5 Myths & Misconceptions About Women's Colleges That Need To Be Debunked
Although women's colleges aren't the right fit for everyone, attending Smith College shaped my life in more ways than I can count. When it was time to submit my college applications, I was well-aware that attending a women's college was (at least at my high school) considered unusual and even something to joke about. Luckily, my peers' opinions didn't make me second-guess my decision; I applied early decision and received my acceptance letter the next month. I was beyond excited, but it was definitely frustrating when classmates made tacky jokes about what they believed to be my sexual orientation and expressed concern that I would never see anyone of the male persuasion for the next few years. Although women's colleges are currently thriving and acceptance rates are dropping rapidly, there are myths and misconceptions about women's colleges that simply won't go away.
My first year or two out of college, I definitely heard a bunch of jokes about my alma mater from guys in New York City. They tended to be unoriginal comments about the sexuality of the student body, or the hilarious question "is Women's Studies the only major available?" Although these comments certainly annoy me, they're really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to misconceptions about women's colleges. I haven't heard a crass joke in person since I was about 23 (presumably because I don't surround myself with those types of people — and it's likely that many people get over their misconceptions as they mature). But, of course, these stereotypes still exist — most recently, it was reported that Donald Trump's campaign manager, Stephen Bannon, referred to liberal women as “a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools" who feel threatened by the likes of Ann Coulter and Sarah Palin. (Yes, you read that quote correctly.)
However, now that I'm in my late 20s, most people I meet are genuinely intrigued and impressed that my 17-year-old self wasn't afraid to pursue a "non-traditional" route. And I would hate to see any bright young women be dissuaded from applying to a school she loves because she's heard certain myths repeated over and over.
The following five myths need to become a thing of the past:
1. It Doesn't Prepare You For The Real World
One criticism or concern I hear often is that women's colleges fail to adequately prepare women for the "real" world, as though we'll stumble out the gate after graduation and suddenly be shocked to learn that men exist. This bias fails to take into account the fact that there's no college campus that is an accurate reflection of the "real world." The point of college is to provide us with the tools and knowledge that will allow us to thrive when we do enter the work force, but it's not an accurate simulation of the work force — the last time I checked, it wasn't OK to wake up 10 minutes before work and arrive in sweats.
Secondly, graduates of women's colleges are actually more likely to enter and excel in male dominated fields than graduates of co-ed schools. For example, 20 percent of the female members in Congress attended women's colleges despite the fact that only two percent of American women graduated from a women's college. Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential nominee for a major party, graduated from Wellesley. And, women's college graduates represent 30 percent of a Businessweek list of women on the rise in corporate America.
So, the argument that we leave college unprepared to handle working with men is absolutely untrue. I entered college on the shy side, and the environment empowered me to find my voice and use it. Once I was out in the real world, it felt completely natural to speak up and voice my opinions — regardless of how they were received.
2. You'll Go Four Years Without Seeing Guys
Yes, it's true that attendees of women's colleges spend less time around male peers than women who attend co-ed colleges. But, it's important to know that many women's colleges are members of a "consortium," meaning we can take classes at nearby co-ed schools. For example, Smith and Mount Holyoke both belong to the Five College Consortium, which means that students can take classes at Amherst, Hampshire, or The University of Massachusetts — all of which are highly-regarded co-ed schools. Barnard students may enroll in Columbia University courses. And, although this is surprising to some, it goes both ways — male students from the Five College Consortium took classes at Smith and Mount Holyoke as well.
In my experience at Smith, plenty of us preferred to stay on campus most weekends and have quieter social gatherings. But, others quickly made male friends at our affiliate schools and spent quite a bit of time there, having a more typical college weekend experience hanging out with both men and women. Neither option is superior to the other — it's just a matter of preference.
3. They're No Longer Relevant
Women's colleges were originally established so that young women could have the opportunity to get a great education during a time when only men were permitted to attend college. So, now that we can apply anywhere, what's the point of attending a women's school? First of all, though women are no longer banned from attending other kinds of schools, women's colleges were also created to help fight back against sexism, and there is still plenty of sexism in America — just take a look at the wage gap statistics, rape culture, and the media's portrayal of women.
Women's colleges teach and promote empowerment, leadership, and the message that we can help change the world. And, until sexism is actually a thing of the past, I never want to hear this argument again.
4. Things Must Get Catty & Competitive
Yes, occasionally there's some unnecessary competition and people will harp on their major being the hardest and fret about how they have more work than everyone else. But, let's face it — this literally happens amongst any group of high-achievers. I experienced it in high school, and I heard it from my friends who attended co-ed schools. But, at the end of the day, my college was an extremely supportive environment and overall it's all about women supporting other women. Not only did I form some of the strongest friendships of my life there, but the competitive vibe was kept to a minimum.
My classmates and I studied together and collaborated on extracurricular activities. Today, my Smith friends are scattered all across the country and world — but we immediately celebrate one another's success, even though it's often from afar. They'll always be like sisters to me, even though we don't get to see each other often. And the alumni network has been invaluable to me. The women who graduated before me helped connect me so I could land my first job in New York City (right after graduating during the recession). When I moved to Seattle with nothing but a dream of making writing a career, the Smith Club connected me with local editors and my career took off more quickly than I ever could have imagined. Not only did we support each other at Smith, but we continue to support one another for the rest of our lives.
5. Students Are, As Stephen Bannon Said, "A Bunch Of Dykes" Who Feel Threatened By Conservatives
I'm not going to dignify this with a response.
Images: Caitlin Flynn; Giphy (5)