First-Year Women Students at the Nation’s Leading Research Universities

For the ninth year in a row, WIAReport has surveyed the nation’s highest-ranking research universities to determine the percentage of women in this year’s entering classes. We also report on gender differences in acceptance rates at these schools and whether women have made gains in enrollments at these universities compared to where they were a year ago.

Of the 28 high-ranking research universities for which we have data, women were a majority of the entering students at 18 schools. This is the same number as a year ago. Four years ago, women were a majority of the first-year students at only 11 high-ranking universities.

There are wide variations in the percentage of women in the first-year classes at these highly rated universities. For the ninth year in a row, the highest percentage of women in the entering class among this large group of leading research universities is found at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There are 2,524 women among the 4,182 entering students at UNC this year. Thus, women make up 60.4 percent of all first-year students, down from 61.7 percent a year ago.

Women as a Percentage of First-Year Enrollments at High-Ranking Research Universities, 2019


% Women
UNC Chapel Hill4182252460.4
Emory University137477956.7
University of Virginia3920220256.2
Georgetown University158888555.7
Cornell University3218177055.0
Univ. of Southern California3168173054.6
Johns Hopkins University136373654.0
Wake Forest University137073353.5
UC Berkeley6504341552.5
University of Pennsylvania2400125052.1
Stanford University170788151.6
Columbia University139972051.5
Washington University173489351.5
University of Michigan6830351251.4
Princeton University133768050.9
Vanderbilt University160481450.7
Northwestern University2012101750.5
Carnegie Mellon University158579650.2
Harvard University165082550.0
Yale University155477750.0
Brown University166581649.0
Duke University174485549.0
Dartmouth College119358248.8
Rice University96446748.4
University of Notre Dame205199048.3
University of Chicago172682848.0
Cal Tech23510344.0
Source: WIAReport Research Department

For six of the past eight years, including this year, Emory University in Atlanta had the second-highest percentage of women in its entering class among this group of leading research universities. This year, women make up 56.7 percent of the entering class, down from 57.6 percent last year.

Women are 56.2 percent of the first-year class at the University of Virginia, placing the university in third place. Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. placed third in our survey last year but moved down one spot to fourth this year with an entering class where women make up 55.7 of all first-year students. At Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, women make up more than 54 percent of first-year students. At the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania women are more than 52 percent of students in the entering class.

At the other extreme, the California Institute of Technology has an entering class where women are 44 percent of all first-year students. This is the lowest percentage among high-ranking universities in our survey group. However, six years ago, women made up only 35 percent of the entering class at CalTech.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is the only other major research university in our survey, where women are less than 48 percent of all first-year students. At Dartmouth College, Rice University, the University of Notre Dame, and the University of Chicago, men make up a slight majority of first-year students.

Four years ago, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh had an entering class where women made up 45.9 percent of all first-year students. This was the lowest percentage in our survey that year. Carnegie Mellon has a large number of students in engineering and STEM disciplines. This year, women are a slight majority of students in the Class of 2023.

Two years ago, there were 658 women and 648 men in the first-year class at Princeton University in New Jersey. This was the first time in the history of Princeton University that women have outnumbered men in an entering class. Last year women made up just under half of the students in the entering class. But this year, women are once again a majority of entering students.

We can compare last year’s results to the current data to see where women are making progress. Of the 28 leading research universities for which we have data in both years, 12 schools show an increase in the number of women first-year students and 16 show a decline. It must be noted that an increase in the number of women in the first-year class may not reflect a fluctuation in the gender ratio but may simply result from more students overall in the first-year class.

This year, Stanford University showed the largest one-year increase in women in its entering class. There are 881 women in the first-year class, compared to 831 in the 2018-2019 academic year. This is an increase of 6 percent. Johns Hopkins University, the University of Michigan, and Rice University posted increases of more than 3 percent.

One-Year Gainers and Losers in First-Year Enrollments of Women at High-Ranking Research Universities

Stanford University831881+6.0
Johns Hopkins University712736+3.4
University of Michigan33963512+3.4
Rice University453467+3.1
Princeton University661680+2.9
UC Berkeley33383415+2.3
Carnegie Mellon University779796+2.2
University of Virginia21612202+1.9
Wake Forest University719733+1.9
Dartmouth College5815820.0
Univ. of Southern California172317300.0
University of Notre Dame9889900.0
Harvard University832825-0.1
Vanderbilt University819814-0.1
Cornell University17931770-1.3
Yale University789777-1.5
Northwestern University10351017-1.7
Cal Tech107103-3.7
Columbia University748720-3.7
Washington University934893-4.4
Georgetown University926885-4.4
UNC Chapel Hill26692524-5.4
Emory University824779-5.5
University of Chicago877828-5.6
Duke University908855-5.8
Brown University868816-6.0
University of Pennsylvania13801250-9.4
Source: WIAReport Research Department

Six universities posted declines of 5 percent or more in the number of women in their first-year classes. They are the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Emory University, the University of Chicago, Duke University, Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania. Other than the University of Chicago, the remaining five schools still have a majority of women in their entering classes.

It is well known that nationwide women outpace men in college enrollments, graduation rates, and degrees earned. Because of a large and growing gender gap in enrollments at many colleges and universities, it has become easier for men to gain admission to some colleges and universities. It must be noted that just because men have a higher acceptance rate than women at a given institution does not necessarily mean that men have received an unfair admissions advantage. A particular college or university may simply have had an outstanding pool of male applicants in a given year.

We do note that many high-ranking universities are reluctant to report gender differences in acceptance rates. This year, we have data on 17 research universities. We will simply present the data and let readers make their own conclusions.

Of the 17 highly rated research universities for which we have data, we find that women were accepted at a higher rate than men at nine institutions. Men were accepted at a higher rate than women at eight institutions. Most of the differences are very small and should not be considered significant.

Gender Differences in Acceptance Rates at High-Ranking Research Universities, 2019

Rate for MenRate for Women
Carnegie Mellon University11.721.4+9.7
Cal Tech4.511.2+6.7
UC Berkeley14.719.0+4.3
Cornell University9.412.4+3.0
University of Virginia22.625.1+2.5
University of Pennsylvania7.28.1+0.9
Washington University13.714.0+0.3
Rice University8.68.9+0.3
UNC Chapel Hill21.521.4-0.1
Northwestern University9.28.9-0.3
University of Notre Dame16.315.3-1.0
Wake Forest University30.528.9-1.6
Georgetown University15.613.7-1.9
Emory University16.814.8-2.0
Vanderbilt University10.28.2-2.0
Univ. of Southern California17.611.3-6.3
Source: WIAReport Research Department

The greatest difference was at Carnegie Mellon University, which as stated is heavily focused on STEM disciplines. At this highly rated university, 21.4 percent of women were accepted for admission compared to only 11.7 percent of male applicants. Thus, there was a very large acceptance rate gap in favor of women of 9.7 percentage points. However, the gender gap is narrowing at Carnegie Mellon. Two years ago, the gap was 14.5 percentage points.

The next highest acceptance rate gap in favor of women was at the California Institute of Technology, where women were accepted at a rate that was 6.7 percentage points higher than for men. The only other leading research universities where the acceptance rate for women was more than three percentage points higher than the rate for men were the University of California, Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At the other end of the spectrum, the University of Southern California has an acceptance rate for men that was 6.3 percentage points higher than the acceptance rate for women.

Vanderbilt University and Emory University were the only other high-ranking research university where men were accepted at a rate two percentage points higher than for women.

Last year Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, had the highest gender gap in acceptance rates in favor of men. At Wake Forest, 32.7 percent of male applicants were accepted a year ago compared to 26.9 percent of women applicants. Thus, men had an acceptance rate that was 5.8 percentage points higher than for women. But this year, the acceptance rate for men was only 1.6 percentage points higher than it was for women.

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