Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Competitive Advantage of a Women’s College

For today’s blog post, with permission from the author, I’ve included an article by  Dodge Johnson, Ph.D., CEP (Certified Educational Planner), "The Competitive Advantage of a Women’s College." Since 1984, Dr. Johnson has helped many students and their families navigate the college selection process.

I hope you enjoy his article.

by Dodge Johnson, Educational Consultant
from his Philadelphia Inquirer Column "Countdown to College" 

Women's colleges aren't for everyone. But they are a choice every college-bound woman should consider seriously, regardless of any preconceptions about herself or what women's colleges are like.

Less than 5% of women attend women's colleges. Yet, look who their graduates are:
•    10 of the 24 women in congress.
•    1/3 of women on boards of Fortune 1000 companies.
•    30% of women Business Week picked as rising stars in Corporate America.

They are also far more likely be lawyers, managers, or doctors, to earn advanced degrees, to hold doctorates in natural sciences. And in case you're wondering if they have only careers in mind, know that more than three quarters marry and half have children.

Equally important for candidates: because women's colleges are out of fashion, even the best - the ones where resources rival the Princetons and Dartmouths - are far easier to get into.

What makes women's colleges so successful?

Some ingredients are obvious. Students with the courage to make a less usual choice of college are likely to make courageous graduates. When roughly half the faculty who teach them are women, many balancing family and career, they are inspired by examples of what they themselves may become.

But the real secret is more subtle.

College can be a make-or-break time as students stretch the wings that will carry them into adulthood. And women who mature in an environment powered by women often learn a confidence their co-ed sisters find harder to come by.

It's not that co-ed colleges mean to discriminate. But all too often the atmosphere reflects male assumptions and rewards male behavior. That's a Catch-22 for women, who are disadvantaged in the competition to be, say, a doctor if ambition is considered gentlemanly but not ladylike.

There's more. Studies by Roberta Hall for the American Association of Colleges show that faculty tend to maintain more eye contact with men, to call on them more often, to ask them more searching questions and generally encourage persistence.

They don't do it consciously, of course, which makes the effect all the more insidious. And such built-in bias may explain findings by Alexander Astin, an astute researcher of student behavior at UCLA, that academic and career aspirations of many women actually decline during their college years.

Forces outside the classroom also take their toll. Women may find it harder to capture top leadership positions or maintain control when they do. Fraternities and sororities conspire to foster a climate where men dominate - and women let them.

These constraints simply don't, can't, occur in women's colleges. And the confidence women learn there as undergraduates equips them later to swim with the sharks in a prestigious law firm or a dog-eat-dog business or medical school, where often the rules were invented by - and for - men.

What are women's colleges really like? They are hardly cloisters - they wouldn't attract students if they were. But because men are not central to college life, students often have to work a bit harder at dating than they would in a mixed environment. The trade-off is that men are not ubiquitous or inescapable, nor are they rivals in either the classroom or campus activities.

And women's colleges today are hardly white gloves and finger sandwiches, although some like Sweet Briar guard traditions that make them gracious and distinctive.

Most will let you register for courses at nearby co-ed colleges, as Wells students do at Cornell. And some are entwined with co-ed colleges:

Mt. Holyoke and Smith are part of a yeasty five college group, all within ten miles. Scripps is across the sidewalk from the four other Claremont colleges, and students take courses at all five. Bryn Mawr is knit so closely with Haverford that students not only study on the other campus but can live there as well. Men are around these colleges, in class and out and at all hours. But men will never run them.

Who belongs at a women's college? Women themselves often don't know till they investigate - although if all your close friends are men or you detest women in groups, a women's college is probably not for you.

Jane Cox included a women's college among her campus visits only because her counselor talked her into looking. She fell in love with Marymount, and now only graduation could tear her away.

Beth Talliafero wanted a first-rate education. She chose Mills despite it's being a women's college, but she stayed because she discovered the magic of an ecology that forced her to grow individually while nourishing her and women in general.

But most attend a women's college because they're convinced it can help them become the person they want to be. Carol Hernandez of Mount St. Mary's in Los Angeles says grinning, "I chose a women's college because I put learning first. A husband I can catch anytime!"

To learn more about Dodge Johnson, Ph.D., CEP (Certified Educational Planner), click here.

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