Around this time two years ago, I was hearing back from colleges. It was an exciting, but nerve-wracking time, as I had to decide where I would spend the next four years of my life. At this point, I had narrowed my options to Emerson College in Boston, an arts and communications college, and Smith College, a small liberal arts women’s college in Western Massachusetts. Even though Emerson College was appealing in its specialization in studies and its urban setting, Smith College ended up winning my vote. I won’t lie and say I was certain about my decision, for I had a far from typical college experience, but there were many perks about attending a women’s college, specifically Smith, that could not be replicated at another school. An education from a women’s college motivated me to become the best I can be, something I would not have gained at another traditional institution.
There are few places that have dedicated themselves to raising women up for as long as women’s colleges have. While in the early days of many U.S. women’s colleges, the primary goal was to make a suitable bride for the eligible and prestigious bachelor from an Ivy League school, the women who attended these institutions were afforded great opportunities to network with up-and-coming figures of the time. These women’s college vowed to give an education rivaling the Ivies for women, something unheard of at the time.
Nowadays, women’s colleges have truly shifted their focus to women empowerment and promoting feminism. My college uses the campaign slogan, “women for the world,” when talking about its students or graduates, highlighting the immense impact students from women’s colleges have had in shaping society. While you may not have known it, many women of great influence graduated from women’s colleges. Smith College, alone, boasts a roster of impressive alumnae— Julia Child, Sylvia Plath, Gloria Steinem and Tammy Baldwin, to only name a few. If we move on to other members of the Seven Sisters, a network of women’s colleges, some now either defunct or co-ed, we find people like Hillary Clinton, who graduated from Wellesley, Lauren Graham, who graduated from Barnard, and Maggie Siff, who graduated from Bryn Mawr. With such an astounding lineup of alumnae, the Seven Sisters and other women’s colleges like to promote the idea that you are part of a network of hard-working and independent women. This connection extends past your graduation, connecting you with women in every industry imaginable and everywhere around the globe. A degree from a women’s college is highly regarded and respected; a sign that you took your education seriously.
Not only are you surrounded by a history of great women, but the current students at women’s colleges around the country pride themselves in the hard work they put into their studies and activities. If you are interested in being in an environment of people who are studying things from classics to biochemistry, all of whom who do so very passionately, a women’s college is the perfect college environment for you. I can remember many instances where I was absorbed into conversations that start at dinner and go way past the closing of the dining hall. Constantly being in an environment of motivated individuals, chasing their dreams is good inspiration for self-improvement and for you to take on your own dreams. The social environment of women’s colleges is often noted for being extremely welcoming and friendly, a good place to find yourself and your passions.
Even being surrounded by such amazing individuals, I have been asked, since originally making my decision to go to Smith, whether or not I feel like I am missing something from my college experience since the school isn’t co-ed. Personally, I don’t think I am getting any less of a fulfilling experience than my peers at a co-ed institution. In fact, many of the students at women’s colleges would say finding guys, romantically or platonically, is not as difficult as you would think. From my own experiences at Smith College, I have made a lot of friends, guys and girls, through the wonderful Five College Consortium that Smith is in, and Mount Holyoke. I take classes and am also in clubs at other colleges, another perk of being at Smith. My time at Smith was extremely rewarding and I would have been happy here, even if I did not have the other four colleges in my area to visit. Similarly, a lot of other women’s colleges have close connections with a nearby co-ed school where you can either take classes or just go for socializing. Other schools are in urban environments. Barnard, specifically, is also associated with Columbia, thus finding men is not difficult. Even if you are planning on attending a women’s college where there are these options near you, I’m sure that the engaging and invested professors, on-campus activities and motivated classmates will keep you busy and interested enough that you will not feel as if you are missing out.
A women’s college education also promotes confidence in women, inside and outside of the classroom. Studies show that students at women’s colleges develop higher self-esteem than those at co-ed institutions and that students at women’s colleges are also much more satisfied with their college experiences, overall. Also, women’s colleges tend to have higher percentages of female-identifying students in STEM fields than at co-ed schools. There are many other benefits, too, but the sense of self and the motivation to pursue whatever you are interested in are important factors in me truly embracing and enjoying my college experience. Co-ed institutions cannot say they are dedicated to women’s education in the same way colleges like Smith can, and I am inspired by the support that this education and institution provides for me and others.