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Is a Women's College Right for Your Daughter?

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Updated on Aug 13, 2009

If you have a daughter in search of the right college, you may be considering a women's college. There are many factors to consider when you add all-female institutions into the mix. It has distinct benefits, and may be appropriate for a girl seeking a different academic and social experience in college. But how do you know if your daughter will thrive in such an environment, and what can a women’s college offer her that coed institutions may not?

Over the years, proponents of women’s colleges have claimed that single-sex institutions offer girls a challenging but empowering learning atmosphere. A 2007 study at Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research indicated that females at women’s colleges, in fact, are more engaged in academics and receive higher levels of support from peers and faculty. The study, called “Women Students at Coeducational and Women’s Colleges: How Do Their Experiences Compare,” is based on data from first-year and senior students at 26 women’s colleges and 264 other four-year institutions, compiled in the 2007 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

According to the study, the advantages of women’s colleges include the accessibility of more female mentors among faculty and administration, a higher number of students in math, science, and engineering, and substantial opportunities to become leaders. For example, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and top journalists Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer are all graduates of women’s colleges. The study also reports that, compared to females at coed campuses, students at women’s colleges collaborate on a higher level with peers, interact in a more racially, economically, and socially diverse setting, develop a desire to contribute to their community, and gain a deeper understanding of themselves.

“While many prospective students might consider the fact that we do not have men in our undergraduate program to be a disadvantage, we believe otherwise,” says Andrew Modlin, the executive director of enrollment management at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va. At Mary Baldwin, similar to other women’s colleges like Mills College in Oakland, Calif., and Smith College in Northampton, Mass., resources for academics and athletics departments, for instance, aren’t split between men and women. The student government and clubs at women’s colleges are run entirely or mostly by females, offering many leadership roles. “There are over 200 student leadership positions in on-campus organizations, all of which are filled by women,” says Modlin. Mary Baldwin is led by a female president, 65 percent of its board of trustees are women, while more than half of the faculty is female. “We provide many female role models on campus,” he says.

The Indiana University study also indicates that students at women’s colleges show higher gains in an ability to analyze quantitative problems, a necessary skill for disciplines like math, science, and engineering. A greater number of students at women’s colleges undertake these majors, which have traditionally been viewed as male-dominated.

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