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All-Women’s Colleges: What They Offer and What to Consider

By Cara, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor 

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 15 years thinking about the answer to one (admittedly nerdy, very college counselor-y) question: if I could go to college all over again, which school would I choose? A decade and a half ago, I attended a medium-sized research institution in a major city in the southern U.S. and had a very good experience. But as my current self? I would undoubtedly choose a women’s college. And if we’re getting specific, it would be Scripps College (come on, they have fruit trees on campus!).

Many prestigious colleges and universities in the United States did not admit women until the latter half of the 20th century, but women’s colleges have been refining women’s education for generations. Of course, college is a time for learning, but a women’s college can give you so much more: you will find your voice, form your own belief system, and build your confidence in interacting with the world.

Why Women’s Colleges?

There are so many factors to consider as you begin looking at colleges—size, location, setting, academic program, etc., but remember that there are the intangibles as well: will you feel comfortable socially? Will it stretch you and nurture you in the ways that are just right for you? So, as you build your college list, why should you consider a women’s college?

  • You will be steeped in who you are for four years. You will be honored, seen, heard, chosen. Women get all of the internships, research positions, and educational opportunities. You’ll never feel quite so empowered as you will at a women’s college, where women lift each other up and make each other better.
  • Are you ready to be a member of an insanely loyal alumni network? Good! Women’s college alumnae are ready to put the resumes of young graduates at the top of the pile because they know what you will bring to the table.
  • Women are leading. 80% of college student body presidents are men. You can choose a school where every single leader identifies as a woman and where leadership programs are designed specifically to help women navigate the world. Watch what happens when you put yourself in an environment created to build your confidence and help you cultivate a strong sense of self—it’s pretty amazing!
  • It’s academically challenging and engaging. National surveys of student engagement show that students who attend women’s colleges report more engagement than their peers at coed institutions. They are more likely to feel academically challenged, engage in active and collaborative learning, and report greater increases in self-confidence.

What to Consider When Researching Women’s Colleges

Of course, the college search process is about finding the place that will fit and stretch you in the right ways, and a women’s college may not be the right spot for everyone.  Here are a few things to consider:

  • You’ll find a variety of levels of interaction with other genders if you so choose. At Wellesley College, for example, it’s a much more immersive all-women’s experience than at Barnard College, where you’re right next door to a co-ed institution and in the middle of a city. At Scripps College, you’ll find yourself within half a mile of four co-ed institutions. Depending on the school, while your residential experience would be among students who identify as women, your life outside of your dorm would not necessarily be the same.
  • Consider the variety among the Seven Sisters colleges alone: Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, Radcliffe College, Smith College, Vassar College, and Wellesley College. Some were founded as all women’s partners to all men’s institutions, and others as separate institutions. Some continue in those partnerships, like Barnard, which is linked to Columbia University. Radcliffe merged with Harvard College in 1977, and Vassar has since become co-ed. Of course, there are many women’s colleges beyond the Sisters that range from north to south, predominantly white to historically black, pre-professional to liberal arts.
  • Many participate in consortium with other nearby colleges, keeping open a wide range of academic and extracurricular options. For example, Mount Holyoke and Smith are both members of the Five-College Consortium with Hampshire College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Amherst College. Students at any of the five colleges can take classes at any of the other four schools. Similarly, students at Scripps College can take classes at the other schools in the Claremont Colleges Consortium (Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, and Pomona College), and vice versa.
  • Most women’s colleges are small, so if you’re envisioning a large college experience, it might not be the right fit. At a small school, faculty-student relationships are front and center, discussion-based learning is the norm, and you’ll know people everywhere you go on campus.
  • The small size means a deeply holistic application reading process when it comes to reading applications for admission. Although your grades in your high school courses will remain the most important factor, women’s colleges also try to get to know you as a human and a community member. They’ll look for instances where you showed personal growth, self-awareness, and leadership qualities, among many other aspects. It will be especially important to use your essays to highlight these types of personal characteristics and experiences.
  • Each college has its own admission and attendance policies, but as of 2015, several colleges introduced policies extending acceptance to any applicant who identifies as a woman. Mount Holyoke created an even more inclusive policy that is open to non-binary students as well. If you’re reading this and wondering whether a women’s college is an option for you, please don’t hesitate to call the admission office at any women’s college to ask.

So, as you’re building your college list, consider researching and/or visiting a women’s college. It might affirm you, it might surprise you, and it might just be the perfect fit. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services and how we can help you create a balanced list of best-fit colleges as part of your college prep.


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