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Image from Pexels.

Women’s colleges seem to get a lot of flak these days. Less than two percent of college-bound women these days are choosing women’s colleges and only five of the original Seven Sisters colleges remain all-women (Radcliffe College merged with Harvard University and Vassar College became coeducational). Now that almost every college in the country is coeducational, it seems like women’s colleges are always fighting to prove their relevancy. So, as a college applicant, why even add one to your Common App dashboard?


I’m going to be honest here: I’m a sucker for quirky college traditions, and women’s colleges certainly aren’t lacking in them. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Midnight Breakfast at Barnard. Barnard College’s administration and staff (including the president, Debora Spar) serve its bleary-eyed and sleep deprived students breakfast on the night before finals. And we’re not talking cereal and milk here, but real, pancakes-and-bacon breakfast. Every year, Midnight Breakfast has a different theme, so you’ll never be bored with it (as if you ever could be).

Smith College’s Mountain Day. On a lovely fall day of the college president’s choosing, the college bells ring without any prior warning, announcing the cancellation of that day’s classes. Smith students generally explore the great outdoors with their day off.

Bryn Mawr’s Lantern NightThe event is nothing short of breathtaking. At the end of the school year, freshman get decked out in black academic robes and are given lantern while upperclassmen sing Greek college hymns.

Mount Holyoke’s Elfing. It might be the most adorable thing I’ve ever heard of. In October, sophomores of the college welcome the freshman by secretly leaving them little presents every morning for a week. At the end of the week, every sophomore reveals her secret identity to the freshman she’s been spoiling. It’s almost too cute for me to handle.

Empowered and Motivated Student Body

Just think: at a women’s college, women are the focus of all school opportunities and all the administration’s attention. At female-only institutions, girls really do run the world, they develop the confidence and leadership abilities to ensure that they keep running it after graduation. Maybe this is why women’s college graduates are much more likely to earn PhDs than their coed counterparts and more likely to find success in STEM fields. As Smith College says, “Of course, the world is coeducational. But Smith women enter it more confidently than women graduates of coed schools.” Smith, those are fighting words. But I like them.

Alumnae of women’s colleges always seem to mention the amazing educational environment that single-sex education created for them. Valerie Saunders, a 40-year-old Smith graduate told Forbes, “Women’s colleges tend to attract a very competitive and driven student base, and that’s the group you are surrounding yourself with during these critical years.” As a student of a women’s college, you’re going to be surrounded by hardworking, motivated ladies just like yourself. Tara Roberts of Mount Holyoke College said that “popularity at a women’s college isn’t about clothing or hairstyles. I found you became popular or cool because of your convictions, your passion and your actions.”

And if the comments section of this Buzzfeed article is anything to go by, the ladies of America’s women’s colleges are majorly proud of their schools. If tradition is my favorite aspect of the collegiate experience, then school spirit is a close runner-up.

Super Successful Alumnae

Alumnae of women’s colleges make up over 20 percent of women in Congress, and comprise 30 percent of Businessweek’s list of rising women in corporate America. Talk about impressive figures.

Even this shortlist of women’s college alumnae who’ve made their name in the big, bad, coeducational world is showstopping:

    1. Jennifer Nettles: Agnes Scott College
    2. Anna Quindlen: Barnard College
    3. Martha Stewart: Barnard College
    4. Katharine Hepburn: Bryn Mawr College
    5. Emily Dickinson: Mount Holyoke College
    6. Sylvia Plath: Smith College
    7. Julia Child: Smith College
    8. Meryl Steep: Vassar College
    9. Hillary Clinton: Wellesley College
    10. Pamela Melroy: Wellesley College

...And Guys? Really?

It’s easy enough to say, “I’m a strong, independent college applicant who don’t need no man” during the college search process, but a few months into your freshman year, you might be craving some company with the opposite sex–whether it be classy dinner following the latest rom-com to hit theaters or an intense afternoon of Call of Duty. Either way, chances are you’re going to want at least some interaction with the opposite sex during your college years. Clearly, this poses a problem at a women’s college, right? Well you might be surprised to know that at many ladies-only institutions, this isn’t even an issue.

Barnard College’s legendary partnership with Columbia University (and its oh-so-perfect location in New York City) means that you’ll not only be able to meet guys in your classes, you’ll be able to meet guys pretty much everywhere (besides the dorms and dining hall, that is).

One of Bryn Mawr College’s many claims to fame is its multiple consortiums, in which students can take classes at nearby colleges, all of which are co-ed, like Swarthmore, Haverford, and the University of Pennsylvania. As a bonus, Philadelphia is only eleven miles away (and home to more than fifty colleges and universities to boot).Both Smith College and Mount Holyoke College are part of the Five College Consortium, which includes Amherst College, Hampshire College, and University of Massachusetts-Amherst. All five colleges in the consortium share their educational and cultural resources and facilities (basically, they have a joint library system, cross registration, and open theatre auditions). And worry not about travel – inter-campus transportation is provided as well.

At Wellesley, students can cross-register at MIT and can even earn two degrees on a five-year track: a B.A. from Wellesley and an S.B. from MIT. Wellesley has the added benefit of being just twelve miles away from bustling Boston, so there’s no shortage of guys around.

So, if you’re finding yourself drawn to the fabulous environments for which women’s colleges have become famous, but are worried about being completely cut off from the coed world, don’t be. Do your research, and you might find that many women’s colleges aren’t as isolated as you might think.

If you’re still a little unsure of whether you’re into the whole X-chromosome-only model of education, check out the websites of the women’s colleges you’re interested in. Most of them will have a section detailing why they think their single-sex education is so fabulous. If that doesn’t have you convinced, the Women’s College Coalition’s website might be able to persuade you.

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the author

Elizabeth Watson (just call her Beth) is a senior at an itty-bitty private Catholic high school in Virginia. In addition to writing for The Prospect, she writes and performs sketch comedy with her improv troupe, rehearses like mad for school theatre productions, suits up for forensics competitions, and writes poetry for her school’s literary magazine. A brief rundown of Beth’s favorite people and things ever to exist in no particular order: hole-in-the-wall bookshops, sweaters, Jane Eyre, peppermint tea (in a Troy and Abed mug, of course), Broadway musicals, British period dramas, Neil Patrick Harris, and Hugh Jackman. Beth’s long-term goal in life to is to become Julie Andrews, but for now she’s focusing on surviving the final stretch of high school and getting into college–hopefully as an English major

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  1. Kelly on December 11, 2013

    Just as an add-on, Barnard’s dining hall is open to Columbia students, just as Columbia dining halls are open to Barnard students 🙂

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