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Women's colleges ranked among top institutions in the country

by on June 29, 2017 10:28 AM

As an educational consultant specializing in college admissions, I recently received a note from one of my graduating seniors, who wrote, "Thank you so much for your support and guidance throughout the college application process. I’m so glad you and my mom encouraged me to apply to Wellesley, because now I’m in, and I can’t wait to go!”

The number of single-sex colleges has declined since the 1970s, when coed education became virtually universal. The remaining 47 women’s colleges are among the nation’s oldest institutions of higher education, and are committed to their mission of providing the best education for women. Women’s colleges are ranked among the top institutions in the country, and the bonds of friendship formed often turn into the strongest alumnae connections that can be found anywhere.

Wellesley is ranked as the No. 3 liberal arts college in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. Bay Path College in Massachusetts is known for forensic science, and Smith College, also in Massachusetts, is known for its engineering programs.

Mount Holyoke College has a five-year dual degree program where students have the opportunity to earn a bachelor's in engineering from Cal Tech, Dartmouth or UMass. At Mary Baldwin University in Virginia, students can earn their degree in health sciences, biology, chemistry or psychology in three years and enter graduate school early with an extensive professional portfolio.
According to the Women’s College Coalition, undergraduates at women’s colleges are three times more likely to earn a degree in economics and 1 1/2 times more likely to earn degrees in life sciences, physical science and mathematics than women attending coed institutions. In addition, research has shown that once there, women like their single-sex colleges — the attrition rate at women’s colleges is much lower than at coed institutions.
Of her own experience at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, State College resident Jennifer Driscoll said her education was unique in every way.

"My choice of a women's college was steeped in history, as both my mother and sister attended (Sweet Briar College). I went knowing I would develop lifelong friendships, but found my close-knit relationships with my professors and advisers to be just as precious and valuable. You live and learn in an environment that celebrates your abilities and talents, inspires you to think creatively and convinces you that every opportunity is within your grasp.”
Some of the opportunities and benefits of attending a women’s college come after graduation.  A number of well-known public figures are graduates of women’s colleges.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Diane Sawyer and Ali McGraw graduated from Wellesley. Sen. Nancy Pelosi went to Trinity Washington University. The mayor of Columbus, Ga., Theresa Pile Tomlinson, is a graduate of Sweet Briar College. Connecticut’s Ella Grasso, who was the first women in the country to be elected governor in her own right, went to Mount Holyoke.

Former ABC White House correspondent Ann Crompton graduated from Hollins College. Authors Anna Quindlen and Nora Zeale Hurston attended Barnard. Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is a Smith alumna.
What about the lack of men at a women’s college? Many all-women colleges are part of a consortium with other colleges. This arrangement allows students to attend classes and cultural and social events at other schools within the consortium.

Bryn Mawr College students can take courses at Haverford, Penn or Swarthmore, while Barnard in New York is closely affiliated with Columbia University. Students at Smith and Mount Holyoke can attend classes at Amherst, Hampshire College or UMass. Young women at Wellesley can cross register at MIT and Olin College of Engineering, or take business classes at Babson College.

Simmons College is part of the Colleges of the Fenway Consortium in Boston. Women at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., can cross-register and attend social events at Emory or Georgia Tech.

With their ID cards, students have access to libraries and cafeterias at their affiliate colleges. They can attend, and even participate in, theater, music and sports activities.

That said, studies show that there is a lot less loud partying and binge drinking at women's colleges. One student, I spoke with, agreed: “While drinking is a reality at any college, it is nice to go somewhere where it doesn't dominate the social scene.”

“In this day and age, when girls can choose an Ivy League school or a state university, there are still many compelling reasons why going to a women's college may be a better choice," said Dr. Nancy Chiswick, of State College, who is a Smith alumna.

"First and foremost, the experience of being in an environment where every position is filled by a female, not only the students, but also club leaders, the majority of faculty, as well as the presidency of the institution, conveys an attitude of 'you can be anything you want to be.'  
"Secondly, and just as important, the friendships you make at an all-female institution last a lifetime. The alumnae associations of the women's colleges are strong links between graduates and the school, and they can provide a ready-made group of friends wherever life takes you.

"By the way, don't worry about finding boys, for friendship or romance. Boys know where to find the best girls – and it's often at a women's college."

There are more than 3,000 colleges to choose from in the United States. Women’s colleges are by no means for everyone, but for young women today, they may be well worth consideration.

There are no “typical” students at women’s colleges. The colleges strive to incorporate diversity in all its forms — geographical, cultural, social and economic. Aspiring athletes, dancers, doctors, writers, lawyers, business executives and entrepreneurs — the common denominator may be that these young women are serious about their education and like the idea of a collaborative, nurturing learning environment.

For more information, visit the Women’s College Consortium at


Dr. Heather Ricker-Gilbert is a college selection and admissions consultant in Centre County. Visit her website,



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