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All-Women's Schools

By Jeff Hodges
Director of Media Relations, Hollins University

Research suggests only three percent of high school girls have a serious interest in attending an all-women's college. That's because many young women believe women's colleges are simply elite finishing schools. Or, they are concerned that a women's college artificially isolates women from men. After all, they say, women have to compete with men in the "real" world.

In reality, contemporary women's colleges attract a diverse student body, representing a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, ages, ethnicities and racial identities. The vast majority of women's college students receive financial aid. And, a larger percentage of students at women's colleges choose disciplines and careers in traditionally male areas, such as math, the sciences, law and business. At the same time, most women's colleges offer women the possibility of interacting with men if they choose; many foster a coed social life and offer coed classes through neighboring colleges and universities.

There are many other advantages to attending a women's college. Studies have repeatedly shown that the single-gender atmosphere allows young women to participate more fully in and out of class. It sends them into the world better able to compete. They have more self-confidence and a greater sense of purpose than their coed counterparts. And often, a women's college provides them with a broader array of women role models; over 90 percent of all women's college presidents are women, and on average, 45 percent of all faculty teaching math and science courses at women's colleges are women, compared to just 11 percent at coed institutions.

The benefits are not solely academic. Mary Beth Hatten, professor of neuroscience at Rockefeller University and a women's college grad, believes that the unique environment allows more time to focus on friendships. "A women's college certainly created an atmosphere where we did things together we wouldn't have otherwise," she stated, adding that a lack of hierarchy and competition—qualities that may have been factors at larger or coed schools—were conducive to deeper bonds.

Women's college graduates make up only two percent of the college-educated population, and yet:

  • One-third of the women board members of the Fortune 1000 companies are women's college graduates.
  • Women's college graduates are twice as likely to earn Ph.D.s. A higher percentage go on to study in the sciences and attend medical school.
  • Of Business Week's 50 highest ranking women in corporate America, 30 percent are women's college graduates.
  • Of 61 women members of Congress, 20 percent attended women's colleges.

Some famous women's college graduates include:

  • Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • Diane Sawyer - Host of ABC's "Good Morning America"
  • Madeleine Albright - First woman to be named U.S. Secretary of State

More than 90 percent of students who attend a women's college state that they would make the same choice again. Mary K. Donavan, an alumna of Russell Sage College and now a vice president at New Line Cinema, concluded:

"At a women's college, you're taught much more than academics and narrow fields — you learn to see yourself as someone who can make things happen when unexpected opportunities come along. I left feeling I could pretty much do anything I wanted because I believed in myself."

The Women's College Coalition summed it up this way: "Women's colleges prepare women for the many roles they will assume in life.... Academically, professionally and personally, the advantages of a women's college are hard to match in the coed world."

About the School

Hollins University is an independent liberal arts institution offering undergraduate education for women, selected graduate programs for men and women, and community outreach initiatives. Founded in 1842 as Virginia's oldest chartered women's college, Hollins offers a nationally-ranked creative writing program, one of the oldest study abroad programs in the country, and extensive internship opportunities.