Women’s Colleges – Moving Beyond the Myths
Barbara Cassani: First woman CEO of a commercial airline (Mount Holyoke College)
Cathleen Black: FIRST woman president of Hearst Magazines (Trinity College now Trinity Washington University)
Elaine Chao: FIRST woman of Asian descent to be appointed to a President’s cabinet
(Mount Holyoke College)
Madeleine Albright: FIRST woman Secretary of State in the U.S. (Wellesley College)
Pearl S. Buck: FIRST American woman to win the Nobel Prize in literature (Randolph-Macon Woman’s College)
Diana Muldaur Dozier: FIRST woman president of American Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (Sweet Briar College)
Hillary Rodham Clinton: FIRST ever First Lady to be elected to the Senate or to Congress (Wellesley College)
Katharine Hepburn: FIRST and only person to have won four Academy Awards for acting (Bryn Mawr College)
Don’t let the stereotypes of women’s colleges hold you back from considering them for your college 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.
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 Gretchen Gravley Tucker, the Director of Admissions at Sweet Briar College (VA). “Women’s college graduates are better prepared for leadership and other significant roles in companies because the women’s college educational environment fosters their personal and professional growth” she says. “Women are encouraged to speak up in class give presentations and hold leadership positions in campus organizations. Women’s college students are also far more likely to major in traditionally male-dominated fields like engineering than are students at other colleges.”
Bill Campbell, the Vice President of Marketing & Communications for Chatham University (PA) 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. “Some people think that women’s colleges aren’t as academically challenging at other institutions but the opposite is true,” he says. “The academic environment is rigorous and challenging—often more so than other institutions.” In fact 53% of women’s college graduates go on to pursue a graduate degree compared to just 38% of students at liberal arts schools and 28% at public universities according to a 2008 study by The Women’s College Coalition.
Another big stereotype is that there are no men around but of course there are says Arlene Wesley Cash, the Vice President for Enrollment Management at Spelman College (GA). “We have male students who have cross-registered from other colleges in the classrooms several of our most popular faculty are men and when doing internships off campus many of our students’ colleagues are men.”
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 Tucker. “Women’s colleges offer a unique learning environment that’s devoted to enhancing the lives of women so that they’ll excel both professionally and personally in the coming years.”
According to Campbell women’s colleges also often have smaller class sizes and more personal one-on-one interaction with professors. You’re not just another face in the lecture hall and you’ll get to know your professors and engage with them he says.
Tucker 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 alumnae is a huge benefit.
“Every woman is encouraged to be her best self and explore her boundless opportunities,” says Mary Ann Howard, the Director of Communications at Wesleyan College (GA). “A women’s college education creates leaders and communicators who enter the world with more confidence.”
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.
“Take a visit to the school walk around the campus talk to the students,” says Campbell. “That’s the best way to figure out if the school is right for you.” Campbell also encourages interested students to sit in on classes meet with a professor or shadow a student for a day.
“Students choose colleges based on any number of criteria like majors offered financial aid package and location,” says Dr. Lynn M. Gangone, Dean of The Women’s College of the University of Denver. “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.
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 brings noted writers to campus for readings workshops and master classes.
Similarly Chatham University provides opportunities for its female students 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.
Tucker 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 many 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.
AN ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE
Self-confidence preparation and unique programs—sounds great right? But what’s the social scene like?
“There is so much to do at Chatham and in the city of Pittsburgh,” says Campbell. “There are always organized events—we just did a day trip to New York City for students—and there is a huge feeling of community here.” The university even gives its students a list of ‘140 Things to Do @ Chatham’ and challenges them to complete all the items in four years. Many events are coed.
Women’s colleges provide an unparalleled support network of women and the opportunity to develop lifelong friendships says Tucker. “It’s like one big friendly sorority.”
Whether or not you decide on a women’s college you owe it to your-self 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.
Jay Roberts is a freelance writer based in New York City.