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Schools of Their Own

Young women thrive at women’s colleges across the United States.

For women looking to study in the United States, there is a less-considered option that can open a world of opportunities: attending a women’s college.

The U.S. Women’s College Coalition boasts 47 names on its roster of schools that span the country and offer unique educational experiences for female students. The schools’ populations are generally on the smaller side, many with fewer than 500 students and few with more than 2,000. The schools frequently have exclusively female undergraduate populations but may open their graduate studies programs to men.

It is the single-sex undergraduate environment that makes the difference for the attendees, however. According to a recent Forbes article titled “What’s in a Women’s College?” females are driven to tackle traditionally male-dominated areas in academics and clubs when they attend a women’s college. “Choosing to attend a women’s school is the opposite of ‘comfortable’ because it challenges students to step outside of gender norms and engage in new leadership roles,” says the article.

Aisha Gonzalez, a 2013 graduate of Mills College in Oakland, California, found invaluable the small class sizes and the alumnae involvement. “There’s a huge amount of support for not just being a woman but being a person in society and a lot of push and drive from professors to be successful as women in the bigger picture,” Gonzalez says.

Indeed, Mills prides itself on being a place where women can be who they are—or discover who they are—while knowing they are in a place that values the testing of creative and intellectual limits, says Joan Jaffe, associate dean of admissions at the college.

Mills accepts 60 to 65 percent of its international applicants, Jaffe says. International students have many merit scholarship opportunities, awarded based on academic performance and scores on certain standardized tests. Attendees can choose from the most popular majors, which include English, psychology, ­biology and studio art, or they can work with faculty advisers to create an individualized course of study. Mills also offers six five-year programs that provide ­accelerated tracks to earning both ­bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Options include degrees in business administration, education and public policy. The consolidated five-year plan gives “significant financial savings for students with clear career goals,” Jaffe says.

Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania also brings women opportunities to fast-track their advanced degrees. Combined bachelor’s and master’s courses are available in business, health sciences, sustainability and the environment, and creative and liberal arts, according to Study Abroad Coordinator Karin Chipman. Chatham partners with nearby Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University to offer other accelerated graduation ­programs in arts management, information systems management, healthcare policy and management, public policy and management, biotechnology, computational mathematics, and forensic ­science and law.

Access to this array of study options at Chatham comes with many scholarship opportunities for international students.

“Chatham offers renewable merit scholarships of $7,000 to $16,000 per year, [which] are available for international undergraduate students,” Chipman says. Students “can also apply for renewable World Ready Women Leadership Scholarships of up to $3,000 per year,” she says. Chatham accepts about 28 percent of its international applicants.

Like Mills, which integrates its women into the vibrant fabric of the San Francisco Bay Area, Chatham exposes its students to the “four distinct seasons, amazing architecture, and…wealth of culture, sports and social entertainment,” inherent to the Pittsburgh scene, says Chipman.

It is “the perfect mix of a quiet, beautiful, safe campus within one of the most livable cities in the U.S.,” she says. Back on campus, she adds, “international undergraduate students…receive personal attention from the admissions process and orientation through graduation. Faculty and staff know students by name and will stop to make conversation.”

Gonzalez enjoyed the same eagerness for ongoing discussion outside the walls of the classroom from the very first time she visited Mills College. This energy, coupled with the support she felt from the college, framed her positive experience there. She sees Mills as a place where any young woman can flourish.

“There’s so much support for not just learning but for developing all aspects of your identity. Even if you are someone who is not completely sure of your direction, you are going to find yourself here in one way or another,” she says.


Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York City-based freelance writer.