Get a Competitive Edge by Attending a Women’s College
Don’t let the stereotypes of women’s colleges hold you back from considering them for your education. We’ll dispel the myths and give you the facts!
Women’s colleges are more relevant than ever providing savvy young women a competitive edge in today’s increasingly global world. It’s no wonder that quite a few notable “firsts” among women stem from graduates of women’s colleges.
Although the Supreme Court made a ruling that integrated genders in colleges across the United States in the 1950s there are still close to 50 active women’s colleges in America. Located in a variety of settings it’s easy to find one in a location that will work for you.
Find out why a women’s college could be the perfect fit!
MOVING BEYOND THE MYTHS
Unfortunately some misconceptions surrounding women’s colleges still exist. One stereotype is that women’s college graduates won’t be as well prepared for a coed world.
In fact the opposite is true says Jo Ellen Parker, President of Sweet Briar College (VA). “There’s a miscon-ception that women’s colleges are places where women ‘retreat’ from men. In fact they are lively and unique places where women and men interact socially professionally and academically—but where the academic experience is designed to promote women’s success in all fields.”
Lynn Gangone, Dean of the Colorado Women’s College at the University of Denver thinks that all-female institutions actually strengthen women’s ability to interact with men in the classroom on an equal level especially when they enroll in graduate school. “When you enter into a coeducational environment you enter into that room knowing that you belong there,” she says. “Women’s colleges actually empower women to be engaged with men in very profound equitable ways.”
Because so many administration roles are held by women students are also able to see firsthand that a work-life balance is possible. “The women in our administration have high- level careers and are also bearing children,” says Christine Nowik, Assistant Dean of Student Success and Retention at Cedar Crest College (PA) where both the president and the CFO are women.
Women’s colleges are just as academically challenging as coed schools. As Amy Lines, the Director of Recruitment for Wesleyan College (GA) points out: “The students here have tremendous academic rigor. We have a really competitive academic curriculum.”
In fact according to the Women’s College Coalition graduates of women’s colleges constitute more than 20 percent of women in Congress and are 30 percent of a Bloomberg Businessweek list of rising women stars in corporate America.
Lines points out that at women’s colleges leaders beget leaders. “Every leadership position is held by a woman,” she says. “It gives students absolutely incredible preparation to learn how to exercise their community-building muscles in a nurturing environment.”
Women in other words learn how to work together when all they have is each other. “No one lets you get away with being mediocre,” she says.
THE BEST OF BENEFITS
For those who aren’t familiar with women’s colleges or still harbor dated misconceptions here are some of their benefits.
At Alverno College (WI) a private Catholic women’s college the curriculum is catered specifically to the students. “At Alverno we teach the way that women learn––collaboratively inclusively and by doing rather than just talking,” says Kate Lundeen, Executive Director of Enrollment. “It’s an approach that is often overlooked at other institutions.”
Parker says being surrounded by women who are studying in every field helps young women see the many opportunities available to them. “The role of women’s colleges has always been to give women a place where their own individual talents rather than gendered assumptions and stereotypes define their opportunities.”
Moreover having access to a strong network of alumnae is a huge benefit.
At a school like Wesleyan which is 176 years old a student becomes part of a larger female-centric community once she graduates. “The women who came before you are willing to help you,” says Lines. “They give you that leg up in the professional world.” Their experience and wisdom is invaluable in today’s workplace where despite many advances women still earn only $.77 to every dollar that men make.
THE RIGHT FIT
The best way to determine whether or not a women’s college is a good fit for you is simply to visit one and look at the school’s website blogs and videos.
“Visit campus talk to current students hang out and get a sense of whether you can see yourself there,” says Parker. She also encourages students to meet faculty members attend a class and check out the programs and facilities that are most interesting to them.
“Students choose colleges based on any number of criteria like majors offered financial aid package and location,” says Gangone. “Often the fact that a college is a women’s college is a secondary consideration initially but within the first six months to a year
the students wonder how they ever could have gone anyplace else.” The lesson: Look at the whole package a school offers.
In terms of personal fit Nowik recommends that women ask them-selves whether or not they want to be engaged with the faculty at the school or be lost in the mix. “Women’s colleges are small so you can’t hide in them,” she says. The benefit? You’ll be expected––and encouraged––to hold leadership roles you might not be afforded at larger institutions.
Women’s colleges may offer certain advantages and opportunities that coed institutions don’t and when it comes to focusing on the success of young women they stand out.
Salem College (NC) offers “special programs designed for women in areas of academic distinction,” says Katherine Knapp Watts dean of admission and financial aid. The Center for Women Writers for example brings noted writers to campus for readings workshops and master classes.
Sweet Briar is one of the only colleges in the country with a residential artist colony on its campus providing students with the opportunity to interact with professional artists of many disciplines.
At Wesleyan students are encouraged to use their degrees to help women in less fortunate situations. “Our students have a social agenda,” says Lines. “They want to be change-makers.” To aid them the college funds campus groups like the Habitat Club which raises awareness about substandard housing across America.
At the Colorado Women’s College a number of student organizations including “Business-Minded Women” and “DU Women in Technology” offer a network for students in fields normally dominated by men. Addition-ally the college administration does its own research to find out what is really happening with women in the workplace. As Dean Gangone states men still hold 80 percent of leadership positions in the world—leaving a lot of room for women to grow. “In 10 years if we can have one-third of women in leadership roles in Congress Fortune 500 companies and universities then I’ll be happy,” she says.
She continues: “Women’s colleges are environments that empower women to be successful to make a difference in the world and to be in collaboration with other women as opposed to being in competition with them.”
Whether or not you decide on a women’s college you owe it to yourself to take them into consideration. Who knows? You might discover that a women’s college has what you’ve been looking for all along.
Brienne Walsh is a freelance writer based in New York City.
1. Madeleine Albright: FIRST woman U.S. Secretary of State (Wellesley College)
2. Elaine Chao: FIRST woman of Asian descent to be appointed to a President’s cabinet (Mount Holyoke College)
3. Cathleen Black: FIRST woman president of Hearst Magazines (Trinity College now Trinity Washington University)
4. Diana Muldaur Dozier: FIRST woman president of American Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (Sweet Briar College)
5. Pearl S. Buck: FIRST American woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature (Randolph-Macon College)
6. Hillary Rodham Clinton: FIRST ever First Lady to be elected to the Senate or to Congress (Wellesley College)
7. Katharine Hepburn: FIRST and only person to have won four Academy Awardsfor acting (Bryn Mawr College)