Considering a Women's College
Academic programs, financial aid options, extracurricular activities,
location...So many considerations go into choosing a college that sounds right
for you. Though you may be a little confused by all the variety now, eventually,
you will narrow the possibilities down to some concrete choices (take our word
If you are a female student, chances are that one of the schools you'll
consider will be a women's college, and you may ask yourself, "How
will my life at a women's college be different from my life at a coed college?
What ill I gain and what will I miss? Will people think I'm strange if I go to a
women's college?" Most students at women's colleges once asked themselves
the same questions, and with good reason: life at a women's college is
different from life at a coed college.
What to expect at a women's college
How will a women's college be different in the classroom? Recalling her
experiences at a women's college, abbey Stamp (Mills College '95) says,
"The most important thing to me was the experience in the classroom, the
feeling that the professors expected nothing less than the best...a lot of it
was about women being able to speak up, not silenced."
Students at women's colleges largely agree that they are taken more seriously
in the classroom than their counterparts at coed colleges. In fact, studies have
shown that, in a coed situation, male students are consistently given more
attention by instructors than female students. The flip side of that coin:
studies have also shown that women participate more fully in and out of the
classroom at women's colleges.
Some students find that the absence of men in the classroom means fewer
distractions. Says one Mills College student, "I had an 8:00 a.m. class and
sometimes woke up five minutes before it started and went to it in little more
than my pajamas. I would never be able to do that at a coed school. I'd worry
about looking pretty." Similarly, students feel it is easier for them to
separate their studies from their social life than it would be at a coed
Life in the 'real' world
What about the 'real world'? Some people are concerned that a women's college
isolates women from the 'real world' by not having them deal with men on a
day-to-day basis as they may need to do in a professional setting.
"If by real life," replies Linda Wertheimer (wellesley College
'65), co-host of National Public Radios' All Things Considered, one
means the opportunity to be down-trodden, I think that taking a temporary pass
on that is fine. However 'unreal' the world of 'by-women-for-women,
women0-can-do-whatever-they-want' may be, it certainly gave me and a lot of
women I graduated with the feeling that the world could be and should
When you consider that 30% of the top 50 women named 'rising stars' in
corporate America by Business Week and 24% of women members of Congress
are graduates of women's colleges, it's hard to argue that as a graduate of a
women's college you won't be prepared for the real world.
More involvement, not less!
"Am I going to miss out on leadership opportunities?" college bound
students often ask. Most students at women's colleges would answer and emphatic
"No!" In fact, quite the opposite. "Women's colleges increase the
chances that women will obtain positions of leadership,"reports Alexander
Astin in Four Critical Years, an analysis of college environments.
You'll find positions in student government, school publications, singing clubs,
sports, and a host of other activities and organizations available to you.
Lots of role models
Even if you elect not to become involved in any organizations, it's
encouraging to see other women in leadership positions. As Holly Lincoln (Smith
College '98) puts it, "Everyone is your peer as well as your role
model." Many students enjoy the fact that they see women who work on
campus-particular administrators-holding professional leadership positions,
something that is less likely on a coed campus since few coed colleges have
women presidents, compared to 80% at women's colleges.
Aren't women's colleges filled with radical feminists? You may have heard
this or similar misconceptions about women's colleges. Mimi Hawkins (Wells
college '98) says she was concerned when she heard such things but adds,
"once I got here, I found that just isn't so." What you will find is a
diverse group of people with backgrounds and interests different from your
own-just as you would at any college or university.
Is there life after class?
"What about my social life," you worry? Ask almost any student at a
women's college and she'll to you not to worry at all about it. Most women's
colleges have their own mixers and parties and invite other colleges to attend,
and there are plenty of invitations to events at other schools, too. As one
current student puts it, "What better place for guys to meet women? We
always have invitations to do something."
You'll also find that you'll form close friendships with the women at your
school. "The best thing [about a women's college] is the friendships I've
formed," says Hawkins about her college experience. "I feel like there
is a special bond among the women here."
Who shouldn't go to a women's college?
Any woman would benefit from the supportive, encouraging environment found at
women's colleges, so it's difficult to say that someone wouldn't be 'right' for
one. It all boils down to attitude-if you think you'll be unhappy at a women's
college, then you probably will be. How can you know for sure? Stamp gives this
advice: "I encourage any women applying to colleges to visit the campus of
at least one women's college-tour the facilities, talk to the students, eat the
food, attend a few classes, and see for yourself what the difference is."
What to do now?
Double-check the list of schools that interest you; if you don't already have
a women's college listed, add one. With over 60 women's colleges across the
United States and Canada, it won't be difficult to find one that meets your
By: Susanne M. Phinney - a freelance writer who lives in Maine.