Gender imbalance at colleges can penalize girls

Joan Franklin
On College

Question: I heard that it is harder for girls to get into college than boys. Is there any truth to this?

Answer: If you are talking about gaining admission to small private colleges, what you are saying is absolutely true. Currently, some schools have up to a 15 percent difference between the male and female admission rate giving advantages to males solely based on their gender. While this may feel discriminatory, colleges will defend this practice by noting that neither sex wants to attend a college once the ratio between boys and girls hits 40:60. In fact in 2006 women made up 57 percent of all students attending college. The Department of Education expects girls to make up 60 percent of all admissions as early as 2010.

This same male advantage does not appear to be present in large public universities or in very highly select schools such as Harvard and Yale, where they have a large application pool and more than enough highly qualified candidates to create a class with balanced gender. On the other hand, schools such as Tufts admitted 28 percent of males who applied and only 24 percent of female applicants. Admission rates were even more skewed at schools such as William and Mary, which reported an admission rate of 44 percent male and 26 percent female. Other schools that are perennial favorites among students in this area, such as Pomona, Boston College and Wesleyan, report similar disparities.

We now have a generation of girls who — by working hard and being successful in school — are in fact being penalized for their strong efforts and achievements in school. Many girls feel a sense of futility in the college process, knowing that they will face even stiffer competition at highly selective schools in an already competitive market. In light of these times, I advise girls to take these statistics into consideration when they examine the profiles of accepted students. Schools will usually report the range of scores of previous admits from the 25th to the 75th percentile. Since these numbers do not differentiate between males and females, girls might need to be at the upper quartiles in order to be competitive. They should also recognize that students in the 25th percentile might represent a myriad of factors that one has no control over, such as offering legacy status, parents wealthy enough to be considered development cases, athletic prowess, underrepresented race, geographic diversity and gender.

So what is a girl to do? Girls need to continue to focus on maintaining excellent grades and committing time and energy to extracurricular activities both in and out of the classroom. They also need to consider casting a wider net as they create their college list, looking beyond the usual 20 or so “popular” college choices. When I met with an admission director at Santa Clara, she stated that they could only take so many qualified female students from our area, making it unusually difficult for girls from the Eastside to gain admission to their school. I was given similar statistics by the director of admissions at Pomona, who showed me the number of students accepted from around the country, marking locations with a pin. You can imagine how chagrined I was to see that the Seattle region was saturated with pins while the Midwest and even Montana and Idaho had few, if any, pins. You can only imagine how it is even more difficult for a girl from the Seattle area to be competitive when applying to Pomona.

Girls from this community would be wise to apply to schools outside of California and even the Northeast so that they too can capitalize on geographic diversity, which they can offer when they apply to schools in the south or the Midwest. They may also find that they are not competing head-to-head with their classmates, which only lessens their own chance of admission.

Finally, girls might consider applying to schools that traditionally favor males over females, such as Caltech, MIT or Harvey Mudd. This would only make sense, however, if a girl was interested in the fields that are offered at such colleges.

Until the situation changes, girls will not only have to continue to be smart, but act smart to play the college game with its ever-changing set of rules.

Joan Franklin is the owner of The College Source, an Independent College Consulting Practice ( She is also a certified school counselor in the Issaquah School District. She lives and practices on Mercer Island and can be reached at (206) 232-5626 or

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