What is a Women’s College? Best Women’s Colleges in the U.S.

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    Historically, women have been barred from higher education. It wasn’t until the 19th century that women began to pursue higher education, primarily through women’s colleges. Even then, it wasn’t common for women to attend college until the 1960s and 1970s.  

    In this article, we will discuss women’s colleges’ history as well as provide a comprehensive women’s colleges list. We’ll cover the best women’s colleges in the U.S. and answer key questions, such as: How many women’s colleges are there in the U.S.? Are there any all-women’s colleges? And are women’s colleges still relevant today and why?

    What is a women’s college?

    Firstly, what is a women’s college? Historically, a women’s college was a college founded with the purpose of offering higher education opportunities to women. Coeducation colleges only began gaining popularity in the 1970s. Before that, if women wanted to pursue collegiate degrees, they attended women’s colleges. 

    So what is a women’s college today? Some women’s colleges have remained relatively unchanged and only admit female students. Some women’s colleges, however, have decided to admit a small percentage of male students and/or nonbinary and transgender students in more recent years. The focus of the programs and curriculums, however, are created with female students as the priority and often emphasize women’s rights, gender equality, and leadership. Many of these colleges have shifted to referring to themselves as historically women’s colleges.

    Women's colleges' history

    At one point, not too long ago, women’s colleges filled a crucial role in higher education. Most colleges were slow to admit female students. In fact, Princeton and Yale didn’t begin admitting female students until 1969 and Columbia didn’t begin admitting female students until 1983. This is why women’s colleges’ history is so important and why women’s colleges played a vital role in equalizing education in the U.S.

    In recent years, however, there has been some debate regarding the continued relevance of women’s colleges. There is an important legacy to consider concerning women’s colleges and gender discrimination unfortunately continues, but there are also very few colleges today that do not admit female students.  

    How many women's colleges are there?

    During the 1960s, there were over 200 women’s colleges in the United States. Currently, there are fewer than 50 women’s colleges in the United States. Of these institutions, 40 are members of the Women’s College Coalition, an association of women’s colleges founded in 1972. 

    Members of the Women’s College Coalition feature public and private, religiously affiliated and secular, two-year and four-year colleges. The focus of these colleges and this association is to provide greater educational opportunities to women. 

    Women’s colleges are often known for making an effort to foster student confidence, prioritize leadership, and provide students with ample

    networking opportunities. In other words, women’s colleges often recognize
    that female students aren’t given the same advantages as male students. 

    For instance, in traditional classrooms, female confidence and leadership may not be encouraged.
    This is one of the many reasons why women’s colleges still play an important role in higher education.

    Women's colleges ranked

    According to the 2022 College Consensus rankings, the top 25 women’s colleges in the United States are as follows:

    1. Wellesley College (Wellesley, MA)
    2. Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, PA)
    3. Barnard College (New York City, NY)
    4. Mount Holyoke College (South Hadley, MA)
    5. Smith College (Northampton, MA)
    6. Spelman College (Atlanta, GA)
    7. Cedar Crest College (Allentown, PA)
    8. College of Saint Benedict (Saint Joseph, MN)
    9. Saint Mary’s College (Notre Dame, IN)
    10. Simmons University (Boston, MA)
    11. Mount Saint Mary’s University (Los Angeles, CA)
    12. Saint Catherine University (Saint Paul, MN)
    13. Texas Woman’s University (Denton, TX)
    1. Cottey College (Nevada, MO)
    2. Meredith College (Raleigh, NC)
    3. Alverno College (Milwaukee, WI)
    4. Converse College (Spartanburg, SC) *became coed in 2020*
    5. College of Saint Mary (Omaha, NE)
    6. Stephens College (Columbia, MO)
    7. Bay Path University (Longmeadow, MA)
    8. Trinity Washington University (Washington D.C.)
    9. Agnes Scott College (Decatur, GA)
    10. Mills College (Oakland, CA)
    11. Salem College (Winston-Salem, NC)
    12. Notre Dame of Maryland University (Baltimore, MD)

    Best women's only colleges: Facts and figures

    Women’s colleges are often very different from one another. Some are secular and some are religiously affiliated. Some are politically liberal and some are politically conservative. 

    The most prestigious women’s colleges have acceptance rates below 20%, whereas other less selective women’s colleges have acceptance rates falling between 70% and 90%. 

    Let’s take a look at some key statistics to help further distinguish each college. 

    College

    Location

    Undergraduate population

    Acceptance rate

    Year founded

    Cost of tuition 

    Wellesley College 

    Wellesley, MA

    2,383 students

    13%

    1870

    $61,584

    Bryn Mawr College 

    Bryn Mawr, PA

    1,437 students

    39%

    1885

    $58,000

    Barnard College 

    New York City, NY

    2,744 students

    8%

    1889

    $60,087

    Mount Holyoke College 

    South Hadley, MA

    1,915 students

    52%

    1837

    $56,300

    Smith College 

    Northampton, MA

    2,566 students

    30%

    1871

    $58,480

    Spelman College 

    Atlanta, GA

    2,207 students

    53%

    1881

    $28,885

    Cedar Crest College 

    Allentown, PA

    1,088 students

    70%

    1867

    $43,043

    College of Saint Benedict 

    Saint Joseph, MN

    1,668 students

    84%

    1857

    $52,108

    Saint Mary’s College 

    Notre Dame, IN

    1,403 students

    82%

    1844

    $53,372

    Simmons University

    Boston, MA

    1,744 students

    64%

    1899

    $42,920

    Mount Saint Mary’s University 

    Los Angeles, CA

    2,014 students

    89%

    1925

    $45,388

    Saint Catherine University 

    Saint Paul, MN

    2,983 students

    77%

    1905

    $46,976

    Texas Woman’s University 

    Denton, TX

    10,656 students

    94%

    1901

    $13,842

    Cottey College 

    Nevada, MO

    1,850 students

    61%

    1884

    $23,350

    Meredith College 

    Raleigh, NC

    1,700 students

    60%

    1891

    $42,540

    Alverno College 

    Milwaukee, WI

    864 students

    78%

    1887

    $31,258 

    Converse College 

    Spartanburg, SC

    870 students

    60%

    1889

    $21,060

    College of Saint Mary 

    Omaha, NE

    680 students

    51%

    1923

    $21,800

    Stephens College 

    Columbia, MO

    373 students

    56%

    1833

    $23,385

    Bay Path University 

    Longmeadow, MA

    1,092 students 

    78%

    1897

    $36,497

    Trinity Washington University 

    Washington D.C.

    1,846 students

    97%

    1897

    $26,420

    Agnes Scott College 

    Decatur, GA

    1,014 students

    68%

    1889

    $45,456

    Mills College 

    Oakland, CA

    817 students

    75%

    1852

    $29,340

    Salem College 

    Winston-Salem, NC

    492 students

    85%

    1772

    $30,266

    Notre Dame of Maryland University 

    Baltimore, MD

    755 students

    66%

    1895

    $38,295

    Where are women’s colleges located?

    There are lots of women’s colleges in the U.S. In this section, we will review some of the most popular locations in the U.S. for women’s colleges and the best women’s colleges in those areas.

    Women's colleges in Texas

    • Texas Woman’s University

    Women's colleges in Massachusetts

    • Wellesley College 
    • Mount Holyoke College 
    • Smith College
    • Simmons University
    • Bay Path University 

    Women's colleges in Virginia

    • Hollins University
    • Mary Baldwin College
    • Sweet Briar College

    Women's colleges in Pennsylvania

    • Bryn Mawr College 
    • Cedar Crest College 

    Women's colleges in California​

    • Mills College
    • Scripps College
    • Mount Saint Mary’s University

    Women's colleges in New York​

    • Barnard College 
    • Russell Sage College

    Key takeaways

    There are fewer than 50 women’s colleges in the United States today. Although these schools all share some similarities, they each have unique goals and mission statements. This is why it is important to research each school thoroughly before applying. 

    Some women’s colleges are politically and socially liberal, whereas some women’s colleges are politically and socially conservative. Almost all women’s colleges are small liberal arts colleges, but some of them have student populations over 2,000, whereas others have student populations well under 1,000. 

    If you have more questions about women’s colleges and feel like you could benefit from more guidance during your college application journey, reach out to learn more about our services

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