Women's colleges have some impressive alumnae.

In fact, more than 20% of the women in Congress hail from a sister school, as do one third of the women on Fortune 1000 boards. This is notable, since women’s colleges are a tiny percentage of college options: There are fewer than 50 women’s colleges in the United States; and less than 80,000 enrolled students as of 2018.

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

Highly Ranked Options

There are women’s college options for all selectivity ranges. For example,
the “Seven Sisters” is a group of competitive liberal arts colleges in the Northeast. Originally, these colleges were Radcliffe, Wellesley, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Barnard, and Bryn Mawr. Today, Radcliffe has merged with Harvard and Vassar is coed. But the remaining five institutions are highly competitive—Barnard College, in New York City, had an acceptance rate under 10% for the class of 2026. These colleges also have cross-college connections with nearby institutions: Smith and Mount Holyoke, for example, are part of the Five College Consortium, allowing students to take classes at Amherst, Hampshire, University of Massachusetts, as well as their home school. Other schools may have similar arrangements.

Anna Davies attended Bryn Mawr for a year before transferring to Barnard College. She loved both women’s college experiences—and took advantage of both schools offering options to take classes at neighboring colleges. “A lot of people assume attending a school for women means that there are no men in classes. But at Bryn Mawr, students took classes at Haverford and Swarthmore and vice versa. At Barnard it was possible to take classes from Columbia’s course catalog.” This, she says, gave her the best of both worlds: a strong history and tradition combined with coeducational opportunities.

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 grounds to lecture halls, 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 Christiana Parker, a graduate of Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. After visiting Meredith College and speaking to current students and alumnae about their positive experiences—especially in class—her choice was solidified. The anecdotes from alumnae also came to fruition for her experience, as well. “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.”

Students have also found inclusivity and diversity to be a hallmark of their women’s college experiences. For example, many women’s colleges have trans-inclusive admissions policies and often appear on lists of the LGBTQ+ friendly campuses. Additionally, a selection of all women’s colleges have topped lists of most diverse colleges, where more than 50% of students identify as students of color.

Students also report feeling a sense of safety on campus that they may not have felt at a coed school. Sophia Niemeyer, who graduated from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, 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. “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 women-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 population of men is a little over 10% 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,” says Katherine Nelson, a Hollins University alumna. Although, 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.

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