Over 60 per cent of the high school
seniors who applied to the College of William and Mary
for freshman admission in 2007 were women – but women
made up only 52 per cent of that fall's incoming class.
Does that mean that women applicants had a harder time
winning a seat in William and Mary's Class of 2011?
Statistically, they clearly did. A male
applicant's chances of winning admission to William and
Mary last fall were about 1 in 2.5. A female applicant's
chances were about 1 in 4.
When William & Mary officials were asked
by a reporter for the campus newspaper about this, they
defended their selection process as fair, pointing out
that all admits had comparable SATs, GPAs, and other
qualifications. It's not as if the College had
systematically accepted male applicants with B averages
while turning away women with A grades. All applicants
were held to the same standards. Admissions were fair in
But girls who worry about admissions
stories like this have a legitimate point, too.
Maintaining gender balance in enrollments when applicant
pools are unbalanced implicitly ties individual
admissions outcomes to gender. If you have a larger pool
of female applicants and a smaller pool of male
applicants applying for roughly the same number of
seats, it's going to be harder for individual female
applicants to win admission. That's a dynamic that
leaves many female high school seniors feeling that they
have to try harder than their male peers do to win a
seat in their target schools.
The root of the problem is that women
make up an increasingly disproportionate share of
college applicant pools and student bodies alike.
Nationwide, women make up around 57 per cent of enrolled
college students. That's almost 3 female undergrads for
every 2 male undergrads.
This imbalance presents a dilemma for
colleges. If they practice "gender blind" admissions,
they're bound to wind up with a disproportionately high
percentage of female students. Most schools are
reluctant to do that because past experience has shown
that once a school passes a certain point in gender
ratios, applications from both men and women drop off.
Women applicants might take some comfort
in the fact that boys do not enjoy any special
consideration in admissions at the very top schools.
It's hard to get accepted to Harvard, no matter which
gender you are. These schools have such high
applicant-to-opening ratios that they can afford to
ignore gender in their admissions decisions. If they
simply admit the best applicants they are statistically
likely to wind up with a class that is roughly half
women and half men.
Women might also take some comfort in
knowing that they have an edge over men at certain
schools and in certain fields. A female high school
senior with a strong interest in engineering will
probably have an easier time winning admission to a
competitive technical school than a similarly qualified
male classmate would. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's
Vice President for Enrollment told a reporter
for the local paper that, given a case where two
applicants' profiles were completely equal in every way
except for their gender, the diversity the woman
applicant would bring to the school would make her the
more attractive candidate.
The best advice we can give female
applicants is to follow the same advice we're
giving everyone – only more strictly:
start your college applications early, apply to an
appropriate number and range of schools, and prepare
each one of your applications carefully.
The best approach any college applicant,
female or male, can take to today's competitive
admissions environment is to put their concerns about
admissions statistics and the wider applicant pool to
the side and to focus on their own, unique, individual
situation. In the end,
admissions committees select
applicants as individuals, not as representatives of a
demographic cluster. You'll maximize your chances of
getting the admissions outcomes you want by looking at
yourself the same way.
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