Tuesday, August 19, 2014

3G Women's Colleges

When I started this blog in 2006, my daughter was in elementary school. Now she is starting to think about college -- what type of institution in what part of the country/world and so on. So far the reality/stress of actual applications and decisions has not yet arrived and it is interesting to discuss the options.

One thing that interests me is that my daughter is very serious about applying to women's colleges.

When I was in college-search mode decades ago, I was interested in women's colleges -- for different reasons than the ones motivating my daughter. I was interested in women's colleges in large part because I felt that I would be taken seriously as a scholar in such an environment. I did not want college to be a repeat of high school, where boys were the ones 'most likely to succeed' (no matter that the top 11 students in my graduating class were female). In that sense, my motivation was somewhat negative in that I was seeking a place that was very different from what I had experienced before.

My daughter's high school takes her very seriously as an intelligent, motivated, articulate person and she has every expectation of being taken seriously in college as well. So her interest in women's colleges is more of a positive one: she thinks of women's colleges as places where she would be surrounded by many interesting and ambitious women. She knows that she could also find such communities at other types of institutions but has a particularly positive impression of this aspect of women's colleges. This impression comes from a few visits to women's colleges and also from meeting graduates of women's colleges at various times over the years.

Her interest in women's colleges is also intriguing to me because my mother went to a women's college. In my mother's case she went to a women's college because her parents made her go to one, not because she wanted to. This was in the 1950's. My mother had been a bit wild in high school -- lots of boyfriends, smoking, parties.. mediocre grades -- and her parents didn't want her to go to a big state university (as her calmer younger sisters later did). So she went to a very small, somewhat obscure and quite isolated women's college. She has always spoken fondly of her college and has remained life-long friends with some of the women she met there, so it was a good experience for her despite her lack of interest in women's colleges. [She also met my father on a train during her sophomore year, got married soon after (allowed by her parents on the condition that she finish school), and had two babies within two years of graduating.]

Three very different women from three different generations with three different reasons for attending (or possibly attending) a women's college. Three decades ago I wondered if such places would still be around and relevant in the 2010's. I am pleased that they are and I am particularly pleased that strong and confident young women such as my daughter can have such positive motivation for being interested in them.


Anonymous said...

Excellent choice, expecially if accompanied by graduation in gender studies where she could better learn ahow to complain against males and meet many lesbo-feminists for a life of misandry.

Anonymous said...

I attended a women's college (Scripps College) and it was a wonderful experience. I did so many different things, I was challenged intellectually, and I had the best classmates. I still draw on the experience and the confidence I gained there as I navigate the "real world" Good luck to your daughter during the college search!

Anonymous said...

I had all my undergraduate and master education in women's college, and I think it was great in all aspects. We were fiercely competitive and would not worry about being taken not-seriously. I loved math and physics and had great teachers there. I think it is good specially in growing years to have a separate women's and men's college as sometime it provides needed focus to complete one's goals.

Nicole Ackerman said...

While I never attended a women's college, I now teach physics at one. I absolutely love it - I'm shocked when I go back to co-ed scientific environments (workshops, conferences, visiting other campuses). The culture there is "default" male (in terms of pronouns, jokes, etc). It is hard to notice how pervasive the patriarchy is until you have the opportunity to be in a "default" female environment. Besides the broader culture, our students are incredibly hard working, even compared to students at the top colleges in the country.

Anonymous said...

I never attended a women's college but I can probably relate the experience FSP's mother had because I went to a girls' high school (not in America). At that time the school principal and administrative people kept telling us that one of the main differences by attending a girls' high school is that female students do not feel the social norm, formed by a male dominated society, and can be in an environment with fewer gender stereotypes. I didn't take their words very seriously but I did have a great time! Then I went to college and majored in one of the hard sciences... That was when I started to realize how it is like to live in a male dominated study environment. Anyway, I just wanted to say that I've experienced a female dominated environment and really enjoyed it!

Anonymous said...

I graduated from a women's college. One doesn't realize how powerful the brainwashing is of "default=male" until actually living in an environment where that doesn't hold. It is tremendously empowering. And yes, I was surrounded by amazing women who I knew would change the world!

Anonymous said...

When I was at MIT in the late '70s, the Association for Women Students held a discussion about the merits of coed vs. women's colleges for aspiring scientists (not engineers, since at that time there were no women's colleges with engineering departments). The speakers were two tenured women faculty who championed the types they had attended. It was very interesting to hear the pros and cons of the two.

While I never regretted attending a coed school, I did my masters at a women's college and was the RA for an undergrad dorm. I was very impressed by the young women there and greatly enjoyed my year living with them.

Anonymous said...

I chose a women's college not because it was single sex but because it had a great pre-med program and was far from home. Best decision I ever made. An series of amazing chemistry professors and the chance to work in the lab from early on changed my career path. It wasn't until later that I realized how incredibly valuable that environment was to building a core positive view of myself as a scientist.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak to women's colleges, but I can say that going to an all-girl's high school was one of the best decisions of my life, and I still try to take part in women-only groups when I can these days. There's something about being in a group of all women, where gender dynamics and patriarchy can take a back seat (or be forgotten altogether), while the women get on with talking about important or unimportant things, and generally being awesome.

I always said my high school was so great because no one ever challenged us about being smart and being women, but in truth it was great because I rarely had to think about my gender in that way. That difference was only apparent when I stepped back and looked at the experience relative to other people's stories; in the moment, I could just be there, cheesy as that sounds.

Diane Propsner said...

Great post! I’m thrilled that your daughter is serious about applying to a women’s college. It’s something that I see more and more . . . let me explained. I’m a women’s college alumna, advocate, and blogger (and I graduated with an undergraduate degree in biology).

I recently penned a HuffPost blog post where I recapped my first year of blogging about the advantages of attending a women’s college. (http://huff.to/VpgmDH) During this time, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to connect with students and alumnae from many different women’s colleges. The college-bound high school girls and students I connected with are simply amazing!! I have been blown away by these young women; they’re smart, driven, articulate, fun, capable, sassy, and courageous; and they have big dreams. Most importantly, they want to make an impact on society. These are the kind of students women’s colleges are best suited for . . . so kudos to you daughter!

Here’s a link to my HuffPost blog posts (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-propsner/) as well as my blog: Advantages of a Women’s Colleges (http://advantages-of-a-womens-college.blogspot.com/).

Women’s Colleges Rock!

P.S. - I love blogging about the connection between STEM careers and women's colleges and have written several blog posts.

“Why First-Year STEM Girls Attend Women's Colleges” (http://huff.to/1p0UNAE)
“Tessa Ann Taylor, an Up and Coming Twenty-Something High Tech Entrepreneur, Shares Her Story and Offers Insights to STEM Girls” (http://huff.to/1cmDhEF)
“How This Shark-Loving, Lacrosse Player Found Her Joy at a Women's College” (http://huff.to/1s6HSAw)
“STEM Girls Become FUN Gals at Cedar Crest College” (http://huff.to/1kto1x6)
“Her Solution for Getting More Girls Interested in STEM” (http://huff.to/1fxF26w)
“Expert Advice From a Women's College Alumna About Seeking a Career In Marine Biology” (http://huff.to/1ngjyZX)
“What These STEM College Women Are Doing This Summer” (http://huff.to/1yrJ59Y)

Anonymous said...

Right fit is definitely really valuable, but I wonder how well many of the best known women's colleges perform on a price/quality measure today.

A lot of them are pretty pricey and are generally not as well-endowed (!) as their now-coed Ivy League counterparts for providing aid.

At the same time, the top coed schools are now competing with women's schools for the best girls (and professors), which puts pressure on the quality.

But "fit" is also really important and it's great that FSP-Kid is thinking hard about her options - good luck!.

Anonymous said...

@ 8/23/2014 03:52:00 AM: Where's your data showing that the best-known women's colleges are lacking in endowment and quality? It's true that a lot of the non-elite women's colleges have had difficulties and many have gone coed. However, the "best-known" that you refer to, are doing just fine. Check out the data from the CHE:
Selecting MA as a state with at least 3 elite women's colleges (Smith, Wellesley, Mt. Holyoke), one can see that their endowments compare favorably to peer coed institutions (e.g., Amherst, Brandeis, Tufts). In fact, they compare with those of much larger universities (BU, Northeastern).

Anonymous said...

I'm a man who interviewed for faculty positions (in STEM) at two women's colleges. Before interviewing, I was skeptical of the value of women's colleges. But after interviewing, I was completely sold. The environment at both schools was warm and nurturing, and the difference was immediately noticeable. In the classes I attended, instead of a macho competition among students trying to show off how smart they were, there was much more of an attitude of cooperation, a spirit of "let's work this out together". I ended up taking a job at a co-ed school, but my two visits to women's colleges made a believer out of me.

Anonymous said...

Of course, schools, women's and co-ed, are comparable with their peers. The point is that the peer schools of the top women's colleges have changed.

The top women's schools are very good, but they no longer compete with the top (formerly male) schools. A girl who can get into MIT or Yale or Columbia can just go there - she's not forced (or pressured) to go to Welesley or Smith or Barnard instead.

Of course, some of the best students may still choose a women's college, but those schools no longer have the lock on the absolutely brightest and most ambitious girls that they once did.

Anonymous said...

I was one of the top students in my high school, and for this reason, my guidance counselor told me that I didn't need to go to college, because I was smart enough already to be able to find a husband. Another counselor suggested an all-women's college, but at the time, I felt the tone was such that I couldn't handle a co-ed school, and so I should settle for a women's college. I went to a nice co-ed liberal arts college. In retrospect, I think I would have benefited from attending an all female school for reasons that are already mentioned in the comments. Maybe if these reasons were explained to me at the time, my life would be very different from what it is now!

pyrope said...

If she's looking at western Mass, this part of the world is pretty damn awesome!

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 8/24/2014 09:06:00 AM: There are PLENTY of women at Smith, Wellesley, and Barnard who could have gone to MIT, Yale or Columbia -- and didn't. Those schools went coed 40 years ago, and the top women's colleges are still at the top of their game.

Anonymous said...

@Anon 8/24/2014 09:06:00 AM

Certainly there are some! But the data suggest that there are not many. Even though e.g. MIT has been co-ed for most of its history, it's only in the '90s that women enrolled in significant numbers.

MIT and Wellesley are openly admirable about their admission statistics: MIT claims that > 25% of admitted students
have 800 math SAT and >92% have 700+.

Wellesley reports that only ~20% of admits have math SAT of 750+ and only ~40% have math SAT of 700+ (with ~20% not submitting SAT).

Surprisingly, MIT appears also to edge slightly in SAT reading and writing: 67% and 61% score 700+, compared to slightly under 50% at Wellesley (though some do not submit SAT).

So I argue that Wellesley students are clearly very good and a small minority have MIT-comparable scores. But MIT is clearly attracting the strongest female and male students.

MIT also has a much larger endowment and thus greater financial aid resources. Unless a student specifically wants a women's institution -- which is a totally fine choice -- she is likely find a better cost/quality factor at MIT.

cookingwithsolvents said...

Awesome post and story. Thank you for sharing and best of luck to your daughter.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to compare Wellesley to another school, you should compare it to liberal arts schools of similar size. Amherst College, for example, would be a fairer comparison.

Anonymous said...

I'd be heartbroken if my daughter wanted to attend a women's college as her top criterion with the academic ranking as a secondary criterion. Despite the setbacks that I have had as a female in engineering, I hope that she sees me as someone that still had the opportunity to work hard and was successful. I'd feel like she was shortchanging herself by making academic ranking her secondary motivator. On the other hand, if it being a women's college was her tie-breaker, I'd be happy with that.

Anonymous said...

I'd be disappointed if a student made academic ranking their first criterion (except perhaps in terms of categories like first tier, second tier, etc.) since the rankings are pretty bogus. I think it's important to think of what kind of place you'll be comfortable in terms of size, location (urban/suburban/rural, part of the country), single-sex vs. coed, "feel" of the student body, do they offer all the majors you're potentially interested in.

You'll find first tier women's colleges as well as coed schools in the first tier. I have no trust that there's a meaningful difference between the school ranked #1 vs. #10 or even #20. Using the above criteria worked well for both my son (now a grad student at a top school in his field) and myself, and for both of us led to happy, intellectually stimulating undergrad experiences.

Anonymous said...

I went to an all girl's elementary school (yes I realize this is not the same thing as college), and found it to be extremely prissy and cliquey. Most of my friends were boys when I was young, and it was just a horrible fit for me. We'll see about my daughter, but she does seem to gravitate towards the boys more than the girls. I don't think I'd even consider an all girls school for her, based on my own experience. Later on, at my co-ed high school, I experienced much the same "boys are going to be successful" even though the girls had better grades prejudice, but I think that may be generational, and that this may be disappearing, at least in my part of the country. My co-ed university was a wonderful experience. I still feel happier working in a mixed gender environment, and haven't really had much of a problem with sexism... except from other women.

Anonymous said...

The SAT scores of the student body are far from a good measure of student quality.

I graduated from a women's college with a degree in mathematics. I would strongly recommend it to any college-going young woman who is smart, independent, and interested in the world. It was an enlightening experience and developed my leadership and perspective on women's role in the world in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

I was the same way, and I chose to go to a women's college. As a result, I did physics with a lot of women and was very appreciated for being outgoing, a leader, and a good physicist. I am now a professor of physics, and I credit a lot of my self-confidence to my women's college experience.

Anonymous said...

I would certainly pay close heed to the voices of those who have actually experienced women's colleges (and not elementary schools, for goodness sake) over those who have not. Especially considering that those who have experienced women's colleges have usually also experienced coed learning environments.

Anonymous said...

Sweets in 1976 NC State would not allow a woman to enroll in engineering. Going to many colleges in the fifties was simply not an option for your mom.

penthesileia said...

I went to a women's college as well and I loved it! Such a great experience. I always love when young women are able to look past the stereotypes and misinformation about women's college (an all-girls elementary school is not really meaningful experience upon which to base the decision to attend a women's college, with adult women) and consider the colleges. It is really great to be in an environment that is tailored towards you. One of the non-academic benefits is that all of the student leaders on campus are women, and many of the leaders within the administration and faculty are women, too - moreso than co-ed universities. So young women get used to looking up to women as role models and get used to thinking of women as scholars and leaders (and not just the men around them).