womens colleges

The Ultimate Guide to Women’s Colleges

The U.S. is home to some of the best women’s colleges in the world. In fact, when you look at the best women’s colleges rankings, you’ll see that these schools are among the best colleges in the country. While you might not be as familiar with women’s colleges as you are with some of the better-known co-ed colleges, women’s colleges should not be overlooked. They provide their students with a high-quality education and a myriad of unique opportunities. 

In this guide to women’s colleges, we’ll provide a comprehensive overview of women’s colleges, including:

  • Brief history of women’s colleges
  • Women’s College Coalition and its importance
  • 10 Best Women’s Colleges
  • Women’s colleges in Massachusetts
  • Benefits of attending the best women’s colleges
  • How to choose the right women’s colleges for you
  • And much more!!!

Historically women’s colleges are significant institutions of higher education. So, before we look at any women’s colleges rankings, let’s start by providing some background on women’s colleges in the U.S.

A brief history of Women’s Colleges

womens colleges

Since their founding, historically women’s colleges have been some of the best colleges for women. The history of women’s colleges goes back to 1836. The very first college to offer degree programs to women was Wesleyan College, located in Macon, Georgia. Before this time, none of the top universities in the U.S. admitted women–in fact, no college did.

As a response to these limitations, women began advocating for opportunities to pursue higher education. In the 50 years following Wesleyan’s founding, many historically women’s colleges began popping up throughout the U.S. This included the Seven Sisters: Smith, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, and Vassar. While today many of these women’s colleges are considered the best colleges for women, this wasn’t always the case for all women. Many of these early women’s colleges only admitted white women, excluding women of color.

Despite this history, today many of the best women’s colleges are known to be some of the most inclusive institutions. While many historically women’s colleges have remained all-female colleges, some have become co-ed. In fact, some of the top universities today were historically women’s colleges. For instance, Vassar was originally founded as a women’s college in 1861 but went co-ed in 1969. While women’s colleges were once fairly common, there are far fewer still open today.

Women’s Colleges Today

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Today, historically women’s colleges are some of the most racially and economically diverse institutions of higher education. This is part of what makes them some of the best colleges for women. Students have the opportunity to learn in a small, women-centered environment, with all the support they need to become fearless advocates and leaders. And, some of the best women’s colleges are also considered some of the top universities for students interested in a liberal arts education.

Given the high women’s colleges rankings, you may be wondering if there are any downsides to attending the best women’s colleges. In today’s gender-diverse landscape, the future of all female colleges is rapidly changing. Even the best women’s colleges face challenges when it comes to establishing policies around who is welcome at women’s colleges. Additionally, as smaller schools, women’s colleges often have smaller endowments. This means they may have less funding than larger, co-ed universities.

Regardless of these challenges, many believe in the lasting power of historically women’s colleges. One organization that advocates for the continuation and celebration of all female colleges is the Women’s College Coalition.

Women’s College Coalition

The Women’s College Coalition began in 1972. This association of women’s colleges was created to promote enrollment at all-female colleges. To do this, the Women’s College Coalition provides resources to help connect families with the best women’s colleges.

At its core, the Women’s College Coalition does all of this because it believes in the benefits of women’s colleges. On their website, the Women’s College Coalition highlights the collaborative learning environments resulting in students taking full advantage of leadership development opportunities. Ultimately, this leads to a high level of success and satisfaction amongst alumni.

So, just how many schools are a part of the Women’s College Coalition? Well, let’s look at just how many women’s colleges there are nationally. 

How many women’s colleges are in the US?

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Historically women’s colleges once numbered in the hundreds. Even just 60 years ago, there were around 230 women’s colleges. However, today they make up a very small portion of schools in the general college landscape. For instance, the Women’s College Coalition only lists 31 historically women’s colleges. Indeed, women’s colleges rankings reflect a much smaller pool of schools than the college rankings of the best co-ed colleges.

While there are now far fewer women’s colleges, there are a select few that stand out as some of the best colleges in the country.

10 Best Women’s Colleges

There are many wonderful historically women’s colleges out there. After looking at a wide variety of women’s colleges rankings, we compiled this list of the 10 Best Women’s Colleges:

Top 10 Best Women’s Colleges

1. Wellesley College

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Let’s kick off our list of the best women’s colleges with Wellesley College. Wellesley was founded in Wellesley, MA in 1870. This small, suburban school requires students to complete a core curriculum, complemented by a variety of educational opportunities including international study and internships. With Wellesley College ranking #4 in National Liberal Arts Colleges, it is also widely considered one of the best liberal arts schools in the country.

2. Smith College

womens colleges

The next school on our list is another one of the best women’s colleges in Massachusetts. Smith College, located in Northampton, MA, was founded around the same time as Wellesley, in 1871. Since its founding, Smith has been dedicated to upholding values of knowledge, community, curiosity, responsibility, and generosity. Forbes has Smith College ranking #38 in Liberal Arts Universities, while the U.S. News Smith College ranking is #16.

3. Barnard College

womens colleges
BrillLyle | CC BY-SA 4.0

Third on our list of the best all female colleges is Barnard College. This New York City all female college shares a partnership with Columbia. This offers a unique opportunity for students looking for the experience of a small women’s college with access to plenty of academic resources. The Barnard College acceptance rate is higher than its co-ed counterpart at 9%. If you love Barnard, consider applying Early Decision, as the Barnard College acceptance rate is significantly higher for early applicants. (The Class of 2026 Early Decision Barnard College acceptance rate was 29%.)

4. Bryn Mawr College

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Another great liberal arts all female college is Bryn Mawr College. This residential women’s college is located in Bryn Mawr, PA, just northwest of Philadelphia. The Bryn Mawr College ranking in National Liberal Arts Colleges is #30, but you’ll also find competitive Bryn Mawr College rankings in areas such as Writing in the Disciplines (#14) and Senior Capstone (#26). Like other liberal arts schools, Bryn Mawr encourages academic exploration and growth through a combination of advising, hands-on learning, and rigorous requirements. With Bryn Mawr College ranking #9 in Best Undergraduate Teaching, you’re sure to get a phenomenal education.

5. Scripps College

womens colleges

Located on the West Coast in Claremont, CA is Scripps College. Scripps was founded in 1926 and is part of the consortium of Claremont Colleges. You’ll find Scripps College ranking #35 in National Liberal Arts Colleges, according to U.S. News. Additionally, you’ll see Scripps College ranking highly on Forbes’ lists of Top Colleges (#150), Liberal Arts Universities (#40), and Colleges in the West (#38). At Scripps, you’ll start your education by completing the core curriculum and end with a senior thesis or project. 

6. Mount Holyoke College

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Next, we’re highlighting another of the best women’s colleges in Massachusetts. Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, MA, is known for its experienced faculty and rigorous academic programs, in both STEM programs and the arts. The Mount Holyoke College rankings, according to U.S. News, are #34 in National Liberal Arts Colleges and #37 in Best Value Schools. Conversely, Forbes has Mount Holyoke College ranking #56 in Liberal Arts Universities and #72 in the Northeast.

7. Spelman College

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Some of the first women’s colleges were founded in Georgia, which is where our next school is located. Spelman College, located in Atlanta, GA, is not only one of the best all female colleges, it’s also the #1 HBCU in the country. Since its founding in 1881, Spelman has provided students with an excellent education in the liberal arts and sciences. Students at Spelman can expect to engage with a wide range of cultures so they can become creative, intellectual, and ethical global leaders.

8. Agnes Scott College

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Agnes Scott College Library Reading Room” by JKD Atlanta | CC BY 2.0.

Not one but two Georgia schools have made our list of the best women’s colleges. Agnes Scott College, ranked the #1 Most Innovative School by U.S. news, was founded in 1889. Like other top liberal arts colleges, Agnes Scott has a unique core curriculum known as SUMMIT. Their style of liberal arts education has a heavy emphasis on global learning as well as leadership development and professional success. Students will be supported throughout their college journey by a personal Board of Advisors, dedicated to helping them achieve both their academic and career goals.

9. College of Saint Benedict

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File:2009-0522-MN-SaintBens.jpg” by Bobak Ha’Eri | CC BY 3.0.

The College of Saint Benedict is a small, private liberal arts school located in St. Joseph, MN. Unlike some of the other top all female colleges mentioned on this list, the College of Saint Benedict is the sister school to Saint John’s University College for men. Saint Benedict was founded in 1913 to educate marginalized and disenfranchised young women. Today, it continues in its Catholic and Benedictine tradition by empowering students to think deeply, embrace difference, engage globally, serve graciously, and live courageously.

10. Saint Mary’s College

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Cushwa-Leighton Library, Saint Mary’s College” by JeanKeefer | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

We’ve reached the final school on our list of the best women’s colleges: Saint Mary’s College. The U.S. News’ Saint Mary’s College rankings are #82 in National Liberal Arts Colleges and #42 in Best Value Schools. Similar to Barnard, Saint Mary’s has a long-standing partnership with the University of Notre Dame, providing students with all the benefits of a larger university. You can even combine coursework to pursue a dual degree across schools. At Saint Mary’s, you’ll be encouraged to travel your own Avenue–that is, you’ll have plenty of resources and support to help you make the most of your four years on campus.

Looking at our list of the 10 best women’s colleges, you may have noticed several schools are located in the state of Massachusetts. Indeed, there are many women’s colleges in Massachusetts beyond the ones mentioned above. So, let’s learn a bit more about them! 

Exploring Women’s Colleges in Massachusetts 

Many of the highest women’s colleges rankings are for schools located on the East Coast, just like the Ivies. So, we’re going to discuss five of the best historically women’s colleges in Massachusetts.

Top Women’s Colleges in MA

womens colleges

Wellesley College

Let’s learn a little more about the first women’s college on our list. Wellesley is a private liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,447. In addition to Wellesley College ranking highly among liberal arts colleges, it also ranks highly in programs like psychology and economics. For instance, the Wellesley College ranking in economics is #37, according to U.S. News. However, economics is just one of Wellesley’s 50+ departmental and interdepartmental majors. The acceptance rate at Wellesley is just 14%, ranking it amongst the most selective all female colleges.

Smith College

Like Wellesley, Smith is a small, suburban college with an enrollment of 2,525. However, its acceptance rate is higher, at 23%. One of the highest Smith College rankings is in engineering programs (#14), and for good reason. Smith’s Picker Engineering Program is ABET-accredited, assuring the quality of their B.S. program. Other popular majors at Smith include economics, psychology, government, biology, and art. While Smith does not have required core classes, students are encouraged to study and explore topics and courses across seven fields of knowledge.

Mount Holyoke College

With Mount Holyoke College ranking #6 on our list of the best women’s colleges, we already know a bit about this Massachusetts women’s college. Mount Holyoke’s commitment to access and social justice means their undergraduate class of 2,193 students is part of a diverse and close-knit community. With an acceptance rate of 40%, Mount Holyoke is certainly more accessible than some other women’s colleges in Massachusetts, such as Smith and Wellesley.

Bay Path University

Now, we want to introduce you to two new women’s colleges in Massachusetts. Bay Path University is a small, private university in Longmeadow, MA. Bay Path’s 1,338 students are part of a long history of women preparing to become successful leaders in whatever career they choose. In fact, the school has been educating women for over 100 years. With over 52 programs to choose from, students can earn bachelor’s degrees in popular fields such as business and education as well as cybersecurity and justice & legal studies. At 75%, Bay Path has a much higher acceptance rate than the other women’s colleges in Massachusetts.

Simmons University

If you’re looking for a small, city school, consider Simmons University. Located in Boston, Simmons has an all female undergraduate enrollment of 1,789 students, however, their graduate programs are co-ed. With an acceptance rate of 76%, Simmons is an accessible school with a strong core curriculum. While students must meet Simmons’ PLAN requirements, they also have the opportunity to customize their courses to fit their interests and passions. All students will have the chance to complete some kind of hands-on learning experience, whether internships, clinicals, fieldwork, or research projects.

If you’re not only looking for women’s colleges in Massachusetts, rest assured there are great women’s colleges across the country. However, if you’re still not sure about attending a women’s college vs a co-ed college, keep reading. Up next, we’ll discuss just why all female colleges are some of the best colleges for women.

Why attend a Women’s College?

womens colleges

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably already considering adding some women’s colleges to your college list. However, as you look at women’s colleges rankings, you may be hesitant to apply since they don’t often appear at the top of college rankings and lists of best colleges. So, with so many top universities out there, why look to women’s colleges?

To start, the biggest difference between all female colleges and co-ed colleges is the type of student body you’re becoming a part of. At a women’s college, you’ll be welcomed to an inclusive community of like-minded individuals, all dedicated to personal empowerment and academic excellence. Additionally, for gender non-conforming individuals, many historically women’s colleges provide a progressive and diverse community.

Beyond feeling free to engage in academically challenging coursework, you’ll also want to consider how attending women’s colleges can affect your potential for success post-graduation. There continues to be a gender wage gap in the U.S., and women’s colleges are known to prepare students for successful careers, particularly in senior leadership roles.

Next, we want to talk more about one of the biggest benefits of attending the best women’s colleges: becoming a part of vibrant alumni networks.

Women’s Colleges Alumni Networks

Many top universities have strong alumni networks–as do the best women’s colleges. In fact, all female colleges are known to have some of the strongest alumni networks. While alumni networks aren’t always a factor included in college rankings, it is arguably one of the most tangible benefits of attending a certain university.

Many students choose to attend women’s colleges because they believe in collaborating with and supporting other women. Therefore, it makes sense that alumni are willing to help students and recent graduates, connecting them to networking, internship, and job opportunities. But before you start thinking too far ahead, you’ll want to think about the near future and what you hope to get out of your college experience.

Choosing the right Women’s College for you

womens colleges

Rather than worrying about the Wellesley or Scripps College ranking, focus on what matters to you. While women’s colleges rankings can be a great place to find inspiration, only you can decide what school best suits your needs.

Many of the best women’s colleges are indeed small, liberal arts colleges. However, each of the best women’s colleges has its own unique qualities, from their educational approach to their campus vibe. Be sure to explore each potential school’s academic programs, core curriculum, and anything else that might affect your studies. Then look at residential communities, student organizations, and mentorship opportunities. This will give you a good idea of what a school can provide–both academically and communally. 

Similar to other top universities, the best women’s college for you will depend on your priorities. Two of the biggest factors are financial aid and location, so be sure to consider those as well.

Applying to the best women’s colleges

Many of the best women’s colleges ask students to write supplemental essays as part of the application process. You can expect to encounter prompts asking about why you want to attend a women’s college. So, it’s important to have a strong connection to the school you are applying to and specific reasons as to why it’s the right fit for you. 

Admissions is looking for students who will contribute positively to their campus communities. Your essays are a great opportunity to demonstrate your interest as well as all the special qualities and unique perspectives you’ll bring to campus. 

If you’re not sure what to write about in your essays, we have plenty of essay examples for the schools on our list of best women’s colleges. Here are just a few of our essay-writing resources:

Applying to the best colleges, including the best women’s colleges, requires having an application strategy. Be sure to use CollegeAdvisor’s wide range of free application resources to prepare the strongest application possible! 

Women’s Colleges – Takeaways

womens colleges

At this point, we’ve discussed many different facets of women’s colleges and why they’re still relevant today. For context, we began with how and when historically women’s colleges started and why they remain such valuable institutions of higher learning today. After our brief history of women’s colleges, we learned a bit about the Women’s College Coalition. Looking at women’s colleges rankings, we saw that many of the best all female colleges are also the best liberal arts colleges. Finally, we ended on why historically women’s colleges are some of the best colleges for women and how to choose the best women’s college for you.

If you’re considering applying to some of the best colleges in the country, don’t forget about women’s colleges! While historically women’s colleges may not always appear on general college rankings, they are certainly worth exploring. You may find that the experience provided by historically women’s colleges outweighs the prestige of even the most highly regarded top universities. And, if you need more support, our expert advisers at CollegeAdvisor can help you unpack women’s colleges rankings, get inspired, and apply to your dream women’s college.

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This article was written by Stefanie Tedards. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.