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Articles / Applying to College / Finding the Right Women's College

Jan. 19, 2003

Finding the Right Women's College

Question: I would like to attend a women's college. How do I go about finding out which one would best suit me?

You are wise to consider a women’s college becauseâ€"while not the right choice for everyoneâ€"they offer an opportunity to learn about yourself in ways that are different than what you would encounter in a coeducational school, even if you feel quite at home in a coed environment.


The most well known of the United States women’s colleges are Smith, Mount Holyoke, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, and Barnard. They are the five remaining members of what used to be known as the prestigious “Seven Sisters.” (About 30 years ago, Radcliffe merged with Harvard, and Vassar opened its doors to men, so these two former sister schools are no longer single-sex).

All of the five sisters are highly selective, but not quite as much so as the Ivy League colleges are. Mount Holyoke no longer even requires the SAT; for the other five, SAT I scores average between about 1250 and 1350. Admitted students are almost always in the top fifth of their class, and usually in the top tenth, with their high school courses typically the most challenging ones offered.

If you are deciding among these sister schools, you may be influenced by location. Smith is in a small but lively city, with Mount Holyoke about 20 minutes away, and in a smaller town. Both are part of a five-college consortium that is home to around 40,000 students and allows cross-registration among member schools. Barnard is right in New York City, and Barnard students often take classes at neighboring Ivy League Columbia. Wellesley is close to Boston, located in a suburb about 20 minutes away. Wellesley students can enroll in classes at MIT as well as at a couple other nearby coed colleges. Similarly, Bryn Mawr is outside of Philadelphia but not far, and Bryn Mawr students enjoy close collaboration with coed Haverford, almost next door.

Beyond the northeast, there are a number of other well-reputed women’s institutions, such as Agnes Scott and Spelman colleges, both in Georgia. (The latter is primarily for African-American women, but applicants from all ethnic backgrounds are welcomed.)

In California, your choices will include Mills College in Oakland (near San Francisco). When Mills trustees announced coeducation there a decade or more ago, Mills students so vehemently supported their single-sex campus that the trustees rescinded their plans! Also in CA is Scripps College, which is part of the well-known Claremont Colleges, about an hour from Los Angeles. Scripps students can take classes at the other four Claremont schools that are only a stone’s throw away.

Although the number of women’s colleges has dwindled over the past three decades, there are still far too many to discuss each one here, butâ€"whatever your abilities or interestsâ€"there is sure to be one that will admit you and engage you.

For more information about women’s colleges, go http://www.womenscolleges.org/, the Web site for the Women’s College Coalition. It will provide links to member colleges as well as a lot of general information about women’s colleges and their many benefits.

You might also want to look for this book: Women's Colleges, by Joe Anne Adler and Jennifer Adler Friedman. While it has not been recently revised, and some statistics may be out of date, you can still find it at Amazon, and it will give you a good overview of the leading women’s schools and their distinctions.

Good luck to you as you make your decisions. If possible, visit the colleges you are considering so you can get a feel for each campus and whether you think it’s right for you.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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