HomeArticlesThe Five Sisters: The Case for Women’s Colleges

Dear Estelle. Our college counselor recommended that we look at women’s colleges as an option for our daughter, Meg. She is an independent, intelligent girl and ranks #3 in her class. Her involvement in school and the community is outstanding; her dream is to make a difference. She enjoys her math and science classes and plans to work this summer working at a clinic. Is this the profile of a student at a women’s college? Can graduates of women’s colleges compete with their male counterparts in the job market? What about the socialization factor? How do these girls meet guys when they’re not on campus? Are there really any advantages? Meg seems intrigued by the concept.
L.S.A., Parent. Cherry Creek School District

There are so many reasons to attend a women’s college! You have pressed  one of my buttons when you ask what are the advantages. Whenever I counsel young women like your daughter, I tell them the benefits of attending a women’s college and then recommend adding one to their college list to research. There are always a few each year who take the bait and value the opportunity.  One of my friends, a Mt. Holyoke graduate, has been an outstanding leader in education.. She serves as a role model for women here in Colorado along with important national figures like Hilary Clinton and Madeline Albright, also graduates of women’s colleges.

Many graduates of women’s colleges become leaders in their respective careers and it is not unusual to see increasingly more female presidents of coed colleges and universities. For many, this opportunity occurred because all students in leadership roles at women’s colleges are female. At coed colleges women are traditionally underrepresented in leadership positions.

Besides the opportunity for leadership development, many prospective college students look forward to involvement in community service projects. In 2009, 18 women’s colleges were named to the Presidents Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, four of those with “distinction.” This commitment to developing women holistically is noteworthy when we realize that there are only 48 women’s college remaining in the US and the Seven Sisters are now only five——Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, Smith, Barnard, and Mt Holyoke.  Radcliffe became an institute at Harvard and Vassar is coed. For those interested in interacting with diverse populations, most women’s colleges are also at the forefront of enrolling students of diverse backgrounds and nationalities.

According to the 2011 National Survey of Student engagement (NSSE) students at women’s colleges reported consistently higher levels of self-esteem, more academic satisfaction and more leadership development than their counterparts at coed colleges. The report also noted that these students reported a higher sense of comfort and belonging.  A reason for this may be that all the resources at these colleges benefit the women students whereas at coed schools funds are used for all students and frequently favor men’s athletics.

Regarding the opportunity for involvement in math and science majors it has been noted that women from these colleges pursue majors in the sciences and graduate school in significantly higher numbers than those at coed schools. The learning environment is nurturing and supportive. Students feel comfortable to speak up, think critically, and work collaboratively with one another. This empowering environment gives them the confidence to speak out in their graduate programs and future careers.

Frequently, out of the classroom activities challenge the traditional roles frequently attributed to women, i.e. participating in construction projects.

For parents concerned about their daughters’ social life, let me assure you that most women’s colleges are located in close proximity to coed schools and there’s no shortage of social activities to bring students together. When one considers the opportunities available at a women’s colleges, the potential for success is unlimited.

A women’s college is probably not the solution for all prospective female college students. In fact, only about 3% of high school girls add women’s colleges to their list of colleges.  However, I encourage young women who aspire to leadership, scholarship and relevant community engagement to consider these colleges as a possible option as they evaluate and visit campuses in the coming year. Talk to women who have attended women’s colleges and get their “take” on the relevance of attending one of these important institutions.

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