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The Many Types of Higher EducationSuzanne Shaffer
For high school seniors who plan to attend college next year, this is application season. They’re polishing personal essays, securing letters of recommendations from teachers, ordering transcripts and filling out financial aid paperwork.
Meanwhile, high school juniors are researching colleges and building their college lists. Many will plan spring travel to visit campuses near and far. Even some sophomores (especially if they have older siblings) are starting to think and talk about college.
The colleges and universities located throughout the U.S. and abroad offer diverse academic, extracurricular and social options. And here’s something else to consider:
When I started looking at colleges almost 30 years ago, I never considered attending a single-sex school. It was actually my father who suggested I add one to my college list. And I’m so glad I did. I am now the very proud alumna of an women’s college, and can attest to just how exceptional that environment can be. To this day I consider attending a women’s college to be one of the best decisions I almost didn’t make.
There are nearly 50 institutions of higher learning in the United States that only enroll female students (and transgender students who live and identify as women).* These schools each have a distinct personality, yet they are connected in their mission to offer a 21st century education that uniquely prepares women to flourish academically, personally, socially and professionally.
The benefits of attending a women’s college are numerous and well-documented:
It’s been shown that the majority of women who enter coed colleges planning to major in hard sciences drop out of those fields. In contrast, women stick with these studies in women’s colleges. According to Barnard College, a private women’s liberal arts college in New York City, students at women’s colleges graduate with majors in math and sciences at 1.5 times the rate of women at coed institutions.
Research by the Women’s College Coalition shows that graduates of women’s college are more than twice as likely as graduates of coeducational colleges to attend medical school and earn doctoral degrees.
Smith College established the first engineering program at a women’s college in 1999. Today, 40% of Smith students major in a STEM field. This is double the national average for undergraduate women.
These numbers are attributed to the fact that at all-women colleges students are unimpeded by gender stereotypes in STEM fields and are often mentored by successful female role models in those fields.
In spite of the fact that students from women’s colleges make up just two percent of the college graduate population, their alumnae represent ten percent of female CEOs in the S&P 500, and a third of women on Fortune 1000 boards.
A study from the Women’s College Coalition found that women’s colleges produced a greater proportion of entrepreneurs than their coed counterparts.
Recently, Harvard Business School launched a program inviting women’s college graduates to learn more about its MBA program, a clear sign that prestigious graduate schools want women’s college graduates in their classrooms.
According to the results of the National Survey of Student Engagement, women at single-sex institutions are more engaged in campus life, participate more actively in the classroom and report the highest levels of support in their development.
Women’s colleges offer small classes which allow for close interaction with faculty members and collaboration with fellow students. This environment contributes to long-lasting connections, supportive faculty-student networks, and increased access to undergraduate research, internships and career mentoring opportunities.
The Women’s College Coalition found that students who attend women’s colleges are more likely to participate in challenging extracurricular activities and take on leadership roles in those activities. Women’s college alumnae say these opportunities to lead and develop leadership skills during their undergrad years prepared them exceptionally well for first jobs and future career advancement.
And it's a myth that students at women’s colleges have little opportunity to interact with men, if that's something that is important to your daughter. Many women’s college are located near other coeducational institutions, and offer opportunities to take classes at, and socialize with, these partner schools.
Women’s colleges are rich with traditions. Mountain Day at Mount Holyoke, hoop-rolling races at Wellesley College, Lantern Night at Bryn Mawr and Friday afternoon tea at Smith College are just a few of the many traditions passed down through generations which promote school pride and strong friendships.
Graduates of women’s colleges typically have deep ties to their alma maters. This powerful connection affords graduates a life-long support system.
An active and involved alumnae base means that students and graduates have access to a huge network of influential industry leaders who can support them throughout their professional lives and provide an unequivocal commitment to helping female students build their success.
But for some students these schools offer a unique educational environment that empowers women to open doors previously closed to them, shatter the highest glass ceilings and shake up antiquated old boy’s networks.
It’s something to consider as you search for that “best fit” college.
*Each college has its own policies on applications from transgender and non-binary students which you can typically find in the FAQ section of the Admission page on the college website.