I remember when making my college list, including a Historically Women’s College barely crossed my mind. Little did I know that a year later I would end up at one! A lot of this was because I had no idea what historically women's colleges were and what made them different from co-ed schools. Luckily for you, I am here to explain!
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A Historically Women’s College is defined as a school that has traditionally only accepted women. Historically, these schools were created in response to most colleges being all-male, and today the few left continue to have a majority female student body.
I will make a note here that the reason they are called “Historically Women’s Colleges” and not “All Women’s Colleges” is that many schools are open to students of all gender identities, not just cis women. I remember when I applied, my school asked me whether I have ever identified with the female experience. If you feel this applies to you, I encourage you to take a look at HWCs! If not, but gender diversity at college is important to you, I recommend taking a look at this database of queer-friendly schools.
As for what these schools are like, most are small, private liberal arts colleges. There are about 35 left in the US today, some of which are attached to larger institutions and others independent. Many of the students that are attracted to these schools are people who are looking for spaces where they may feel more comfortable or empowered, and I can say in my experience this has been the case! If you want to read about even more different types of schools, read our article covering the top fit factors for college.
Historically Women's Colleges are not for everyone, which is why I am going to list some pros and cons before going into the list. As for the pros, a lot of these schools are liberal arts colleges with tight-knit communities. This means small class sizes and academics that can be pretty rigorous. Personally, I have felt a lot more comfortable participating in class and generally more supported by my classmates than I did at my co-ed high school. A lot of women in fields that are traditionally dominated by men (like science and engineering) also find these disciplines easier to navigate at HWCs. Lastly, many of these schools have a strong alumnae network, which makes it easier to connect with professionals in fields you are interested in.
That being said, some aspects of HWCs may not match your preferences. If you are someone looking for a big school, these colleges may not be the place for you. This includes a lot of the things that come with big schools, like Division I sports and Greek Life. I will also say that these schools don’t have as big of a party scene as others. This is not to say there is none, but they’re more low-key than big state schools.
Another important aspect of HWCs is that some have opportunities to take co-ed classes and others don’t. This is because some of them are attached to larger institutions or part of a consortium (which is a group of schools you can take classes at). This may be a pro or a con for you, but keep in mind that at all HWCs there are at least some required classes that will have no men.
The Seven Sisters are a group of liberal arts HWCs located in the Northeast, originally created as counterparts to the Ivy League. I have listed these below:
Wellesley CollegeWellesley, MASmall, suburbanBarnard CollegeNew York, NYSmall, urban, part of Columbia UniversitySmith CollegeNorthampton, MASmall, rural, part of Five College Consortium with UMass Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire, Amherst CollegesMount Holyoke CollegeSouth Hadley, MASmall, rural, part of Five College ConsortiumBryn Mawr CollegeBryn Mawr, PASmall, rural, part of Tri-College Consortium with Swarthmore and Haverford Colleges
(Vassar is now co-ed and Radcliffe merged with Harvard)
Here are some other historically women's colleges, which are located all across the US:
Scripps CollegeClaremont, CASmall, suburban, part of Claremont CollegesHollins UniversityRoanoke, VASmall, suburbanSpelman CollegeAtlanta, GASmall, urban, historically Black collegeSimmons UniversityBoston, MASmall, urbanBay Path UniversityLongmeadow, MASmall, suburban, Cooperating Colleges of Greater SpringfieldMeredith CollegeRaleigh, NCSmall, urban, historically BaptistMills CollegeOakland, CASmall, urban, merge with NortheasternMoore College of Art and DesignPhiladelphia, PASmall, urban, art schoolStephens CollegeColumbia, MOSmall, urban
Lastly, there are also a large number of historical women's colleges or HWCs that are affiliated with religious organizations. Most of these are small liberal arts colleges or universities located in the South or Midwest.
Agnes Scott CollegeDecatur, GASmall, suburban, PresbyterianSt. Catherine UniversitySaint Paul, MNMedium, urban, CatholicCollege of Saint MaryOmaha, NESmall, urban, CatholicCollege of Saint BenedictSaint Joseph, MNSmall, rural, CatholicSaint Mary’s CollegeNotre Dame, INSmall, rural, CatholicAlverno CollegeMilwaukee, WISmall, urban, CatholicMount Mary UniversityMilwaukee, WISmall, urban, CatholicNotre Dame of Maryland UniversityBaltimore, MDSmall, urban, Catholic
A final note: I used niche.com to compile a majority of this list, so I recommend looking at the schools here if you are more interested.
My last piece of advice is to make sure you’re doing research into these schools before adding them to your list. Many of them have characteristics in common, but each has a different environment and opportunities. Good luck searching!