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Why a Women’s College: From the Office of Admission

A Look at the Numbers and Perspectives from the Office of Admission

This week is “Why a Women’s College” Week, and we’re featuring a post a day from different perspectives on the value of an inclusive women’s college education. Today’s post was originally featured in the book College Admission Essentials: A Step-by-Step Guide to Showing Colleges Who You Are and What Matters to You by Ethan Sawyer, but written by Aimee Kahn-Foss ’08, Director of Admission and Rachel West, Associate Director of Admission at Agnes Scott.

“As someone who made the decision to attend a women’s college, I didn’t choose my college because it was a women’s college. I chose my college because I loved the location, the beautiful campus, the study abroad opportunities, and the feeling that the institution would give me an education very different than what I saw at traditional universities. I did not realize the importance of the women’s college aspect until I was actually there as a student, but it was truly what made the institution and opportunities so unique. The depth of the classroom conversations, the push and support of the faculty, and the incredible women I called my friends and classmates who also chose a nontraditional college because they wanted to do things differently as well. My experience was transformative. I became a better student and a better person.” 

Aimee Kahn-Foss, Agnes Scott College alumni


What unique opportunities and perspectives can I gain from a women’s college?


One of the most common questions we get asked by students, parents, and college counselors is “Why a women’s college?” It’s an important question in determining fit, but it’s also a little bit of a difficult question to answer. Just like all colleges and universities, women’s colleges have their own DNA. Institutions vary greatly in terms of campus locations, student characteristics, opportunities, and atmosphere. Some students know they want to attend a women’s college early on, while other students realize this later in high school or apply to both co-ed schools and women’s colleges because they like characteristics of each.


Women’s colleges were originally created in the U.S. to give women access to higher education during a time when educating women went against the status quo. This changed in the 1960s and 70s when many colleges and universities began offering admission to women. But BIPOC women continued to be excluded from higher education until the 60s and 70s– even from most women’s colleges. HBCU women’s colleges, like Spelman College and Bennett College were created to serve these women. Since the early 2000s, women’s colleges as a whole (37 in total) have become some of the most diverse and inclusive institutions in the United States. Recently, interest and enrollment in women’s colleges has resurged, proving their continued relevance and necessity in our higher education landscape.1


Seven Reasons Why You Should Apply to a Women’s College


1) You seek small, personal communities where forming real relationships with your professors is easy. Women’s colleges tend to be smaller liberal arts colleges where more students live on campus for all four years of their experience. Women’s college students also report higher rates of interaction with their professors than their co-educational counterparts.


2) You thrive in environments where students with many different perspectives learn from one another. Women’s colleges typically enroll a more racially and ethnically diverse population of students than co-educational institutions.They also enroll students from a wide variety of backgrounds, consistently ranking high on social mobility.4 Ninety-four percent of first-year students receiving some form of financial assistance and 48% are eligible for federal Pell Grants.5  


3) You seek a college experience with a global focus. Many women’s colleges focus heavily on intercultural awareness and study abroad programs. All first-year students at Agnes Scott College participate in the SUMMIT curriculum6 where they go on a cultural study abroad tour; St. Mary’s College has a great Intercultural Leadership program.7


4) You seek opportunities to grow as a leader. Many women’s colleges have specific programs to help students grow in their leadership skills, like Barnard College’s Young Women’s Leadership Institute8 and Salem College’s Leadership Salem.9 Students observe women in top positions; 90% of women’s college presidents are women, for example, and 55% of faculty are women. Finally, women’s college graduates move on to strong leadership positions in their fields; women’s college graduates comprise 2% of the college graduate population, yet make up more than 20% of women in Congress and 33% of women on Fortune 1000 boards.10 


5) You are a woman who wants more equitable access to working in a STEM field. It’s no secret that STEM fields suffer from a lower number of women in leadership positions. However, women’s colleges are doing their part to equalize the numbers. Students at women’s colleges are 1.5 times more likely to major in the STEM fields than women at coeducational institutions.11 Women’s college faculty are also more likely than faculty at any other type of institution to involve undergraduate students in STEM research.12


6) You seek a safe space for LGBTQIA students. Women’s colleges historically have been sources of safety for marginalized groups, originally founded as spaces of education for women at a time when they did not have higher education options. Now, many women’s colleges have strong policies around gender and sexual identity, considering all applicants who identify as women. Many transgender, gender neutral, and genderqueer students find safe communities at women’s colleges. Look for the college’s gender expression and identity policy to find out more about a specific institution you might be interested in.14


7) You want to feel prepared for the real world after college. Women’s college graduates are well-prepared for their next steps, whatever those might be. Graduates of women’s colleges are more likely than all other college graduates to graduate in four years or less. They are also more likely than all other college alumni to complete a graduate or professional degree.15  Students also graduate from women’s colleges with a strong sense of self and confidence in their own abilities. Women’s college alumnae are more likely to report that they are prepared for their first job, more likely to say they have the communication and leadership skills employers want, and more likely to report higher levels of self-confidence than their co-educational counterparts.16


So who is a good fit for a women’s college? 


That’s another question that’s hard to answer, because women’s colleges are not a monolith; each of the 37 institutions has their own specialties and definitions of “fit”. Broadly speaking, if some or most of the list above fits your higher educational goals, a women’s college might be a good place for you. Often, we say that the best fit for a women’s college is someone who is not afraid to tell their friends that they are applying to one. It takes a certain amount of courage, rebellious spirit, and individuality to be willing to say to your peers that you are applying for a nontraditional college experience. If that sounds like you, we encourage you to consider the idea. Dig into the women’s colleges and see if one feels like the right place for you.


Aimee Kahn-Foss ’08 is the Director of Admission at Agnes Scott College and has been a part of the admission team since 2008. While at Agnes Scott College, she was a member of the soccer team. Recently, Aimee has been spending a lot of time with her new dog, Boogie.


Rachel West is Associate Director of Admission at Agnes Scott College and has been a part of the admission team since 2014. Rachel is the certified Nerd of the office, as you can tell by the names of her cats, Merry and Pippin.


For more info on Ethan Sawyer’s College Admission Essentials, click here.

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