When I say that I attend a women’s college, I’m usually met with a mixture of palpable confusion and mild disgust. Follow-up questions include: “Are you a lesbian?” “Did you apply to any co-ed schools?” “Was your high school all girls?” And, of course, the concise but far-reaching: “Why?”
The first three questions are easy to answer—“Not that it bears any considerable relevance to my current educational status, but no, yes, no.” The final question, however, is more involved. As a senior at Barnard College, I often find myself thrust into the precarious position of Ambassador Speaking On Behalf of Women’s Colleges Everywhere, a position I thoughtfully and respectfully decline. I don’t claim to speak from every student’s perspective, but I will try to answer why, from my experience, women’s colleges are viable institutions. And I’ll also be honest about the things I don’t always love about my women’s college experience.
Statistically speaking, attending a women’s college is like rigging the achievement lottery. Although only 2% of all women who graduate from college in the United States graduate from a women’s college, over 20% of the women in congress and over 30% of the female CEOs running Fortune 500 companies graduated from a women’s college. That’s nuts. (In fact, I believe “that’s nuts” is the official analytical response to the phenomenon.)
Women’s colleges also provide unparalleled resources. Here at Barnard, we have a nationally ranked Office of Career Development that provides more internships than students; a 7:1 student to faculty ratio; lecture series and leadership labs geared specifically toward women; and over 60% of our faculty is female (compared to a national average in the mid-thirties ). And my sense is that Barnard is not an exception to the rule in this regard—many women’s colleges offer equally impressive resources, initiatives, and opportunities. Plus, for some reason, our student body president, club leaders, and valedictorian are always women. Crazy! Top that all off with engaged, engaging, curious, brilliant, and ambitious classmates, and you’ve got a recipe for success that makes those crazy statistics seem like more of a foregone conclusion than a mathematical fluke.