If you’ve started researching colleges, you might be curious about women’s colleges. Whereas many prestigious institutions of higher learning in the United States didn’t accept women until the 1980s, women’s colleges have historically been a great alternative for women who are interested in higher education.

Many of these institutions still exist today, and in fact offer many benefits to the women who choose to attend. That being said, if you’re considering applying to a women’s college, you might find yourself with a lot of questions on your mind. What is a women’s college? Will I still get to interact with members of the opposite gender? Does the application process differ from that of other schools? Read on for more information about women’s colleges, including their application process, culture, and more.

What are women’s colleges?

Women’s college are essentially what the name suggests: they’re colleges whose admissions are limited to women (although some schools have recently expanded their admissions policies in order to be more inclusive to trans and nonbinary individuals—this subject is discussed more below). Some schools, such as the Seven Sisters schools, were traditionally founded as sister schools to northeastern colleges that only accepted men at the time (such as Barnard’s affiliation with Columbia University and Radcliffe’s affiliation with Harvard University). The schools were considered to be somewhat of a parallel to the then all-male Ivy League, and even today these are still considered to be some of the most elite women’s colleges in the country. A few of the Seven Sisters schools are now co-ed, whereas others have remained single-sex in affiliation with colleges that are now co-ed or merged entirely with their affiliate university.

There are many women’s colleges outside of the Seven Sisters schools as well, given that there are currently 39 women’s colleges in the United States. Even though men’s-only colleges have become extremely rare, the demand for women’s colleges remains. Attending these institutions is certainly not for everyone, but the experience is beloved by the students who find them to be a good fit. There are also many unique benefits one can gain from attending a women’s college.

For more information about single-sex colleges, be sure to read this CollegeVine blog post on the subject.

What are some of the potential benefits of attending a women’s college?

One of the major benefits of attending a women’s college is that these institutions focus specifically on educating women. This means that there will often be more attention paid to issues that women often face both in academic and in the working world.

Women’s colleges can help young women build confidence. Having a tight-knit and supportive community at a women’s college can ensure a woman has the confidence to assert herself in a professional setting. Women’s colleges  also often boast close-knit and supportive campus communities. Because of the emphasis on the student body’s shared experiences as women, student life at a women’s college is conducive to forming deep connections with girls who are just as motivated as you are, and can help you form a support system that can be very helpful in terms of achieving your goals.

Is it also worth noting that many leaders in politics, business, etc are alumnae of women’s colleges. Gloria Steinem, (women’s rights activist and author, Smith College Class of 1956), Nancy Pelosi, (Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Trinity College Class of 1962), Hillary Clinton, (former U.S. Secretary of State, Wellesley College Class of 1969), and Madeleine Albright (First female U.S. Secretary of State, Wellesley College Class of 1959) are just a few examples of high-achieving women that attended single-sex schools.

Are women’s colleges well-regarded in the higher education community?

You might be wondering what kind of reputation women’s colleges might have in the larger academic community, as opposed to their co-educational counterparts.  It’s always a good idea to think about life after graduation as well as the experiences that you might have throughout your four years of undergrad when choosing a college. Once it comes time to look for a job or apply to graduate school, you don’t want potential employers or graduate school admissions officers doubting the educational legitimacy or rigor of your undergraduate program. So, will you be taken seriously in the context of other colleges and universities if you attend a women’s college?

While  there are a range of options and a lot of different levels of rigor among women’s colleges in the United States, and thus no blanket answer to this question, you should know that many women’s colleges are very highly regarded: Wellesley, Smith, Scripps, and Barnard to name a few. Employers will not perceive your education in any fundamentally different way simply because you attended a women’s college; more important than the gender admissions policy of your alma mater is the caliber of that individual school, and the degree of academic rigor that it offers to its students.

If I attend a women’s college, will I not interact with men at all?

While the concept of attending a women’s-only college might sound scary at first, you should know that you’re not going to be entering into complete single-sex isolation (as my Barnard tour guide once told me, “it’s a college, not a convent”).

As a student at a women’s college, you will still interact with male faculty and staff on a daily basis. Some women’s colleges also have partnerships with other schools that will allow their students to cross register into classes, so you might still have a few men in your classes, or you might even end up taking a class or two at a co-ed institution.

Social relationships and partnerships will also exist between some women’s colleges and nearby co-ed schools, so you might find yourself participating in extracurriculars at a co-ed institution and attending social events with men. Depending upon the schools in question and their particular arrangement, the distances between affiliated institutions will vary. In the case of Barnard College and Columbia University, the two schools are right across the street from one another, so it’s easy for students to get to know one another. If you’re considering a school that’s far away from its affiliated institution, however, there’s no need to worry: some schools will even have weekend shuttles between campuses, making socialization much easier.

Will attending a women’s college isolate me from the “real world”?

Some students worry that a single-sex environment might seem artificial, given that most professional experiences and environments post-graduation are unlikely to be single-sex. While this concern is understandable, remember to keep in mind that, for one thing, regardless of what women’s college you attend, you will still interact with men in professional, academic, and social settings (as is mentioned above).

Secondly, one advantage of attending a women’s college is that these schools can teach their students strategies that will help them in the real world and provide a supporting environment in which to do so. The women at single-sex schools will learn to cultivate important skills like leadership and confidence, which are often emphasized in women’s colleges’ missions, so that they can later use these skills at graduate school or in their careers.

Will I be welcomed at a women’s college as a transgender woman?

As of June 2015, several women’s colleges, among them Barnard and Wellesley, have announced explicit policies to allow acceptance to any individual who consistently lives and identifies herself as a woman. There are even schools, such as Mt. Holyoke, with an even broader admissions policy that includes non-binary individuals as well.

Many women’s schools have yet to make an explicit statements on transgender students, but some are actively researching and considering the decision. Policies on trans and non-binary applicants are still a developing issue, so if trans or non-binary admissions are on your radar, be sure to stay alert for any changes in the future.

Is the application process different when you’re applying to a women’s college?

If you’re applying to a women’s college, the application process will probably be similar to that of a co-ed liberal arts college that is similarly ranked. You can take a look at these CollegeVine guides for applying to Smith and Wellesley for more specific information on what the application process might look like. Keep in mind that on the application, there might be specific essay questions that address your gender (for example, you might be asked what interests you about a women’s college in particular).

In Conclusion

You might still be wondering whether or not a women’s college is right for you. It’s ultimately up to you to make that decision, but if reading this blog post has made you feel excited or curious about an environment that uplifts and supports women, be sure to consider looking into applying to women’s colleges. While the prospect of attending a single-sex school might be a bit harrowing, these communities offer many of benefits for motivated young women who are looking to become more confident and outspoken in an environment that’s designed specifically for them.

For more information and women’s and liberal arts colleges, check out these blog posts:

A Guide to Single-Sex Colleges

The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Wellesley

How to Write the Smith College Essays 2016-2017

How to Write Bryn Mawr’s 2016-17 Essays

Devin Barricklow

Devin Barricklow

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Devin Barricklow is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major at Columbia University. She’s really excited to be able to share her expertise about the college process with students who need advice. When she isn’t writing for CollegeVine, she enjoys reading the poems of Mary Oliver, going to concerts in the city, or cooking (preferably something with lots of bok choy and ginger).
Devin Barricklow