Women of extraordinary strength and achievement can be found in every corner of the world’s academic institutions. From world leaders like New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and Tanzania’s Samia Suluhu Hassan to sports heroes like the Netherlands’ Vivianne Miedema and Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala, from authors like Toni Morrison and Doris Lessing to Nobel laureates like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Malala Yousafzai. These ladies have used their various cultural experiences to effect positive change in the world.
Although many of these women have attended prestigious universities like Oxford, the University of Manchester, Harvard, and Howard, historically, women did not have the same access to higher education as men. Beginning in the early 19th century, secondary schools (or high schools) specifically for female students proliferated, and soon after, women’s colleges did the same. These women’s colleges educated thousands of women around the world at a time when most universities and colleges were male-only.
Many of these institutions for women eventually merged with their male counterparts (like Radcliffe College and Harvard University did) to form larger universities. However, there are still some women-only universities that have maintained their autonomy.
Best women colleges
Although it is a relatively small institution, Wellesley College offers its students extensive resources. More than 50 different majors are available to students at Wellesley College (everything from astrophysics to theatre), and the college’s alumni network is often called the “most powerful women’s network in the world.” There are also numerous opportunities for students to participate in research and internships. Along with the BA/MA in International Economics and Finance that it offers jointly with Brandeis University, Wellesley also offers a select double degree program with MIT.
Established in 1871, Smith College admitted its first class of 14 female students in 1875. Today, it is one of the largest universities for women in the United States. Smith offers more than 140 student clubs and organizations, 11 varsity sports, and 50 majors/minors (ranging from astronomy to world literature). There are no residence halls or Greek organizations at Smith College; instead, students live in one of 41 autonomous community houses with anywhere from ten to one hundred other students.
Bryn Mawr College
Since its inception in 1885, Bryn Mawr College has provided students with the opportunity to earn a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degree. Founded in the 1920s as a response to the predominance of male-dominated institutions in higher education, the “Seven Sisters” are a group of highly selective women’s colleges in the Northeast. Bryn Mawr’s partnerships with Haverford, Swathmore, and the University of Pennsylvania provide a range of co-educational options to complement the school’s traditional single-sex curriculum.
In a way that few other universities can claim, Simmons University’s undergraduate program focuses on women while its graduate program is open to both sexes. Seventy-two percent of Simmons’s permanent faculty are women. Students at Simmons get the best of both worlds: the close-knit community of a small college and the exciting culture of a large urban university. Boston, with its more than 70 colleges and universities, is one of the nation’s centers for higher education, and Simmons University, located there, offers a wealth of resources for academic pursuits, professional development, and internships.
Agnes Scott College
Niche ranks Agnes Scott College, a Presbyterian-affiliated women’s college, as the 54th best Christian institution in the United States. Agnes Scott College’s SUMMIT core curriculum stands out because of its emphasis on international education, leadership training, career preparation, and technological literacy. Each new Agnes Scott College freshman in the fall of 2022 was given a $22,000 renewable merit-based Agnes Assurance Scholarship.
Barnard College is one of four undergraduate colleges at Columbia University, all of which belong to the prestigious Ivy League. As a result of Columbia’s all-male admissions policy, which lasted until 1989, Barnard was established. The college’s partnership with Columbia makes it the only institution of higher education for women to offer a Division I athletics program, among its many other interesting and distinctive features.
It was also one of the original Seven Sisters, a group of elite, all-female liberal arts universities in the Northeastern United States. Barnard students will be able to take classes at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music, as well as use Columbia’s facilities (including classrooms, libraries, clubs, and dining halls) and receive degrees from Columbia (co-signed by the presidents of both institutions). Some notable Barnard graduates include Ntozake Shange, Margaret Mead, and Martha Stewart.
In 1881, the Atlanta, Georgia-based Spelman College was established as a seminary for black women; it was not until 1924 that it received its college charter. In addition to being a member of the Atlanta University Center Consortium, a group of four HBCUs in the Atlanta area, Spelman serves as a sister college to nearby Morehouse College, a historically black men’s college.
Spelman College, founded in 1881, is one of the most prestigious historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the United States. Its alumni include prominent figures in the progressive political and activist communities, such as Representative Stacey Abrams and author Alice Walker.
The city of Raleigh, North Carolina is home to Meredith College, a liberal arts institution. There are roughly 2,000 women enrolled in Meredith’s undergraduate programs and 300 men and women enrolled in the university’s graduate programs. When it comes to women’s colleges in the southeastern United States, Meredith is by far the largest. In addition to 16 graduate and certificate programs, there are more than 80 undergraduate majors, minors, and concentrations to choose from. Students attend Meredith from 26 different states and 39 different countries, and they have access to over 100 different clubs and organizations to get involved in. A total of 19,000 Meredith alums can now be found in every country on earth.
Mount Holyoke College
South Hadley, Massachusetts is home to Mount Holyoke College, a women-only liberal arts institution. Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, which in 1837 became the college, was the first of the Seven Sisters and one of the founding members of the Five College Consortium in the Pioneer Valley. Approximately 2,000 undergraduates from 45 different states and 74 different countries call Mount Holyoke home. There are 51 pre-set majors to choose from, and students can also create their own. The majority of classes at MHC (84%) have fewer than 30 students, and 29% of students choose an interdisciplinary major. In addition to receiving the Senator Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization, Mount Holyoke College also offers classes on a wide range of international topics.
Ursuline College, located in Pepper Pike, Ohio, is a Catholic institution founded in 1871 by the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland. Ursuline University offers 30 different bachelor’s degree programs to its roughly 700 undergraduate students. The college is known for its Doctor of Nursing Practice degree and 11 other graduate programs. The 112 acre campus is located about 30 miles from Akron and 10 miles outside of Cleveland. Popular majors at the liberal arts university include art therapy, nursing, and teacher preparation. Ursuline accepts students of all faiths and backgrounds, but it promotes clarity of belief by its faculty and staff by modeling gospel values. Fees total $28,520 per year.
Notre Dame of Maryland University
Established in 1873, Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore is a private, Roman Catholic-affiliated liberal arts institution. Graduate and evening programs are available to both sexes at Notre Dame, in addition to the Women’s College for undergraduates. Graduates from the university, who come from all walks of life, are known for their courage and loyalty. Studying subjects like art, behavioral neuroscience, foreign languages, philosophy, and more can be life-changing at NDMU, the only women’s college in Maryland. There are two five-year dual degree programs and a number of certificate programs to choose from.
Academic Institution of Scripps
The three required courses that make up Scripps’ core curriculum provide a comprehensive introduction to the ways in which institutions, socially constructed categories like race and gender, and other cultural frameworks shape our understanding of the world and the opportunities available to us as individuals.
In addition to Claremont Graduate University and Keck Graduate Institute, the Claremont Colleges include four other undergraduate universities in addition to Scripps College (Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, and Pomona Colleges). The consortium’s member institutions are all distinct educational institutions with their own missions and identities, but together they offer students the chance to experience the advantages of a large research university while benefiting from the intimacy of a small liberal arts college.
The oldest historically black college for women in the United States, Spelman College is widely considered to be not only one of the most prestigious schools for women in the United States, but also one of the most prestigious historically black colleges and universities in the country.
When it comes to educating black women for careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), no institution compares to Spelman College. About a third of Spelman’s graduating seniors immediately enroll in graduate or professional school.
Saint Mary’s College (Indiana)
The Sisters of the Holy Cross even fund a convent at Saint Mary’s Colleges, a relatively obscure Catholic university. Saint Mary’s places a high value on community service, as evidenced by the fact that nearly three quarters of seniors participate in some form of volunteer or community service.
The University of Notre Dame is directly across the street from Saint Mary’s College, and the two schools have close ties. Students from Saint Mary’s College attend classes at the University of Notre Dame, participate in extracurricular activities such as the newspaper (The Observer) or the marching band, and watch Notre Dame sports teams play.
Are All-Female Colleges Really Feminist?
The question of whether or not all-female universities promote true feminism has a mixed response. On the one hand, the goal of women-only universities is to empower female students with the tools they need to successfully compete with men in the workforce. There are, however, all-women’s colleges that do not only enroll women and that promote aims unrelated to the advancement of women. But there are also feminist colleges, and not all colleges that promote a feminist atmosphere are exclusively for women. Therefore, all-female universities tend to have a feminist bent, though not all feminist universities are exclusively female-only.
Why do women’s colleges exist?
Women’s colleges were established to give women access to higher education at a time when they were largely excluded from classrooms across the country.
Throughout the 19th century, a plethora of women’s colleges cropped up, providing women with new educational options. Women’s colleges are still around today, providing an alternative route to higher education with a focus on the liberal arts.
Are all women’s colleges private?
In general, private nonprofit organizations fund and operate women-only colleges and universities. Liberal arts are a common focus of undergraduate education at these schools.
Women’s universities are overwhelmingly non-state funded. In order to better serve their female students, many private women’s colleges partner with universities that accept both male and female students.
The final rankings incorporate both external data and our own investigation into each institution. Our list is the most comprehensive resource for women-only universities available online, and each school’s inclusion on the list is justified with detailed justifications.