Women’s colleges are an ideal option for female UAE high school students intent on maintaining social, cultural, and religious values in a female-only setting, while pursuing an excellent education in the United States.
As high school juniors compile a list of colleges to apply to this month, UAE women should consider the benefits of applying to women’s-only colleges.
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Many people are not aware that there are over 45 colleges dedicated to educating only women in the US, most of which offer cross-registration opportunities at nearby colleges and universities.
The most famous women’s colleges are the Seven Sisters, a loose association of smaller liberal arts colleges that offer an elite education on the East Coast.
While two of these colleges - Radcliffe and Vassar - have either been absorbed and integrated into the larger university or have decided to go co-educational, the remaining five - Mount Holyoke, Wellesley, Smith, Bryn Mawr, and Barnard - remain leaders in the field of educating women.
Other excellent all-women options are Mills College in San Francisco, which encourages its student to cross-register at UC Berkeley, and Cedar Crest College, in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
High school juniors creating their college short lists now, in anticipation of visiting these colleges over the coming summer, should research and include several women’s colleges as a viable option.
The No. 1 college for women
Wellesley College, a liberal arts college located 20 miles west of Boston, is the No. 1 US women’s college and ranked 6th nationally, according to the US News and World Report 2013 National Liberal Arts College Ranking.
Wellesley is best known for its Political Science department, as two of its recent alumnae - Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright - have held the position of US Secretary of State.
Wellesley students can take advantage of studying at the Albright Institute, which allows students to pursue a year-long academic program, hands-on internships in and research on global institutions, and attend school-organized conferences.
Similarly, Smith College, one of the largest women’s colleges in the US, has more than 120 student organisations for students to join, ranging from Business Women of Smith, a student-run club that provides its members with knowledge, resources, and networking opportunities in business and entrepreneurship, to Celebrations Dance Company, a student-led dance troupe.
Most women’s colleges are part of local consortiums that enable their students to enroll in classes in nearby institutions, thus providing a co-educational experience, if so desired. Wellesley students, for example, have the option of securing a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wellesley and a Bachelor of Science degree from MIT over the course of five years.
Students at Smith and Mt Holyoke can also enroll in classes at UMASS Amherst, Amherst, and Hampshire colleges, as well. Bryn Mawr students can take classes at nearby Swarthmore.
These women’s colleges are as academically rigorous as co-educational schools, but offer the added benefit of providing for a close-knit community of faculty, students, and alumnae. This positive and nurturing environment focuses on women’s needs and exposes students to powerful female role models, molding them and encouraging them to pursue leadership roles, both in the university and later in life.
Most women’s colleges are situated in suburban settings, in close proximity to urban centers, but still far enough away to have traditional campuses, which are conducive to learning, creativity, and self-expression.
For those who prefer an urban campus, options include Barnard College, part of Columbia University in New York City, and Simmons College in Boston. Regardless of the school’s location, security is a top priority in all women’s college, especially in all-women areas such as dormitories.
While there are male faculty and workers on campus, they are restricted only to classrooms and public areas. Any male visitors must be registered or escorted, especially in dormitories and dining halls.
A focus on women’s needs
The most distinguishing feature of women’s college is that the all-female atmosphere is conducive to honest and opened discussions about women’s needs and interests, and there is expanded academic and personal support for students to succeed.
Students are supported in every aspect of their lives, from academic tutoring, to personal counseling; of course these types of services exist in co-educational institutions, but, because a women’s college is small and intimate, students with academic or social issues are identified more easily and get the help they need immediately, before problems get out of hand.
There is a social safety net established by a network of professors, staff, dorm advisors, and fellow students that help students to perform their best.
University years are particularly transformative for young women and students at these schools will learn to think, speak, analyse, and seek solutions, as well as gain self-confidence and develop leadership skills.
Female students are encouraged to be leaders because in an all-women environment, it’s common to see a woman leading a science research team or serving as captain of a tennis team.
Being in such environment is inspiring for females who may not have had these role models earlier in life. They help build self-confidence and hone skills to overcome life’s challenges, which are very valuable later in life.
There are women’s colleges to fit every UAE student’s academic needs and potential. Unlike many other schools, Mount Holyoke, another nationally recognised liberal arts school, does not require students to submit SAT scores as part of their application, as the school doesn’t believe the standardized test is an accurate indicator of academic potential or ability. Mt Holyoke offers UAE students who may have scored poorly on the SAT the opportunity to study at one of the best small colleges in the country.
US women’s colleges are ideal higher learning institutions for female students in the UAE looking for the best US college education has to offer, but still maintain important social, cultural and religious values. The safe and nurturing environment at these schools will help UAE female students to learn, grow, and become leaders.
I always advise students to select schools that fit with their educational and personal goals. The process of applying to women’s colleges is the same as applying to co-educational schools. Female applicants from the UAE will have the added advantage of bringing with them cultural diversity that will enrich the school’s community.