*Originally published by Turning Dreams Into Goals on TurningDreamsIntoGoals.com*
Perhaps the single most common question I receive about my college experience is ¨so why did you choose an all-girls school?¨ After politely explaining that I attended a women’s college not an ¨all-girls school¨ (language matters!), I then try my best to explain all of the positive and truly irreplaceable aspects of attending a single-sex academic institution.
When I applied to Wellesley, what most attracted me to the institution was the sense of community that I felt would be fostered at this single-sex college. In fact, I so deeply believed that women’s colleges would provide me with close-knit, sisterly bonds that I applied to four of them my high school senior year!
By the time I graduated from Wellesley, I learned that the benefits of a single-sex college extends far beyond our college ¨community¨ on campus.
Here are some of my reflections on why attending a single-sex college is valuable, and tips to keep in mind if your child is considering attending a single-sex institution.
Most Valuable Benefits
After reflecting on my college experience as a new graduate, I can safely say that one of the most empowering elements of my college experience that I realized was this single fact: 100% of the leadership positions I witnessed on campus were held by women. While this fact can easily be taken for granted when you’re living and working in the midst of it, once you graduate you quickly realize how remarkably rare this is; beyond just feeling empowered, seeing other women your age in top positions inspire you to believe that you too can assume leadership.
Learning & Living Without Stereotype Threat
In an education class I took during my first year at Wellesley, I became introduced to the concept of “stereotype threat.” Stereotype threat is the phenomenon in which individuals from marginalized groups are hyper-aware of stereotypes that are associated with their group which leads them to perform poorly academically. Poor performance is a result of assuming that such performance would be expected due to stereotypes of an individual’s racial, ethnic, social or religious identity. Studies that speak to the impact of stereotype threat reveal that Black college freshmen often perform slightly worse than their White peers on standardized tests, if their race is constantly emphasized.
Being at a women’s college helps to dramatically reduce the stereotype threat that can inhibit the full academic maturation and intellectual development of female college students, particularly those of color and other diverse students living within marginalized identities. When women are not worried that they will be perceived as “less than” based on their gender, they are more free to be whomever they want to be and achieve success while doing so.
Perhaps the most important thing I left Wellesley with (other than my diploma) is the strong network of friends that I made during my 4 years. While obviously any college can provide students with lifelong friendships, there is something uniquely special about fostering close bonds in a space with other strong and empowered women. While it is easy to still attend co-ed parties both on and off-campus, the fact that party culture is more mild on most single-sex institutions lends students the opportunity to socialize in ways that foster deeper, stronger interpersonal relationships.
Mentorship & Professional Opportunities
Along with the personal network I created at Wellesley, women’s colleges are also often known to develop strong professional networks amongst its students. Administration, faculty and student groups at single-sex institutions recognize the unique challenges that women will face in the job market and the workplace far after they graduate. Thus, the mentorship and the resources that women’s colleges provide are tailored to help ameliorate those potential struggles.
While I truly treasured all of the experiences and benefits of attending a women’s college, there were also some challenges that came with it. Interestingly, many of those challenges were often presented from individuals outside of my college community.
The Challenges & (Uninformed) Critiques
One of the most common outside critiques of single-sex institutions that I have heard is that these institutions don’t adequately prepare you for “real life.” Critics have argued to me that being in an academic space composed completely of women is “unrealistic” and “leaves graduates ill-prepared to interact with and collaborate with males.” Personally, I find such a critique insulting and ill-informed.
Attending a women’s college does not mean that you never interact with the opposite sex nor does it brainwash students into forgetting that we still live in a patriarchal society. If anything, choosing to attend a women’s college probably suggests that you are highly aware that gender based discrimination exists, and you would like for your four years of college to be a place where you can learn from other women in a space that is free of sexist restraints. Furthermore, such a critique wrongly assumes that co-ed colleges are a perfect microcosm of the real world which could not be more untrue.
The very reason why certain institutions attract some students as opposed to others is because they provide a unique experience that is tailored to the background, lifestyle, interests and goals of the admitted student.
If your child is considering attending a single-sex institution, be sure to not let them be swayed by the uninformed argument. Single-sex institutions graduate students who are not just prepared for the real world, but who are deeply empowered as well. I know, because I am one.
Pieces written for online & print publications and non-profit organizations.