The school is named after the former Sweet Briar plantation, the former plantation of Elijah Fletcher and his family. Fletcher was a 19th-century teacher, businessman, and mayor of Lynchburg. His wife, Maria Crawford, is credited with naming the land Sweet Briar. By the mid-19th century, Fletcher had between 80 and 100 slaves at the plantation. After their emancipation in 1865, several continued to work for pay and live at Sweet Briar. On Elijah Fletcher's death, his daughter, Indiana, inherited the plantation.
When she died in 1900, she willed the land and much of her assets to starting a college for women, as her daughter Daisy had died at 16 and, therefore, never had a chance to attend college.
The campus is situated on 3,250 acres (13 km2) in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The college's architecture is dominated by the work of Ralph Adams Cram, who also lent his architectural expertise to the campuses of Princeton University and West Point, among others. The campus property also includes the Sweet Briar plantation burial ground, in which upwards of sixty slaves are buried; according to some, an authentic slave cabin remains on the land, but this is probably not the case as the cabin does not follow building techniques associated with cabins of the day. The techniques used actually reflect modern techniques and may simply be an early reproduction. Archaeologists have uncovered many slave artifacts. Twenty-one of the thirty buildings on campus were designated as the "Sweet Briar College Historic District" by the National Register of Historic Places. Also listed is Sweet Briar House.
Sweet Briar has continually ranked high across the board by several organizations.
The Washington Post listed Sweet Briar as #2 for Colleges that study.
Princeton Review's "Best 361 Colleges": in 2010, ranked No. 8 for "Best Career Services," No 11 for "Class Discussions Encouraged," No. 6 for "Most Beautiful Campus," No. 4 for "Professors Get High Marks," No. 3 for "Most Accessible Professors," and No. 8 for "Best Classroom Experience," making Sweet Briar the only college in the nation to appear on all four academic top-20 lists.
Princeton Review's "Best 361 Colleges": in 2008, ranked No. 1 for "Most Beautiful Campus," No. 5 for "Best Career/Job Placement Services," No. 8 for "Professors Make Themselves Available," No. 10 for "Professors Get High Marks" and No. 13 for "Class Discussions Encouraged."
Princeton Review's "Best 361 Colleges": in 2007, ranked 7th "Professors that Make Themselves Accessible," ranked 10th "Class Discussions Encouraged" and ranked 12th "Dorms Like Palaces." Based on a student-based survey.
Princeton Review's "Best 361 Colleges": in 2006, ranked 11th "Professors Make Themselves Accessible," ranked 11th "Class Discussions Encouraged," ranked 14th "Dorms Like Palaces." 
Princeton Review's "Best 357 Colleges": in 2005, ranked 14th, higher than any other women's college, "Best Overall Academic Experience" and ranked 9th "Best Bargains" (private schools).
Princeton Review's "Best 351 Colleges": in 2004, ranked 4th in "Student Happiness with Financial Aid," ranked 11th "Best Quality of Life Category," and ranked 15th "Class Discussions Encouraged."
Princeton Review's "Best 345 Colleges": in 2003, ranked 8th "Students Happy with Financial Aid," ranked 9th "Professor Make Themselves Accessible," ranked 10th "Best Quality of Life," and ranked 12th "Are Your Instructors Good Teachers?"
Princeton Review's most beautiful campus: In 2007 rated #1, in 2006, rated #3; in 2005 rated #5. (Student-based survey)
Sweet Briar is a residential campus, and nearly all students live on campus during their time at SBC.  There are 7 standard dormitories, and more independent living available in the Green Village and Patteson House, available to upperclasswomen. The school has over fifty clubs and organizations.
Students also participate in recreational sports through the Sweet Briar Outdoor Program (SWEBOP). SWEBOP organizes many trips throughout the year including hiking, fly fishing, caving, rock climbing and weekly kayaking and skiing.
ANRC Accolades include 9 ANRC Team national championship titles (1978, 1979, 1980, 1986, 198, 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1999), and 10 ANRC Team reserve national championships titles (1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005). Sweet Briar students have been individual national champions nine times (1978- Jamie Plank, 1979- Jamie Plank, 1980- Kathy Tayleor, 1981- Jamie Plank, 1986- Pam Ward, 1987- Gail Phillips, 1988- Pam Ward, 2000- Jen Lampton, and 2004- Karen Dennehy). Sweet Briar students have been individual reserve ANRC national champions seven times (1980- Pam Kobrock, 1985- Laurie Woolverton, 1986- Georgianna Congers, 1989- Pam Ward, 1990- Kerstin Chrisman, 2001- Cara Meade).
IHSA In 2006, Sweet Briar's IHSA team won their region (Zone 4, Region 1), and placed second at Zones, qualifying them for the Nationals Competition. The team placed third overall, with Jodie Weber '06 claiming a fourth overall in the Cacchione Cup competition. Weber also claimed the Open Over Fences Championship that catapulted the team into the third place position. In 2008, Sweet Briar IHSA won their region again, and proceeded to Nationals, where team members collected individual ribbons.
Equestrian center features include:
130-acre on-campus riding center
10 large fields ranging from 3 to 25 acres
More than 18 miles of trails through wooded countryside, foothills, dells and open fields
One of the largest indoor college arenas in the nation, measuring 120 feet x 300 feet
Three spacious outdoor rings, along with an enclosed lunging ring
More than seven teaching and schooling fields
Hunter trials course
Fence lines with coops
Complete inventory of hunter-jumper fences suitable for USEF competitions