Women's colleges have some impressive alumnae.

In fact, more than 20 percent of the women in Congress hail from a sister school as do one third of the women on Fortune 1000 boards. This is notable, seeing as out of a total of 4,627 higher education institutions, there are only 37 women’s colleges and women’s college graduates comprise 2 percent of the college graduate population. 

If you’re a college-bound woman, you may be wondering what makes these female-focused schools so special? To answer that question, we spoke to current women’s college students and recent alumnae about why they chose to go to a single-sex school, why they’re happy with their choice and how the decision has benefitted them. 

First Impressions

Although some young women set out with a clear idea that they’d like to attend a women’s college, for many, it wasn’t something that was on their radar. Katherine Nelson was looking for a large, coed school near a big city and only visited Hollins University — a women’s college in Roanoke, VA — at the suggestion of a family friend. “I wasn’t so thrilled because the school was not at all what I was looking for,” recalls Nelson. “But then I stepped on campus and something changed. The biggest thing that I still remember was that while other colleges talked about sports, legacies, cool libraries and things that made them sound cool or enticing, Hollins seemed to say ‘we want you, an individual.’” She wound up at Hollins as a political science major.

Christiana Parker, a graduate of Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, went into her college search interested in exploring the option of a women’s institution but not entirely set on it. After visiting Meredith College and speaking to current students and alumnae about their positive experiences, her choice was solidified. She loved hearing that current students felt specifically encouraged to speak in class and had developed confidence through that class participation. 

“I was not used to being in classes with all females, and to be honest, it made me feel much more comfortable.”

A Comfortable Environment

From campus to the classroom, students at women’s colleges report that their experience feels more comfortable than coed ones they’ve had. “The campus itself feels very welcoming and collaborative,” says Parker. “While my experiences in a coed classroom seem more competitive, Meredith’s classes often involve group work. I have received nothing but encouragement from my classmates. These women are genuinely excited to see one another succeed and eager to assist in any way they can.”

This feeling often extends beyond the classroom to on-campus safety. Sophia Niemeyer, who graduated from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN, says, “I felt safer on an all-women’s campus. Students were generally more focused on their studies and community. Not to say coed campuses are unsafe, but I could tell the women at St. Catherine looked out for each other.”

Increased Confidence

This comfort can translate into increased confidence. “I was not used to being in classes with all females, and to be honest, it made me feel much more comfortable,” says Arianna Halpert, who graduated as a marketing and management major from Lander’s College for Women, a branch of Touro College in New York City. “In college, I learned to speak my mind and also to speak up in classes. These are skills that I use every day as the marketing and operations associate.”

Having attended a coed high school, Niemeyer says that she definitely felt the difference in a female-focused environment. “Attending a women’s college helped me find my confidence and voice because I [learned to believe] that my opinions matter and that it’s important to maintain your individuality,” she says. “I do believe I felt more comfortable speaking up in class versus in high school and that translated outside of the classroom as well. I think a coed environment is different because, in general, men are more confident in themselves to speak up. In an all-women environment, you never feel like you have to hold back.”

Investment in Your Future

Students and graduates of women’s colleges have also expressed that they feel that their institutions are particularly invested in their future. Christy Savage transferred from a coed community college to Texas Women’s University (TWU), the largest public university in the United States primarily for women. Its male population is around 10 percent but it maintains membership in the Women’s College Coalition. 

“There was never a time at TWU where I felt I didn’t have access to career resources or advice,” she says. “I wasn’t just a number that attended class and went home, and my professors weren’t just there to lecture and then leave. Instead they were invested in my success and my future career.” With the support of her professors, Savage secured an on-campus internship that turned into a post-graduation job as assistant communications specialist at the college.

“I personally loved my experience at Hollins and would choose it again in a heartbeat,” Nelson says. But, she cautions, “I would say it’s not for everyone. Definitely go with your gut and with what feels most right, because if you’re not all in, you won’t be able to be open to what’s around you.” This is good advice for all elements of your college admission decision-making, including choosing whether to attend a women’s college. 

Interviews for this article were conducted in 2018.