Applying to College As a Woman

September 19, 2009 § 5 Comments

I’m applying to college in the next four months!

I’m thinking more and more about gender as a factor in applications and admissions. I remember reading an op-ed by the dean of admissions of a small liberal arts college, titled To All The Girls I’ve Rejected — but now it’s that much closer to home. The author gives us a tour of the admissions process, and explains that holding women applicants to a higher standard of excellence is commonplace and in some eyes necessary in today’s culture of do-it-all.

A few days ago I watched my daughter Madalyn open a thin envelope from one of the five colleges to which she had applied. “Why?” was what she was obviously asking herself as she handed me the letter saying she was waitlisted.

Why, indeed? She had taken the toughest courses in her high school and had done well, sat through several Saturday mornings taking SAT’s and the like, participated in the requisite number of extracurricular activities, written a heartfelt and well-phrased essay and even taken the extra step of touring the campus.

She had not, however, been named a National Merit finalist, dug a well for a village in Africa, or climbed to the top of Mount Rainier. She is a smart, well-meaning, hard-working teenage girl, but in this day and age of swollen applicant pools that are decidedly female, that wasn’t enough. The fat acceptance envelope is simply more elusive for today’s accomplished young women.

I have a complicated relationship with this concept. One part of me says that it’s blatantly sexist to expect more from women applicants than men. I’ve heard this called “affirmative action for boys” — which is ridiculous, it’s women who have been denied access to education throughout history. The comparison of men as a group to, say, African-Americans, who rightly benefit from real affirmative action is less than logical.

But another part of me sees the need for a balanced student body; in fact, it’s one statistic I’ve made a point of noting for each school I research.

We have told today’s young women that the world is their oyster; the problem is, so many of them believed us that the standards for admission to today’s most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men. How’s that for an unintended consequence of the women’s liberation movement?

The elephant that looms large in the middle of the room is the importance of gender balance. Should it trump the qualifications of talented young female applicants? At those colleges that have reached what the experts call a “tipping point,” where 60 percent or more of their enrolled students are female, you’ll hear a hint of desperation in the voices of admissions officers.

Your thoughts, students and other readers?


§ 5 Responses to Applying to College As a Woman

  • Lemur says:

    Why is gender balance more important than choosing the most qualified students?

    I see nothing okay with expecting more from female applicants; in fact I see it as the academic equivalent of the glass ceiling.

    If more women are working harder and getting better grades, then we will have more women in college. Men aren’t being held back or refused anything and they don’t need affirmative action and(more) double standards.

  • ruthelizabeth says:

    Yeah… you got it. The college process is FULL of little problems like that. Being a girl isn’t necessarily the thing that gets you rejected. Being a white girl does not help in the college process. Especially a white girl from New York. It can be hard to complain about these things too though, considering that there are so many colleges and just one you. Colleges assume you will find another school that suit you just fine, and you probably will. Though the admissions process is in NO way just, your actual college experience is what really counts, and you DO want diversity there. It’s definitely tricky, though.

  • Avendya says:

    I must point out – this depends highly on what colleges you’re applying to. As a science student who attends a college that is 2/3 male, they are very fond of talented young women. College != liberal arts college

    (Sorry, I am a bit sick of seeing my college experience, my degree field, and the experiences of women in male-dominated fields disregarded.)

  • Andrea says:

    And yet, once all those women and men graduate, the men who worked less, achieved less and have been held to lower standards get to earn more. Thanks patriarchy, for protecting our colleges against an influx of all those talented women! Be sure to keep them at bay so the boys don’t loose out.

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