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Unveiling the mysteries of women’s college

What comes to mind when you think about women’s colleges?

You might think of public figures like Hillary Clinton, the Soong Sisters and famous Chinese writer Bing Xin, all of whom are graduates of women’s colleges in the U.S.

Despite the rising public attention on single-sex liberal arts colleges in recent years, these schools are still mostly enshrouded in mystery and misconceptions. Today, we are going to take a deep dive into how women’s colleges came to be, what they are like now, and whether they would be a good fit for you.

To co-ed or not to co-ed?

While the majority of higher education institutions in the U.S. are co-ed, single-sex schools have a much longer history. In fact, many prestigious private schools today were originally designed for providing education to just boys or girls.

The development of all-women’s schools was relatively rough. Feminists had fought for many years in order to gain rights on equal education. When women’s education was just emerging, single-sex schools were the norm, and the vast majority of universities only accepted men. The handful of institutions that provided education to female students are all-women schools that aimed to prepare them for a future as mothers and housewives. The vocational training for women back then was limited to only service work such as teaching and nursing.

In the 1950s, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled public single-sex universities in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Because of this clause, most men’s schools in the United States began to accept female students, gravitating toward the mainstream higher education system as we know it today.

Women’s colleges today

The women’s colleges remaining today are no longer educating women to become good wives and mothers, but foster women to think critically, pursue academic and career achievements, embrace challenges and become leaders in the world.

But some are still skeptical. They believe students attending a women’s college are missing out on the traditional college experience, which might make them ill-prepared for interactions with the opposite sex in a “real” society.

In reality, women’s colleges are just like co-ed ones — there’s no point in comparing superiority. They are just one of the options students can consider when selecting schools. To know if they might be the right fit, you need to understand some core characteristics of women’s colleges:

  • They emphasize more on gender-specific character building;

  • They provide an academically focused environment with fewer distractions, while addressing the need for students to socialize with the opposite sex through events or parties with other schools

  • They help women recognize their leadership potential by offering equal opportunities to develop leadership skills

  • They free students from gender bias and nurture their confidence, giving them easy access to female role models

Now, let’s take a look at some of the best-known women’s colleges in the U.S. They are all liberal art colleges with moderate size but outstanding quality of education.

Wellesley College

U.S. News Ranking: #3 in Liberal Arts Colleges City: Wellesley, MA Student-to-faculty ratio: 7:1

Wellesley College is a private women’s liberal arts college known for its excellent education. Founded in 1870, the school fosters the highest standard of readiness for its graduates.

Thousands of accomplished, thoughtful women committed to making a difference have graduated from this institution. Wellesley’s full-engagement academic philosophy challenges its students to exceed their highest personal and intellectual expectations. The school’s commitment to women is evident in its clear focus on providing students with an unmatched educational experience.

Smith College

U.S. News Ranking: #11 in Liberal Arts Colleges City: Northampton, MA Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1

Smith College is a private women’s liberal arts college that offers exceptional undergraduate programs for women. Founded in 1871, the school embraces diversity. Its special dormitory system makes the relationship between faculty and students closer.

As a part of the five-college consortium, Smith offers students opportunities to enjoy the benefits of a small liberal arts classroom but resources from big universities. Smith also has many quirky traditions and events to enrich the tight-knit community. The only factor discouraging students from attending might be the long winters in Massachusetts.

Barnard College

U.S. News Ranking: #25 in Liberal Arts Colleges City: New York, NY Student-to-faculty ratio: 10:1

Barnard college is affiliated with but legally and financially separate from Columbia University. Students share classes, clubs, fraternities and sororities, sports teams, buildings and more with Columbia, and receive a diploma that is signed by both Barnard and Columbia presidents.

It’s one of the most selective academic institutions in the nation, always looking for students who are passionate about gender equality and can think independently. Though it’s located in New York, it has a beautiful and peaceful campus. Barnard graduates go on to excel in careers thanks to the powerful and comprehensive education they receive here.

Bryn Mawr College

U.S. News Ranking: #27 in Liberal Arts Colleges City: Bryn Mawr, PA Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1

Located in suburban Philadelphia, Bryn Mawr is part of the Seven Sister colleges and the Tri-College Consortium. Founded as a Quaker institution in 1885, it has a rich tradition of offering academic excellence and education that enables students to turn their passion for learning into a life of purpose.

A leader in educational innovation, it provides a wide array of majors in the sciences, social sciences, and the humanities for nearly 2000 students. A vibrant faculty of scholars and teachers support students in their educational journey with a particular focus on putting learning into action.

Mount Holyoke College

U.S. News Ranking: #32 in Liberal Arts Colleges City: South Hadley, MA Student-to-faculty ratio: 10:1

Mount Holyoke College is a private liberal arts college for women and transgender people of both sexes. Founded in 1837, it has changed the landscape of higher education for women and the people of the region. More than 38,000 Mount Holyoke alumnae have benefitted from the philosophy of the school, which helped women enhance the power of their voices, develop their intellect and cultivate courage so that they can lead agile, creative and brave lives.

The school led the way in women’s education by preparing them for leadership roles in all fields. It is great for students who want to explore different interests but might not be a perfect fit if students want to gain more practical experience during four years of college.

Scripps College

U.S. News Ranking: #33 in Liberal Arts Colleges City: Claremont, CA Student-to-faculty ratio: 11:1

Scripps College is known for its extensive interdisciplinary core curriculum and historic campus. Founded in 1926, it was one of only a few institutions dedicated to educating women. As a member of the Claremont Colleges, it continues to champion the development of both mind and spirit. It teaches women to develop their intellect and talents through active participation in a community of scholars.


Single-sex or co-ed, ultimately, the quality of your education depends on your personal drive to excel in the academic world. We hope this article could help you understand the charm of women’s colleges, or at least debunk the myths associated with them.

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