The Best Women’s Colleges and Their Peer Co-ed Institutions

You may be considering a women’s college, or may need convincing that an education at an all-women’s college is still as valuable, if not more so, than it was a century ago. This post will give you an overview of some of the most prestigious women’s colleges, and share why enrolling in one won’t mean spending four years enclosed in a small campus with people of one sex. In fact, many women’s colleges are partnered with larger co-ed universities, allowing women to experience both a small liberal arts education and that of a research university. 


The Most Prestigious Women’s Colleges


Barnard College 

Location: New York, New York 

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 25

Enrollment: 2,604

Acceptance Rate: 17%

Middle 50% SAT Score Range: 1330–1500


Barnard was founded in 1889 in response to Columbia’s refusal to admit women. Now, Barnard is an affiliate college of Columbia, and Barnard women share classes and activities with its Ivy League partner (there is also a special dual degree engineering program). Students may also pursue part of their degree at Juilliard, the Manhattan School of Music, and the Jewish Theological Seminary.


Bryn Mawr College 

Location: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania 

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 27

Enrollment: 1,334

Acceptance Rate: 40%

Middle 50% SAT Score Range: 1310–1500


Bryn Mawr is known for being the first institution in the U.S. to offer a graduate education culminating in a Ph.D, and currently has six doctorate programs. Bryn Mawr also has a partnership with Haverford College, Swarthmore, and the University of Pennsylvania, offering its students expanded potential fields of study, resources, and opportunities for both academic and social life. 


Mount Holyoke College 

Location: South Hadley, Massachusetts 

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 30

Enrollment: 2,210

Acceptance Rate: 52%

Middle 50% SAT Score Range: 1270-1460


Mount Holyoke is the oldest institution of the Seven Sisters, and campus legends have it that certain buildings are haunted. A part of the Five College Consortium in Western Massachusetts, Mount Holyoke College maintains particularly close relationships with the consortium’s other two liberal arts colleges, Amherst College and Smith College. 


Scripps College 

Location: Claremont, California 

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 30

Enrollment: 1,059

Acceptance Rate: 30%

Middle 50% SAT Score Range: 1290-1460


A part of the Claremont Colleges, Scripps is often named one of America’s most beautiful college campuses. It is also known for its extensive and unique core curriculum—a three-semester interdisciplinary program—and its required senior theses or projects. 


Smith College 

Location: Northampton, Massachusetts 

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 11

Enrollment: 2,521

Acceptance Rate: 37%

Middle 50% SAT Score Range:  1290-1490


Smith College’s commitment to offering a unique, empowering education for each student means that at Smith and afterwards, women succeed in both traditional and unconventional ways. Smith was the first institution to offer an all-women’s ABET-accredited engineering program, and today is one of just two women’s colleges with such a program. Smith students also benefit from the Five-College consortium, which offers its own major and certificate programs. 


Wellesley College 

Location: Wellesley, Massachusetts 

US News Liberal Arts College Ranking: 3

Enrollment: 2,508

Acceptance Rate: 29%

Middle 50% SAT Score Range:  1360-1530


Located 30 minutes outside of Boston, Wellesley Colleges plays a vital role in the largest academic “hotspot” in the country. In addition to its many cross-registration programs with other colleges and universities in proximity, Wellesley offers selective double-degree programs with MIT and a combined five-year BA/MA program in International Economics and Finance with Brandeis University. 


What is A Peer Co-ed Institution? Which of These Schools Have One?


For women’s colleges, a peer co-ed institution is a partnership with a co-ed college or university that allows cross-registration, a wider network of extracurriculars, and shared resources such as library access. 


Of the schools listed here, only Barnard has a peer co-ed institution—Columbia University. Although Barnard is legally and financially independent, and has its own separate administration, it is uniquely connected to Columbia University in many ways. Students at the two institutions can take classes at the other, participate and hold positions in the other’s school’s organizations, and compete in athletics together as the Barnard-Columbia Athletic Consortium.  


Although Barnard is the only school with a peer co-ed institution, the others are either part of a college consortium or exchange programs. 


How do college consortiums differ from exchange programs? A consortium promotes and administers long-term forms of cooperation between the institutions, and include: shared use of educational resources and facilities, joint departments and programs, and inter-campus transportation. 


On the other hand, an inter-collegiate exchange program functions more as a domestic study abroad program. 


Take a look below for the consortiums or exchanges that the other five women’s colleges are part of. 


The Claremont College Consortium 

Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pomona College, Pitzer College, Claremont Graduate University, and Keck Graduate Institute 


The Five-College Consortium

Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Hampshire College 


The Tri-College & Quaker Consortiums 

Tri-Co: Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College

Quaker: Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, Swarthmore College, and University of Pennsylvania 


The 12 College Exchange Program 

Amherst College, Bowdoin College, Connecticut College, Dartmouth College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Trinity College, Vassar College, Wellesley College, Wesleyan College, Wheaton College, and Williams College–Mystic Maritime Studies Program  


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Short Bio
Kimberly graduated from Smith College with a degree in English Literature. This year, she has been based in Beijing, China, where she works in the education field and rescues dogs in her free time. She will be starting her masters at Columbia University in the fall.

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