We have a guide for that too!
The Requirements: 3 essays of 300 words
The Seven Sisters aren’t just women’s colleges, they’re also historic institutions that have helped carve out space for women in higher education. Barnard admissions will be looking for a commitment not just to women’s education but to the type of community they aim to create as they build each incoming class. In other words, a perfunctory application won’t cut it! The smaller the school, the higher the scrutiny. So give yourself time to brainstorm, draft, and refine before you hit submit!
Admissions is curious to learn when, where, and with whom you feel most like yourself. So, tell them a story that captures the environment in which you feel your most powerful and free. The story you tell can be about a place (the lake behind your grandmother’s house, the kitchen counter with a new recipe, behind a telescope), a person or people (your core friend group, your mom, the queer community), or an activity (playing an instrument, competing, teaching). No matter what you choose, use sensory details to pull your reader into your story and make them feel like they’re in the room with you. Then, address the latter part of the prompt by drawing connections between where/when/how you feel your most authentic and powerful to Barnard’s offerings. If you feel most yourself behind a telescope, maybe you can’t wait to observe the stars from the telescopes on the roof of Pupin, Columbia’s physics building, in between astronomy courses. If you feel most authentic surrounded by other queer people of color, perhaps you look forward to getting involved with Barnard’s Proud Colors. If you can tell admissions a story of authenticity with a vision of your future on campus, we’re sure they’ll be thinking about you long after they put down your application!
Admissions wants to invite the kinds of students to campus who aren’t afraid to think critically and challenge the status quo, so reflect on some bold questions you have about the world around you and why you believe the answers, or lack thereof, are important. What do you find particularly interesting or flummoxing? What was the last topic/idea/event that you read a five-page thinkpiece about? Admissions wants to accept intellectually curious students who are passionate about learning, enriching their understanding of the world around them, and putting what they’ve learned into practice. Pro tip: try not to fall down too many Reddit rabbit holes while brainstorming for this prompt; instead, focus on the kinds of questions that keep you up at night and what those questions show about you as a learner and seeker of the truth.
If you’re thinking that the “optional” part of these instructions means you can pass this section by, think again. We recommend that students take every opportunity afforded to them to tell admissions more about themselves! So, let’s review your options:
This prompt makes us think of the now-famous quote from Rep. John Lewis, which reads, “Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” Barnard is interested in inviting disruptors to campus, so if this prompt calls out to you, lean into it. Whether you confronted your school’s administration over their outdated dress codes or attended your local town hall meetings to advocate for the community’s right to clean air and water, admissions wants to hear about a time when you challenged the status quo. A strong response will feature some reflection that shows how you process new information and experiences and apply those takeaways to the future.
Part of growing up is realizing that the grown ups do not, in fact, have it all figured out and that the world is an imperfect place, especially for marginalized communities (which women still are in many spaces). Barnard is interested to hear about the personal strength you have had to muster as a young woman and the ways in which gender has influenced your learning experiences thus far. This could be the perfect place to talk about your experiences as a woman in STEM and how microaggressions have only lit the fire in your belly to succeed in a male-dominated industry. Or maybe you want to write about the ways in which you’ve seen gender roles play out in your everyday life and how noticing these subtle differences in class participation and chore assignments have spurred your interest in sociology and psychology. Be sure to be as specific as possible while writing your response, so that no one else could possibly put their name at the top of your essay and call it their own.
You’ve probably been asked a version of this question before: Who would you invite to an imaginary dinner party? If you could summon anyone from the grave, who would it be? In this case, unsurprisingly, Barnard wants you to write about a woman. A question like this one is probing for an inkling of your interests and motivations. Who do you admire? What are your aspirations? What kinds of things drive your curiosity? When you come upon a prompt that directly or indirectly asks you to demonstrate your academic or cultural knowledge, the key is to be confident and genuine. Don’t second guess your own interests or strain to write about a topic simply because you think it will impress admissions—spoiler alert: they’ll be able to tell. It will be easier to write about someone you are genuinely interested in, and the results will be more personal and memorable!
Set a timer for five to ten minutes and jot down every person that comes to mind: Charlotte Bronte, Tarana Burke, your great-great grandma, your biological mom, Katherine Johnson, Katniss Everdeen, Hermione Granger… no idea is too absurd during the brainstorm; and historical, local, or fictional femmes are equally welcome! Once you have a solid list, you’ll be in a better position to hone in the right person. Who do you know the most about? Which person would give you a chance to reveal something new about yourself to admissions, like an otherwise unspoken interest in politics, fashion, or ancient history? What are some unknown aspects of your personal history? You could even try to put a twist on a person that might feel like a common choice. Many women interested in computer science might like to bend Ada Lovelace’s ear, but how many of them would ask her about the representation of women in the media?