Women are not only more likely to attend college, but they are also more likely to go on to attend graduate school. In fact, women account for half of the students in law, medical, and business programs, however women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields are still way underrepresented, and women receive less financial aid than their male classmates. So, while gains have been made for women in academia there are still innumerable disparities, explicit and implicit, on the campus college and later in the workforce. Of course, many colleges and universities strive to make their campuses safe, inclusive, and supportive of women, and so we've listed fifty of those schools below. In addition to providing this definitive ranking of the best woman friendly colleges and universities in the country, we at College Choice have included everything else students and parents need to know about succeeding in higher education. Scholarships, advice on choosing schools, sexual assault awareness, trans women rights, studying in the STEM fields, single mothering while in college—we've got it all covered. We at College Choice have attempted to consider every angle in presenting this resource.
We at College Choice realize gender is a complex construct that is often used to enforce, exclude, and oppress. We want to stress that this resource is for all woman-identified students, including the cis, genderqueer, and trans communities.
Meet the Expert
Cate Mackenzie’s writing has been published in numerous journals, magazines, and on websites covering feminism and culture. She has also worked in book publishing for ten years. In that decade she has marketed, copy edited, proofread hundreds of books while also witnessing a dramatic change in social and digital media. Despite the flux, a certainty remains: people long to learn, and Cate loves making the path to learning as accessible and rewarding as possible. Cate has a BA and MFA in writing and lives in Oregon.
A Safe and Welcoming Campus
The statistics about the sexual assault and harassment women face in college are staggering. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates between 20 and 25 percent of women will experience a completed and/or attempted rape during their college career, more than half of whom will not tell anyone about their victimization. And this is just sexual assault; these numbers don’t reflect the pervasive encounters women have with physical assault, stalking, and verbal harassment, and numbers cannot begin to reflect women’s daily dealings with sexism, both overt and implied. From the crucial presence of the Women’s Resource Center and extensive health services to active feminist groups on campus, institutional support, and feminist-inclusive curriculum, below are some fundamental factors that make a campus informed, safe, and nourishing for women.
The Women's Resource Center
Perhaps the most important facet of an informed, vibrant, and active campus is the Women’s Resource Center (WRC), sometimes just called the Women’s Center. While some centers stand alone, others work in collaboration with other student or diversity centers, health centers, or academic departments, but in all capacities the resource center is the nucleus of a woman’s life on campus, providing not only a safe space but access to resources and services designed specifically for women and to give visibility to issues that affect women. From policy enforcement to health services, the resource center works in dual directions, for both the university and for the student, making campus not only a safe place for all students, but also a place where students can have their needs heard and met. Below are some of the ways a Women’s Resource Center can serve its female students:
- History: The WRC can provide both an autobiographical history of the center as well as a history of the school and how it has served its female students in the past. History often reflects precedence, vision, and progress.
- Resources: In addition to connecting students with campus groups—social, health, academic, or other—the WRC can also provide information on local and national organizations that serve women, especially women in crisis. The WRC should also provide 24/7 helplines for immediate and urgent needs.
- Scholarships and Aid: For more on scholarships, see our section below, which provides a list of potential awards, prizes, and aid to apply for. However, sometimes individual schools and academic departments offer their own scholarships. The WRC connect you with those that are available for women at your school, as well as pointing you to national scholarship connections too.
- Calendar: For detailed information on social events, meetings, discussion groups, lecture series, and more, the WRC’s calendar should cover the full scope of the university’s events that will be of interest to women.
- Connection: One of its primary responsibilities, the WRC connects students with different organizations and groups, promoting relationship, solidarity, and involvement.
- Publications: If your school publishes any feminist newsletters, journals, or online magazines, find out how to access the content or even connect with the editorial team through the WRC.
- Work: Looking to get involved on or off campus? Looking to make extra money or gain experience? The WRC will help facilitate internships, work studies, and study abroad opportunities.
Though each university or college’s social calendar will look different from another, those schools that made our list for having the best Women’s Studies programs (see our section on those programs below) and for being overall the most friendly toward women (see our definitive ranking below) boast a vibrant social environment. Their calendars are most often marked with weekly and annual events—including clubs, political organizations, discussion groups, lecture series, and more—that promote visibility among women. Some examples of women-oriented events you may want to look for when researching and applying to college include
- Welcome back picnics in the fall
- Take Back the Night
- WGS Lecture Series
- International Women’s Day celebration
- Celebration of Women’s History Month in March
- Domestic and Partner Violence Awareness Month in October
- Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April
- WRC and/or women in leadership retreats
- Women’s music festivals
- And much more
Women and Gender Studies programs were first formed in the 1970s and have, since then, grown exponentially in popularity and utility. Hundreds of colleges and universities across the country now provide a full Bachelor of Arts in Women’s Studies degree (see our section on women’s studies below as well as our ranking of the nation’s fifty best programs) often offering it tandem with most other disciplines. Even schools with technical, business, health, or research emphasis find that a program in gender studies substantively augments their curriculum and promotes women in leadership in areas where women are underrepresented. To learn more about women’s and gender studies, see our section below, where we’ve also ranked the best programs and explained how best to enact such a degree in the work force. But if you do not desire to major or minor in women’s studies, there are numerous ways to seek out a school that provides a gendered balance to its curriculum and across disciplines. Here’s what to look for in a school that intentionally and attentively incorporates the voices of and contributions from women:
- A Women’s and Gender Studies major and minor
- A feminist library and/or archive
- Course syllabi (across disciplines) that contains contributions from women writers, scientists, scholars, psychologists, and leaders in technology and business
- Required courses on feminism and/or gender studies across disciplines
- Academic departments and faculty reflect a breadth of gender and racial diversity
- Outside lecturers also reflect gender and racial diversity
- Emphasis on transnational and intersectional approach to education
Clubs, Organizations, and Extra-Curriculars
Social groups are the heart of a thriving campus life. They not only help students connect with others, but they promote activism, awareness, and solidarity. An especially active and high-functioning women’s center will be comprised of various groups and organizations that align with many identities and needs. The examples below reflect a sampling of student-led groups that one can find through a Women’s Resource Center, and are, in fact, pulled from our list of Best Colleges and Universities for Women.
- International women’s group
- Queer and trans women groups
- Mentoring programs between upperclass students and lower classes
- Coalition of Women of Color
- Women in STEM groups
- Intermural sports for women
- Women and faith groups
- Feminist sororities
- Feminist reading and discussion groups
- Asexual and nonbinary groups
Policy and Institutional Support
Comprehensive campus policy and procedures should aim to diminish, if not eliminate, sexual harassment, assault, and other issues related to gender on campus. All the schools listed on our Best Colleges and Universities for Women ranking (see below) have substantive non-discrimination policies, reflecting a fundamental and necessary priority on student protection and service. Some schools even post their policies online. We’ve listed here some of the key factors indicating that a campus has legislated institutional support and inclusive policy
- Clear policies and procedures are made widely available and accessible to the campus.
- The school enforces Title IX, which requires institutions of higher education to report sexual violence, misconduct, and other behaviors that create hostile environments for women.
- Guidelines for reporting incidents should be widely disseminated.
- Likewise, the procedure for reporting incidents should be confidential and simple.
- There is an advisory committee that oversees issues—academic, social, and health—specific to its female students.
- The school provides extensive health insurance that covers the physical and emotional issues specific to women.
- The school hires and pays its women’s resource center staff.
- Prevention programs train faculty, staff, and students alike on issues of safety and policy.
Most universities and colleges offer health insurance and provide a healthcare center on campus in an effort to meet an array of their students’ needs. However, the most inclusive health system should cover all aspects of the mental, physical, and emotional health of its students, especially women, who are more likely to be anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed than their male classmates. Additionally, women are more likely to experience sexual assault, harassment, and abuse, more likely to feel various kinds of pressure and shaming, and more likely to develop eating disorders, depression, PTSD, and addictions. Therefore, the health-related needs of women not only vary greatly from their male classmates, but entail services that are at once confidential, sympathetic, and extensive. When researching colleges and universities be sure to look into their healthcare options and services. If even you receive insurance from your parents or another source, it’s important to know what resources your school will make available to you. Here’s what to look for regardless of your specific needs:
- Guaranteed confidentiality
- Full and inclusive reproductive health care
- Resources on safe sex and contraceptive care
- Free and anonymous STI tests
- Cancer screening and prevention
- Sexual and physical assault counseling
- Information services that connect students with off-campus health options
- Unlimited psychological counseling sessions
- 24/7 access to crisis and help lines
- LGBT trained doctors, nurses, counselors, and staff
- Health insurance that covers hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgeries
- Voice modification programs
- Respect to and use of pronouns and names
50 Best Colleges and Universities for Women
From sexual assault awareness to anti-discrimination in STEM fields, there’s a breadth of considerations—social, economic, academic—to collate and compare when choosing a school. Such consolidation demands innumerable hours of research, the results being of crucial importance to your college experience and happiness. Which is why we’ve done that work for you, compiling below the best schools for women, taking into account a combination of crucial features: academic rankings; student performance, satisfaction, and retention rates; the level of safety and inclusion women can anticipate, and more. The scores below reflect the collective ranking of each of these factors.
College Choice Score: 100.00
College Choice Score: 98.51
College Choice Score: 97.58
College Choice Score: 97.41
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
College Choice Score: 97.38
College Choice Score: 95.59
California Institute of Technology
College Choice Score: 94.57
University of Pennsylvania
College Choice Score: 94.25
College Choice Score: 93.55
College Choice Score: 92.95
See the full list of the 50 Best Colleges and Universities for Women here.
In the 1970s when the first few women’s studies program formed in colleges and universities across the nation, faculty members had to write their own textbooks and develop wholly new curricula. They basically created a whole new pedagogy. Since then, as the second wave and third waves of feminism brought greater visibility to gender inequity, these women’s studies programs have grown, solidified, and have become an irreplaceable facet of a liberal arts education. Below we have reasons why you should consider a major or minor in women’s studies, what the best undergraduate programs in the nation are, and what to do after you graduate with the degree.
Five Reasons to Get a Degree in Women’s Studies
It’s culturally relevant
See our section on STEM for the sad statistics on women’s inequality in the workplace, which is only one sector of a woman’s life where she experiences discrimination. Currently, our country has laid out very serious battlegrounds over women’s reproductive health; trans women are fighting to use the right public bathrooms; female business and political leaders are called bossy, shrill, and even told to smile more. A degree in women’s studies arms you to take on any and all exhibitions of inequality, making you an advocate wherever you are, since the fight takes place everywhere.
It’s expansive and inclusive
When you become a women’s studies major you are not only signing up for classes on feminism and gender theory, but most schools suffuse their curriculum with courses covering race, sexuality, disability, ethnicity, and other categories of identities. Additionally, women’s studies has historically been marked by its intersectional and global approach to theory and analysis. Women’s studies programs encourage students to think independently and critically while simultaneously promoting collaboration across perceived boundaries.
Becoming a women’s studies major means you’ll get to enroll in a range of classes. You’ll have courses on literature, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, history, biology, politics, and more. Oftentimes you can even design the major yourself, cross-listing it with other concentrations and minors that are of interest. This breadth of academic experience not only benefits you during college, but will prepare you for an assortment of career opportunities. The degree can be applied to innumerable fields, from politics to healthcare, accounting to counseling, and much more.
You’ll work closely with diverse faculty
Not only are women’s studies classes typically small, intimate, and discussion based, but mentorship plays a principal role in the relationship between women’s studies students and faculty. Because many programs are interdisciplinary, students work closely with faculty advisors to develop and implement their course of study. Additionally, due to the nature of cross-listing disciplines within the major, the faculty members usually boast a breadth of background experience and expertise. In addition to working closely with women’s studies scholars, you’ll also get to work with scholars of literature, culture, history, psychology, and philosophy, among others.
It’s extremely marketable
Women’s studies students develop many beneficial occupational skills that will serve them for a long time post graduation: they gain the ability to think critically, creatively, and with the goal of problem-solving; they develop highly effective writing skills, since so much of the degree program is based on compelling written communication; women’s studies students also cultivate strong research proficiencies, leadership qualities, and a deep understanding of diversity, its intersections and complications. All of these skills make for an excellent job candidate, whatever the position.
The 50 Best Undergraduate Women’s Studies Programs
The following fifty colleges and universities vary in student population, environment and location, academic emphasis, political engagement, social involvement, and more, but they all share one thing in common: they offer the best Bachelor in Arts in Women’s Studies programs. While some programs combine Women’s Studies with gender and sexuality studies, they each introduce students to the cultural, political, and historical considerations of gender and then ask students to draw out the critical, intersectional, and transnational implications. Many of the programs also bring into question the relationship of race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, and more, encouraging students to investigate and develop unique concentrations in the broader field of gender. Methodology: Here at College Choice we’ve collated and compared the academic reputation, student satisfaction, affordability, and average financial aid packages of women’s studies programs across the country to create a definitive ranking of the nation’s fifty best undergraduate programs. We first chose programs with the most renowned academic reputation and from those pared the list down to those with high retention rates—a reflection of student satisfaction—and those with the most economical accessibility, to arrive at a list marked by thorough research and extensive data aggregation. Our figures come from the university and colleges’ websites as well as nationally recognized U.S. News & World Report and The National Center for Education Statistics.
College Choice Score: 100.00
Cost Per Year: $45,278
College Choice Score: 99.65
Cost Per Year: $47,600
College Choice Score: 99.25
Cost Per Year: $47,620
College Choice Score: 98.9
Cost Per Year: $50,562
College Choice Score: 98.72
Cost Per Year: $50,070
College Choice Score: 98.1
Cost Per Year: $47,442
College Choice Score: 97.89
Cost Per Year: $47,828
College Choice Score: 96.52
Cost Per Year: $48,212
College Choice Score: 96.36
Cost Per Year: $46,836
College Choice Score: 96.1
Cost Per Year: $43,838
See the full list of the 50 Best Women’s Studies Programs here.
After Graduation: What to Do with a Degree in Women’s Studies
So you’ve graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Women’s Studies degree and augmented it with a minor or a concentration in another area. Now what? Your degree does not set you on a predictable career track, this is true, but rather than fret in this fact you should see it as a huge benefit to your future vocation. Your knowledge of the intersection of sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, and other forms of hegemony is of interest to many sectors of employment: non-profit organizations, community centers, local and national government, civil and public services, health services, educational organizations, social services, and much more. Furthermore, the interdisciplinary nature of the degree prepares you for work in media, education, law, marketing and pr, academia, and business, among other fields. Finally, and not to be understated, a degree in women’s studies reflects your passion and advocacy for equality across identities and experience, a respected quality you’ll surely bring to any career, including:
Top National Scholarships for Women
Not only are women paid less annually than their male colleagues, but this inequity begins in college, where women receive less federal and nonfederal aid and graduate with more student debt than their male classmates. Fortunately, there are literally hundreds of scholarships for women, awarded by advocacy groups, professional organizations, corporate sponsors, colleges and universities, government groups, and more, each simultaneously illuminating the economic gap between genders and combating that disparity through awards and grants. We’ve also included some of the higher-awarding scholarships; while some have general eligibility requirements, others seek specific qualities and focus.
The Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship
To promote leadership in technology and computing among women, Google honors the legacy of Anita Borg through this national scholarship. Eligibility requirements include being women at an accredited undergraduate university who are majoring in computer science, computer engineering, or a closely related technical field.
Society of Women Engineers
The Society of women Engineers supports women pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering or computer science. They offer dozens of scholarships with varying eligibility requirements and regional restrictions. In 2015, they awarded over two hundred new and renewed scholarships valued at over half a million dollars.
Jeannette Rankin Scholarship
For women who are returning to school later in life, the Jeannette Rankin Scholarship awards varying amounts to varying applicants who are thirty-five and older and enrolled in an accredited undergraduate, graduate, or vocational school.
American Association of University Women Fellowships and Grants
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) is a nonprofit organization that promotes equality form women through advocacy, charity, education, and research. They offer a number of fellowships and grants (with award ranges from $2,000 to $30,000) to women in an array of academic fields. To see if you are eligible for any, head over to their website.
Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship
With the goal of encourage undergraduate women to enter careers in business and become leaders in their fields, the Jane M. Klausmen scholarship (sponsored by Zonta International) has awarded nearly three hundred national and international scholarships in its lifetime. Applicants must be pursuing a business degree and in at least their second year of undergraduate study.
Alliance for Women in Media Scholarships
The Alliance for Women in Media works to bring talented and dedicated women in media together. Through a few different scholarships, they provide funding for undergraduate women studying media each year. While some of the scholarships support students with disabilities, others aim to promote leadership. To see if you are eligible for any, head over to their website.
O Wines Opportunity for Success
Sponsored by the College Success Foundation, the O Wines Opportunity for Success fellowship supports low-income young women who have been accepted or are enrolled at an accredited university or college. Applicants must have at least a 3.2 GPA and maintain it.
Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy Memorial Scholarship Award
Awarded by the National Medical Fellowships, the Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy Memorial Scholarship honors the legacy of three slaves who are now recognized as the Mothers of Gynecology. Eligibility thus requires that the applicant be a known descendant of an American slave, as well as a woman who is studying medicine.
Betty Rendel Scholarship
The Betty Rendel Scholarship is awarded by the National Federation of Republican Women each year in an effort to promote government leadership among women. Applicants must be students of political science, economics, government, or a related field, and must be at least a junior.