No Guys, No Problem: Why A Women’s College Should Be An Option (If You’re a Woman)

August 17, 2012  |  

President Obama speaking at the Barnard commencement in May. Image: Barnard College, David Wentworth

There are tons of college options out there: big universities, small colleges, in the city, out of the way on a spacious campus, co-ed, all women…

That last one (applicable if you happen to be a woman), is a no-brainer for many people. I went to a women’s college — Barnard — and was once asked, “Well, what was the point of going to college with no guys around?” That person was (kind of) joking.

So what is the point? “When I’m thinking about Barnard specifically, I think we’re able to provide a world-class education in a small liberal arts environment,” Pamela Phayme, Barnard’s director of diversity initiatives told me. She highlights the intimate classes, the ability to get to know the campus community, and the college’s association with Columbia University, which is right across the road, as some of the Barnard perks.

I personally enjoyed the experience for many of the reasons Phayme gave. I grew up in the New York City public school system, graduating from Brooklyn Technical High School. You need to take a test to be admitted to Brooklyn Tech, but it’s part of the public school system nonetheless. There were 5,000 students in my high school. Barnard’s website says there are about 2,400 students enrolled. It’s a difference you can feel, coupled with an incredible faculty.

I’ve actually never met Ms. Phayme and went to the school long before she arrived. Phayme didn’t study at Barnard; she graduated from the University of Virginia and did her graduate study at James Madison University. She also worked at Hofstra University for two years prior to joining one of the Seven Sisters.

The Seven Sister schools — the seven all-female liberal arts colleges in the Northeast — are Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Vassar (which is now co-ed), Mount Holyoke, Smith, Wellesley, and Radcliffe, which actually merged with Harvard and is no longer a standalone women’s institution. All have some connection to a larger, Ivy League university and, one way or another, it’s not that hard to see guys. Besides these schools, there are lots of others out there as well. I’ll be focusing on Barnard and its Sisters since that’s my alma mater — goooo Barnard! — but all of the schools seek to offer women a unique educational experience that is enhanced by the single-gender campus population. Once you graduate, a women’s college diploma makes an impact on your resume. Besides the name recognition of these seven schools, a women’s college education speaks to the rigor of the program and the commitment of the graduate, which resonates with anyone looking over your resume.

“Today, of course, women have many options, but we have only become more convinced that, for many women, a women’s college is the best option,” says the Smith College website (italics, theirs).

All of the Sister schools offer a traditional liberal arts education. At Barnard, Phayme says many students major in English, from writing to literature and beyond, dance and fine arts. However, there are a number of students who opt for the sciences and other areas. The student body comes from around the country and around the world. And for all of these schools, the point is to nurture women leaders; smart women who confidently go out into the world to tackle the areas and industries they’ve prepared for. Do you hear “I’m Every Woman” playing in your head yet?


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