“Get Thee to a Nunnery . . .”: My Experience at a Women’s College

My college search, no doubt, resembled that of many of you reading this.  A couple “safeties”, a “reach”, and the ones where I had a fighting chance.  Good schools, with attractive campuses, dependable financial aid, etc.

Fast-forward a few months, and I’d been waitlisted at Georgetown, Dartmouth and Brown and accepted to three of my eight schools . . . all of them women’s colleges. All of them wonderful places, but I had applied in spite of the gender specifications.  Going past the obvious problems it could pose for dating, I had always enjoyed close friendships with boys and my brother, so four years in such a decidedly female environment was not something I was very excited about.  Thankfully, the past few years have changed my mind.

I’m trying to steer away from the words you’ll see on every seven-sisters website, but they really do apply.  Women’s colleges are liberating, empowering, and supportive, not because they’re free of some oppressive, patriarchal dark side of the force or anything, but because they’re intellectual environments where gender biases have little place.  Most of us, by the time we finish high school, have experienced some situation where a teacher dishes out extra credit more often to one sex or the other, or have been frustrated trying to get support for a women’s sports team, or some similar problem.  The “boys club” attitude that we can still encounter in various arenas simply doesn’t apply when there aren’t any boys.

Not that four years could pass without ever coming into contact with men, as if you were attending a collegiate nunnery.  Many women’s colleges are in consortiums, where it is possible to take classes at neighboring co-ed schools, and co-ed students can take classes on campus.  In an urban environment you could meet all sorts of interesting people off campus, and even the most rural women’s colleges have a large number of men around on the weekends when boyfriends and buddies come to visit.  Regardless of what any school-sponsored website tells you, “meeting men” is never going to be as easy as at a co-ed school, but in my time at Mount Holyoke I’ve dated and made male friends just fine.  (It goes without saying that if it’s not men you’re interested in, women’s colleges are perfect.)

Not having men around as much can lead to a certain amount of social-awareness as well.  After months at a women’s college, the first time someone treats you like a “chick” and not an adult with equal intellectual value, it smarts.  Sexism is all the more apparent when you’ve fallen out of the habit.  Not everyone will have the same reaction –I’ve seen women get furious at this treatment, and women who laugh it off.  For myself, I’m thankful that I’ve learned to recognize it as unusual and unfair.  I’ve become far pickier about the men I spend time with, and am happier because of it.

I can’t recommend women’s colleges to everyone.  What I can say is that, if you give it a chance like I did, you can come to really appreciate it.  Women’s colleges might not be the most empowering experience of your life –that could be getting your first big promotion at the job of your dreams, nailing an audition, or doing a solo trip around the world.  But women’s colleges will help you get there, and cheer you on along the way.  As far as I’ve been able to make out, the goal of every women’s college is to give you the self confidence and spine to succeed, and if they can provide a rugby team or lab facilities or an excellent library along the way, that’s even better.

Sydney Penny

Mount Holyoke ‘12

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