Bryn Mawr College vs Sweet Briar College

I’ve finally narrowed my search down to these two colleges: Bryn Mawr(my mom’s alma mater) and Sweet Briar. Bryn Mawr is obviously a much better known name academically than Sweet Briar and more respected. The main issue is that I would have to pay for tuition(almost 80k), and although my parents can pay it, it would be a financial stress and I would most likely have to pay for grad school. My parents don’t think a college is worth that much. On the other hand, Sweet Briar is offering me their top scholarship as apart of their presidential scholars program. Coming from an academic standpoint does it make more sense to go to Sweet Briar and be in the top of the class or Bryn Mawr and be average? I guess the question really is: is Bryn Mawr College worth paying that much extra for? Sweet Briar College, although it seems good, feels like a gamble. I’ve included some pros and cons below. Thanks for any advice and insight in advance!

Intended Major: Environmental studies/Neuroscience- possible pre med

Sweet Briar College:

  • largest scholarship (22k net cost)
  • would be part of the presidential scholars(honors program)
  • all women’s college
  • nice campus, lots of nature
  • riding stables
  • gardens/greenhouses
  • the president of the school literally called me and knows me by name
  • enviro studies head also knows me by name and has reached out
  • class size is increasing each year
  • traditions
  • overall, everyone is super helpful and accommodating


  • ~400 students=very limited classes and majors (no language classes etc.)
  • no neuroscience major(there is psych)
  • not sure how much research is done/not great science opportunities
  • very high acceptance rate/low graduation rate
  • not very well known/the fact it almost closed
    *not that many people seem that “academically rigorous” and passionate about education
    *located in the middle of nowhere and would need a car

Bryn Mawr College:

  • suuuuper nice campus
  • most prestigious school I’m considering
  • rigorous academics but non competitive atmosphere
  • freedom to change majors and take many different classes
  • lots of unique traditions
  • lots of clubs I like
  • partnership with Haverford College
  • great location
  • most diverse (international and asian)
  • all women’s
  • lots study abroad
  • mom went there
  • family is in dc so only a train ride and generally very good location


  • most expensive(literally full tuition-77k)
  • rigorous academics may be too stressful and time intensive
  • some say it is too small(~1200 students)
  • not necessarily a ton of intership/research positions for enviro science
  • parents said the professors weren’t helpful or cared too much(this was thirty years ago though)
  • overall less warm and accommodating

Let’s see $22K. $77K.

This is a no brainer. You already pointed out the stress financially - and it will be worse than you think. Every stock market iteration your parents wil lbe.

The only thing you may be wrong about is- going into Sweet Briar thinking you’ll be top of the heap. You may be but I guarantee you they have plenty of smart students.

$220K over 4 years in savings and you mentioned grad school - that’s sort of a no brainer.

Welcome to Virginia.

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I’d be very concerned about the Sweetbriar closure possibility, it was barely saved by alumni about 5 years ago.

oooooh - I missed that.

Nonetheless, Bryn Mawr should be out.

I did not let my daughter apply to any school that doesn’t offer merit aid - so I save that conversation. No Ivy, no top liberal arts (except Washington & Lee).

Because paying $320K for college, no matter how wealthy you are, is ridiculous.

There’s lots of articles on this I’m seeing - hopefully it’s not going to happen again but what great alums. You never want to see your school close - even if it’s in 30 years, etc.

Are there other options? Or - well in reading reviews (like on niche) does it seem stable and established. You definitely don’t want to find out a couple years in that they’re shutting down.

Good luck.

Check out Hollins instead of either one. They have a great financial rating and great programs, also a women’s university.

What are your other options?

They are schools the main I narrowed it down to based off of a couple different reasons, but mostly the culture/vibe of a HWC. I was also considering Washington College, Connecticut College, and Agnes Scott College.

Thanks for the insight. I hoped I would receive some merit aid when I applied, but obviously I did not. I see it the same way as you do and I don’t think any school is worth that much. However, my parents think it is worth it based on what other parents are doing and the reputation of the school. I am worried about Sweet Briar closing possibly, but most of the administration is new and very capable.

New & capable doesn’t negate a very financially fragile organization.

What sort of grad school are you considering?

What are the pros/cons for your other 3 options?

Did you get merit aid at any of your other options?

I would also have concerns about Sweet Briar – not just about it possibly closing but also about the very small student body, limited academic options etc.

What is net cost at Agnes Scott and Conn Coll? Less than BMC?

Washington College in MD good too - if you got aid.

But if you want all-female - then really there’s Agnes Scott.

I think you can “assess” the stability of Sweet Briar…it might be fine.

Typically, if a school closes, they’ll find an alternate seat for you - for example, it could merge with Hollins.

Marlboro in VT closed and merged the kids into Emerson.

If you love Sweet Briar - ask questions related to the stability - but if you’re comfortable, it’s a better choice than Bryn Mawr - just due to cost.

Marlboro/Emerson is an exceptionally poor example to use in this case! Marlboro was a bucolic rural college in Vermont with a strong “serve society” vibe. Emerson is smack dab in the middle of Boston with a pre-professional vibe. Not making a value judgement- every kid needs to figure out what they are looking for, but getting shipped off to Boston if you were planning on four years at Marlboro is hardly a great outcome…

What questions to ask about stability-- “can you show me your cash reserves, what are the unfunded pension obligations for your staff, how does the liability insurance for the current fiscal year compare with five years ago, is there any outstanding litigation that could have a material impact on the budget, how much did the college incur in legal fees related to the closing and are those fees completely paid off?”

You are asking a teenager to function like a forensic accountant???

Unstable is unstable. Competent leadership is great, and obviously the first step, but if Conn College is affordable, it’s MUCH more stable than Sweet Briar, and offers a broader and more rigorous education as well. Not as intense as Bryn Mawr, but closer…


I was providing a situation - and there are others - simply where a college will find a transitory path - that’s all.

I’m sure a lot of research can be done to see about stability - or kids can be talked to.

Yes, I would not put myself in this position but i would over Bryn Mawr. If the OP wants to be in an all-female school, Conn College isn’t the answer.

But both Conn College and Washington College are fine institutions.

She can always go to Sweet Briar - if it gets in trouble, many schools will be glad to have the OP. It’s not ideal. But it’s better than spending $80K a year.

Really, check out Hollins. They offer good aid and are in excellent financial shape. You don’t have to worry about them closing and they offer aid to almost every student. Undergraduate Financial Aid & Scholarships | Hollins University