stone archways throughout the forty campus buildings. The owl is Athena’s totem, an emblem of wisdom. Athena is Bryn Mawr’s patron goddess and indeed, her effigy stands in the far right corner of Thomas Great Hall. It is a copy of the original statue from antiquity that was damaged by some errant Haverfordians in the 1970s. The original Athena survived the misguided prank and now rests safely in a niche high above Carpenter library.

Student Enrollment Demographics

Student Graduation Demographics


Bryn Mawr graduates go on to make their meaningful contributions to the world in nearly every discipline under the sun. We are writers, actors, nonprofit founders, CEOs, scientists, teachers, and more. BMC alums have a nearly eighty percent acceptance rate into law schools and just over a seventy-five percent acceptance rate into medical schools. With a solid liberal arts education, Mawrters are equipped to set the world on fire and that’s exactly what we do. Thinking back to that application crunch time not so long ago, I am reminded of a quote so apt it feels like a custom epitaph from E. B. White:

“I have known many graduates of Bryn Mawr. They are all of the same mold. They have all accepted the same bright challenge: Something is lost that has not been found, something’s at stake that has not been won, something is started that has not been finished, something is dimly felt that has not been fully realized. They carry the distinguishing mark—the mark that separates them from other educated and superior women: The incredible vigor, the subtlety of mind, the warmth of spirit, the aspiration, the fidelity to past and to present. As they grow in years, they grow in light. As their minds and hearts expand, their deeds become more formidable, their connections more significant…I once held a live hummingbird in my hand. I once married a Bryn Mawr girl. To a large extent they are twin experiences. Sometimes I feel as though I were a diver who had ventured a little beyond the limits of safe travel under the sea and had entered the strange zone where one is said to enjoy the rapture of the deep.”

Notable Alumnae

  • Emily Green Balch, 1889, Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Ume Tsuda, 1892, the Founder and First President of Tsuda College, Tokyo
  • Nettie Stevens, Ph.D., 1903, the First Person to Observe that the X and Y Chromosomes Determine Gender
  • Marianne Moore, 1909, Poet
  • Katherine Sergeant White, 1914, the Co-founder of The New Yorker Magazine
  • Dorothy Klenke Nash, 1922, the First Woman Neurosurgeon in the United States
  • Katharine Hepburn, 1927, the First Woman to Receive Four Academy Awards (Double Major in History and Philosophy)
  • Hanna Holborn Gray, 1950, the First Woman President of a Major American University (Former President of the University of Chicago)
  • Alice Rivlin, 1952, the First Woman to Head the Congressional Budget Office and commission on Budget and Financial Priorities, Also Known as the RIvlin Commission
  • Susan Band Horwitz, 1958, the Person to Discover How a Derivative of Yew Tree Bark Could Be Used to Slow Tumor Growth, Paving the Way for the Development of the Anticancer Drug, Taxol
  • Shirley Peterson, 1963, the First Woman to Head the Internal Revenue Service
  • Drew Gilpin Faust, 1968, the First Woman President of Harvard College
  • Allyson Y. Schwartz, M.S.S., 1972, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, 13th Congressional District of Pennsylvania (Pennslvania’s Only Female Congresswoman)
  • Rhea Graham, 1974, First Woman and First African-American to Serve as Director of the U.S. Bureau of Mines
  • Candace Beebe Pert, 1970, a Psychoneuroimmunoloigst at NIMH and Developer of Nontoxic AIDS Therapy
  • Sari Horwitz, 1979, a Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist for the Washington Post
  • Julie Beckman, 1995, Won the Nationwide Competition to Design a Memorial to the victims of the September 11 Terrorist Attack at the Pentagon
  • Maggie Siff, 1996, Actress Who Currently stars in TV’s, Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy

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