Leading Ladies – Women’s Colleges Create Success
Does the idea of women’s colleges induce fears of lonely Saturday nights and snobby students? It’s time to ditch the fiction and discover 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 entrepreneurial guru Martha Stewart Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep all hail from women’s colleges.
Interested in a college experience that challenges nurtures and brings out the leader in you? A women’s college could be the perfect fit. Before you dismiss them take a closer look at what they have to offer. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
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.
“It’s quite the opposite. A women’s college prepares women for success in a global environment that is changing rapidly no matter what their major” says Marilyn Hammond director of international admission at Agnes Scott College (GA). “[Students] are much more likely to experience diverse interactions and develop an understanding of diversity. They also show more increase in their analytical skills than women in a coed environment—all valuable skills in a changing world.”
Joy St. John director of admission at Wellesley College (MA) says there often is a lack of understanding or information about women’s colleges and that stereotypes still persist especially among parents and guidance counselors.
“There is a feeling that women’s colleges are kinder gentler places academically and in the classroom—that they are a good place for a young woman who is somewhat shy and retiring” she says. “It’s just the opposite—they’re . . . not [for] the shy retiring type at all.”
Katherine Knapp Watts dean of admissions and financial aid at Salem College (NC) says many prospective students are surprised by the variety of academic and social experiences available at women’s colleges. “The old stereotypes just don’t ring true today and women at colleges like Salem have more choices opportunities and freedom to be themselves than ever before. For example we’ve recently added several new majors and minors at Salem such as criminal studies and environmental studies and minors in everything from healthcare management to music entrepreneurship. These new programs offer our students more academic choices and train them to be leaders in growing fields.”
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.
Women’s colleges provide an environment entirely dedicated to the personal and academic growth of women says Ken Huus dean of admissions for Sweet Briar College (VA). “If one truly thinks about why college is important and the personal growth that takes place while in college it should become clear about why this sort of educational community should be considered.”
According to Knapp Watts women’s colleges “often have smaller class sizes and more personal one-on-one interaction with professors. You’re not lost in a sea of faces in a lecture hall and you get the opportunity to know your professors and fully benefit from their expertise.”
St. John says being surrounded by women who are studying in every field—including those in which women are not well represented—helps young women see the many opportunities available to them. Moreover having access to a strong network of alumni is a huge benefit.
“Women’s colleges are especially relevant today because they help students develop measurably higher levels of self-esteem” says Lisa Meyers director of undergraduate admissions for Chatham University (PA). That confidence helps them become more successful hold higher positions and ultimately earn more money she says.
And a recent article in the Washington Post reported that although women’s college graduates make up a small minority of the college-educated population one-third of the women board members of the Fortune 1000 companies are women’s college graduates. In addition women’s college graduates are twice as likely to earn Ph.D.s. and they more often go on to study the sciences and attend medical school.
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 or check out the school’s website blogs and videos.
“Talk with our students—they will absolutely change your mind and dispel any misperceptions you have about women’s colleges and the students who attend” says Huus. St. John recommends prospective students talk to local alums. “That’s a great way to find out what [their college] experience [was] like and see what the outcome can be.”
Meyers encourages interested students to sit in on classes meet with a professor or shadow a student for a day.
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. Meyers says Chatham Abroad gives sophomores the opportunity to travel abroad on a faculty-led three-week trip and its Global Focus program brings a different country to the campus each year though speakers lectures culture events and more.
Chatham also provides opportunities through its various outreach centers including the Rachel Carson Institute which focuses on environmental sustainability and The Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship which fosters entrepreneurial thinking and opportunities.
Similarly Salem offers a focused Center for Women in Science and Mathematics and a Center for Women Writers along with a creative writing major according to Knapp Watts.
Huus says 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 all disciplines.
At Wellesley two distinct annual conferences provide students a unique opportunity to present their research to a broader audience. In addition its Albright Institute brings together students from different disciplines and cultural backgrounds to tackle today’s global challenges.
Hammond says leadership opportunities abound at Agnes Scott and by the time they graduate most students have led some initiative organization or club.
AN ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE
Self-confidence preparation and unique programs—sounds great right? But what’s the social scene like and what about boys?
“There is always something to do at Chatham and the Pittsburgh area. In fact we provide our students with a list of ‘140 Things To Do @ Chatham’ and challenge them to complete all items during their four years” Meyers says adding that many events are coed.
Wellesley’s St. John says that “the biggest difference is male students don’t live on campus but we have men who take classes on campus from surrounding colleges and who are involved in research on campus.”
It’s not just about boys: women’s colleges provide an unparalleled support network of women and “the opportunity to develop lifelong friendships with ‘sisters’” says Huus.
Whether or not you decide on a women’s college you owe it to yourself to take them into consideration. Once you look past the assumptions and learn more about what they really have to offer you might discover that a women’s college has what you’ve been looking for all along.