It's August and most schools are back in session, or set to begin soon. For parents of high school students -- particularly juniors and seniors -- back to school may include the additional challenge of a college search.
For parents of female high school students, one important option is a women's college. While the numbers are small (there are currently only about 50 in the country) women's colleges are a great option for young women, but one that few students or parents ever consider.
So, here is my pitch to you parents: Give your daughter an impactful opportunity and consider a women's college. Below are five factors to consider as you think through the process.
- Relevance. I get this question all the time: "Will my daughter be prepared for the real world if she learns in an environment without men?" The answer is an unequivocal, yes! College is a time for growth and development; women's colleges provide a space where young women mature and acquire marketable leadership skills without fear of gendered social judgment. Facebook COO and Lean-In author Sheryl Sandberg has described a typical playground scenario where an assertive boy is called a "leader," while an aggressive girl is "bossy," and how this social climate impacts women. "I am not saying that men are too self-confident. That's not the problem. The problem is that women aren't self-confident enough," Sandberg said. Women's colleges explicitly promote self-awareness and self-confidence so that women can successfully navigate these barriers, both external and internal.
- Find an expert. Don't rely on hearsay or articles -- find a women's college graduate and learn about their experiences. In addition to the more well known alumnae like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gwen Ifill, you may be surprised to learn that you already know some of these women's college alumnae: a neighbor, a teacher, an aunt, the mother of a friend. But if you don't, many women's colleges are happy to connect you with recent alumnae who can talk to your daughter candidly about their experience at a women's college and answer questions that perhaps she would be more comfortable asking someone closer to her age.
- Yes, there are boys. You'd be surprised how many parents say that they worry that their daughter won't have the chance to interact with boys if she chooses a women's college. Most women's colleges partner with area co-ed colleges to ensure interaction with male students. Some women's colleges also have graduate schools that bring men to campus on a regular basis.
- Rigor and engagement, not teatime. Did you know that graduates of women's colleges are twice as likely as female graduates of co-ed institutions to earn a Ph.D., attend medical school, be involved in philanthropic activity, attain higher positions in their careers and earn higher incomes? This comes from Patricia Mitchell, chair of the board of trustees at Notre Dame of Maryland University (a women's college) who recently wrote about the fundamental need for these institutions. Women's colleges today are clearly far from the outdated stereotype of white glove finishing schools. Most women's colleges are, in fact, places of intense academic rigor and professional training.
- Feminism is not a dirty word. Last spring, author and activist Gloria Steneim visited Simmons College -- 40 years after she delivered the 1973 Commencement address at the height of the feminist movement. Most people were shocked when I told them our students were the ones who petitioned for, and organized, Ms. Steinem's visit. What the students' efforts told me was that Ms. Steinem's message of equality -- political, economic, and social -- still very much resonates with this generation of young women. During her visit, Steinem put it this way: "We are constantly being told that the [feminist] movement is over," she said. "It took 100 years to gain legal identity as human beings. That was legal identity, now we are striving for legal and social equality. We've got 50 or 60 years to go."
Do you have any tips for young women considering college? If so, please share.