As high school students start building a list of colleges to consider, they usually focus on aspects like big vs. small, rural vs. urban, or public vs. private. That’s not surprising: Those are the most common “big picture” elements college counselors suggest to all their students. What is surprising is that for many young women, single-sex colleges are not even on their radar. However, there’s good data to support adding them to the list for consideration.
For starters, the Women’s College Coalition finds that 81% of students who attended a women’s school felt their institution was extremely or very effective in helping prepare them for their first job, compared with only 65% of public university students. A single-sex university also puts them in the company of other highly motivated women; they are nearly twice as likely to complete a graduate degree than their public university counterparts, at 51% and 27% respectively.
“Single-sex colleges provide an amazing environment for young women to thrive,” says Emily Haggerty, director of admissions at Ursuline College, a liberal arts school in Pepper Pike, Ohio, with a student body that is 90% female. “For most of them, this is their first experience in a single-sex educational setting, and we find they are surprised and impressed as they see firsthand what women supporting other women actually looks like.”
Read on for four common misconceptions about single-sex institutions, and find out why they don’t reflect the climate of women’s colleges today.
Misconceptions About Historically Women’s Colleges
Misconception 1: Graduates of women’s colleges will struggle to compete in the workplace.
What actually happens for most women attending a single-sex college is that they find their voice, enveloped in the confidence that comes from not being afraid to speak out. In fact, over 20% of women in Congress and 30% of a Businessweek list of rising women in corporate America attended women’s colleges, even though this subset comprises only 2% of the female college graduate population. Typically, women have only experienced a classroom setting through the lens of a male perspective, notes Haggerty, and this might be the first time they’ve seen women in every position of leadership and being celebrated for their accomplishments.
Misconception 2: A women’s-only school is catty or full of drama.
Haggerty says Ursuline’s students would say the opposite, as they routinely tout the school’s spirit of collaboration. “There’s a level of maturity that comes when women decide they are pursuing education for themselves, where they know they are setting themselves up for a strong foundation for their future career,” she says, adding that this self-awareness tends to deter the “mean girls” vibe.
Misconception 3: Women’s-only colleges lack diversity.
Single-gender schools actually tend to have more diverse student bodies than their co-ed counterparts, says Haggerty, helping to foster an atmosphere where women feel comfortable being their authentic selves.
Many women’s campuses, Ursuline included, foster an inclusive LGBTQ+-friendly ambiance. About 40% of Ursuline students are students of color, which aligns with national averages for women’s colleges (51%), which are higher than their co-ed peers. In addition, roughly half of Ursuline students are first-generation students, and the school is ranked number one in the nation for increasing social mobility.
Misconception 4: There’s a lack of extracurricular opportunities.
From robust academics to social, athletic, service, and leadership activities, enrollees are able to have the full university experience. In addition, many single-sex schools have partnerships with nearby institutions, expanding student horizons even more. Women at single-sex colleges tend to leave with a strong network and the benefits of four years of mentorship.
“Women’s-only colleges create safe spaces to fail,” says Haggerty. “Society expects a façade of perfection, yet this environment presents a bubble where women can try something new or say something out of the box. They can put themselves out there and feel supported, which means they are better equipped to handle situations they might encounter in the workplace.”
In short, by adding single-sex colleges to your daughter’s potential college list, you might just open the door to something that could end up being exactly the right fit.