For many rising high school seniors, the summer between the 11th and 12th grades includes visits to a variety of colleges and universities to learn about options, see what fits, and decide where to apply. I encourage each student to keep an open mind, ask questions and explore as much as possible during these visits.
I also encourage all young women in the class of 2017 to consider something that may not be on their radar: a visit to a women's college.
Why visit a women's college? Because experiencing the culture may change some misconceptions -- and lead to finding a perfect fit. Here's why every female student should give at least one women's college a look this summer:
Women's colleges are anything but homogeneous.
When picturing the student body at a women's college, many high schoolers and their parents envision a group of shy, bookish women from similar backgrounds. But women's colleges are incredibly diverse, and you will meet students who are bold, athletic, outgoing, strong, smart, fun-loving, and more. One of the defining features of a women's college is that women are accepted for who they are and who they want to be. There is no single "type," and students are encouraged to pursue their own interests and embrace their true personalities.
Women's colleges expand opportunities for female students.
More than perhaps any other environment, a women's college campus communicates that women can, and should, do everything. Role models are everywhere. It is never implied that a particular field of study or career pursuit isn't for women because women dominate every field on campus. This empowerment is a crucial part of the culture at women's colleges, but it's something you can only really feel if you visit.
Women's colleges are made to fit women.
At women's colleges, all of the resources are made for women. Facilities are constructed with women in mind -- the heights of lab benches, mirrors, and sinks, and the equipment in the gym are all calibrated for women's bodies. Staff at these schools are trained on how to address issues that most frequently impact women, mentally and physically. Our students talk about feeling that these beautiful spaces, traditions, and challenges have been created for the sole purpose of increasing their abilities and opportunities -- because, in truth, they were.
Women's colleges offer co-ed experiences.
One thing many high school girls may not realize is that going to a women's college doesn't mean avoiding male peers. Most women's colleges are part of a consortium with neighboring co-educational schools, which allows female students to take classes with men and participate in co-ed extra-curricular opportunities as well. At Bryn Mawr College, for example, we have a relationship with both Haverford College and Swarthmore College through our Tri-College Consortium. Our students can take classes at these nearby schools and many Haverford and Swarthmore students show up in our classrooms (and our dining halls, because the food is pretty fantastic here). We also have a relationship with the University of Pennsylvania, where students may take up to two undergraduate courses per semester. Wellesley has a collaborative relationship with MIT, and Scripps College in Claremont, CA, is part of a consortium that includes Pomona College and Harvey Mudd. Partnerships like these allow students at women's colleges to get all the benefits of a school designed for women while having access to co-educational experiences when they choose.
Bryn Mawr students often tell me that they were initially opposed to attending a women's college, but that a visit completely changed their mind. In fact, almost half of those who visit our college apply, and almost one quarter of those end up enrolling. Those students will have an increased likelihood of attending top graduate programs, becoming leaders of Fortune 500 companies, and breaking into fields traditionally dominated by men -- and it all started with a surprising visit to a women's college.