What is it Like to Attend Bryn Mawr College?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Cassie graduated in 2012 from Bryn Mawr College, a small women’s college located outside of Philadelphia. She majored in English with a minor in Psychology and currently tutors in Philadelphia. Cassie specializes in many subjects including Reading tutoring, Biology tutoring, and ACT prep tutoring. See what she had to say about her alma mater:

VT:  Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Cassie: Bryn Mawr is located in a suburb of Philadelphia, about nine miles from the main part of the city. It’s been named one of Princeton Review’s “Dorms like Palaces” and most beautiful campuses. In the spring, the trees blossom with pink flowers, and in the fall, colored leaves coat the walking paths. The buildings at Bryn Mawr are modeled after those of the Ivy Leagues and Oxford and Cambridge – at the time of establishment (1855), the adoption of this gothic architecture was supposed to indicate that women, too, could be serious scholars.

The campus is within easy walking distance of the SEPTA regional rail, which provides a 20-minute ride into Center City Philly. SEPTA tickets are six dollars each way, but Bryn Mawr provides each student with a few free tickets each semester to encourage fun (seriously!).

More locally, students will either walk or use bikes to get into the town of Bryn Mawr, which includes a small movie theatre, boutiques, and a lot of great restaurants. Transportation between Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore colleges is provided for students via the “Blue Bus” or “Swat Van,” depending on your destination. 

VT:  How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Cassie: Professors want students in their offices. Each professor has designated office hours for walk-ins, but scheduling an appointment with a professor if the walk-in hours don’t fit your schedule or if you feel that you need more support is always an option. I never had a professor turn me away from meeting. And if our schedules didn’t work out, my professors were consistently available via email and sometimes even via personal phone. The high availability holds true for deans (each student is assigned her own dean, who, by the end of her first month at Bryn Mawr, WILL know her by her first name) as well as TAs (though TAs are not as extensively used at Bryn Mawr as they are at larger institutions). 

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Cassie: Bryn Mawr is consistently ranked for having the best campus food. Where else will you get fresh-squeezed orange juice on Sunday mornings? There are two dining halls, each of which has separate specials on a given night. Further, there are special dinners (Thanksgiving; Fall Folic; May Day) throughout the year that feature everything from barbecue to chocolate fondue. Also on campus are two cafes that serve both as collaborative study areas and sources of late-night snacks.

The dorms at Bryn Mawr hinge on community. The College has an honor system, and a lot of people feel comfortable leaving their dorm rooms unlocked. I have personally left my Macbook out on a table for hours at a time without worrying about whether it will be stolen or not. Mawrters are a supremely respectful bunch and generally will abide by the rules voted upon for each dorm at the start of the school year. 

The social life at Bryn Mawr isn’t for everyone, though. Bryn Mawr is a very intense place filled with high-achieving, driven women. It’s more likely that you’ll find a Mawrter in the library, meeting with one of her many on-campus organizations, or watching TV with a few friends on a Saturday night than at a party. Parties exist, but it isn’t the norm to go to one every weekend. On average, students party perhaps once a month.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Cassie: Bryn Mawr is a liberal arts college and embodies that to a tee. Students have wide “distribution requirements” in the classic sense of the liberal arts. No one major is “best represented and supported;” instead, some majors tend to be more popular than others. Bryn Mawr is traditionally known for the rigor of its science programs, and thus has a lot of biology major. However, each class has more than a few English and psychology majors, and the College boasts a much higher rate of women majoring in the hard sciences and math than coed schools. 

I was an English major, psychology minor, and late-decision premed student. Bryn Mawr couldn’t have been more helpful and supportive in accommodating me as an interdisciplinary student. The College really encourages varied interests; many premeds major in something other than science.

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Cassie: It’s very easy to make friends as a freshwoman. Each dorm is organized into “Customs Groups,” which begin meeting as soon as the new students set foot on campus half a week earlier than the upperclasswomen. Each Customs Group has about ten students and is mediated by two sophomores, who help the new students navigate academic, social, and extracurricular circles.

In addition to Customs, joining club and sports teams are easy ways to make friends and find supports in other classes at Bryn Mawr. And because dorms tend to be close-knit, many of the women living near each other become fast friends.

Bryn Mawr does not have Greek life.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus?  

Cassie: The Career Center (CDO) is shared with Haverford College and is constantly sending out information about workshops, mock interview opportunities, and upcoming job and internship opportunities. The office has individual career counseling sessions and encourages students to come in whether they’re freshwomen or seniors ready to graduate. Companies rarely recruit on campus, however. 

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, student union, and dorm lounges?  Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Cassie: For its 1,300 undergraduate students, Bryn Mawr has three major libraries, a handful of smaller libraries, unlocked classrooms, a campus center, nooks, crannies, and “back smokers” (in which no smoking is allowed, obviously) to accommodate the studying Mawrter. Bryn Mawr is an intensely academic school, and thus it takes its study spaces seriously. There is never a want of spaces to study.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Cassie: The town of Bryn Mawr, as I mentioned earlier, has a ton of restaurants, a small film institute, and a lot of boutiques. It’s really cute, but if students want something more exciting than “cute,” Center City Philly is a twenty-minute train ride away. Mawrters get excited about Restaurant Week and First Fridays (free entrance to art museums!), as well as concerts, historical sites, and the occasional night out clubbing. On average, a Mawrter will get into Philly a handful of times a semester. Because of the intensity of the academic workload, Mawrters tend to stay closer to home on weekends, attending on-campus concerts and parties at Haverford, and leave the Philly trips for the beginning and very end of the semester. 

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Cassie: I graduated with 407 in my class. The student body is around 1,300. Since I wanted a very small, very academically driven school, Bryn Mawr’s size and community-feel felt perfect for me. I did have moments where I felt things were too small, but getting off campus and into Philly or the surrounding area helped the feeling of being enclosed.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Cassie: I took general chemistry in my senior year on top of a course load that included a senior thesis. It was brutal. I was assigned constant problem sets and felt, at times, that I was getting nothing out of my effort. Luckily, my professor was willing to meet with me weekly (and sometimes more than weekly). He was available at all times via email, as was my lab professor and class TA. I would not recommend taking any intro-level science courses with a thesis and while participating in varsity sports – intro-level courses are often problem set-intensive – but “difficult” is typical for a Mawrter and I found that the experience better prepared me to handle the demands of the workplace.

Check out Cassie’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.