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

For the tenth 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 27 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. Five 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 tenth 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 2,717 women among the 4,444 entering students at UNC this year. Thus, women make up 61.1 percent of all first-year students, up from 60.4 percent a year ago.

Women as a Percentage of First-Year Enrollments at High-Ranking Research Universities, 2020


% Women
UNC Chapel Hill4,4442,71761.1
Georgetown University1,59294959.6
Emory University1,34478558.4
University of Virginia3,7852,15356.9
Tufts University1,61588654.9
Cornell University3,2961,78754.2
University of Pennsylvania2,3211,25053.9
Washington University1,80696153.2
Univ. of Southern California3,4601,82252.7
University of Michigan6,8793,61652.6
Brown University1,76192052.5
Johns Hopkins University1,29768152.5
Columbia University1,45375351.8
Harvard University1,60483151.8
UC Berkeley6,1843,19751.7
Stanford University1,60883151.7
Vanderbilt University1,69887151.3
Carnegie Mellon University1,63781950.0
Princeton University1,15557049.4
Duke University1,58878049.1
University of Notre Dame2,2291,09549.1
Dartmouth College1,05851849.0
Yale University1,26460848.1
Rice University99347147.4
University of Chicago1,84886947.0
Cal Tech24410342.0
Source: WIAReport Research Department

Georgetown University has the second-highest percentage of women in its first-year class. There are 949 women students in the entering class, making up 59.6 percent of the total.

For six of the past nine years, 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 58.4 percent of the entering class, up from 56.7 percent last year.

Women are 56.9 percent of the first-year class at the University of Virginia, placing the university in fourth place. At Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, women make up more than 54 percent of first-year students. At Washington University in St. Louis and the Univerity of Pennsylvania, women are more than 53 percent of students in the entering class.

At the other extreme, the California Institute of Technology has an entering class where women are 42 percent of all first-year students. This is the lowest percentage among high-ranking universities in our survey group. However, seven years ago, women made up only 35 percent of the entering class at CalTech.

Rice University and the Univerity of Chicago are the only other major research universities in our survey, where women are less than 48 percent of all first-year students. At Princeton University, Duke University, the University of Notre Dame, Dartmouth College, and Yale University men make up a slight majority of first-year students.

Five 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 2024.

We can compare last year’s results to the current data to see where women are making progress. Of the 27 leading research universities for which we have data in both years, 17 schools show an increase in the number of women first-year students and nine show a decline. The University of Pennsylvania has the same number of women students in its entering class as it did a year ago. 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. Also, in this most uncommon of admission cycles due to the COVID-19 pandemic, drops in first-year enrollments may have occurred due to a larger than average percentage of students who chose to defer enrollment.

This year, Brown University showed the largest one-year increase in women in its entering class. There are 920 women in the first-year class, compared to 816 in the 2019-2020 academic year. The University of Notre Dame reports an increase of more than 10 percent in the number of women in its entering class. Washington University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Georgetown University, and Vanderbilt University all posted increases of at least 7 percent.

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

Brown University816920+12.7
University of Notre Dame9901,095+10.6
Washington University893961+7.6
UNC Chapel Hill2,5242,717+7.6
Georgetown University885949+7.2
Vanderbilt University814871+7.0
Univ. of Southern California1,7301,822+5.3
University of Chicago828869+5.0
Columbia University720753+4.6
University of Michigan3,5123,616+3.0
Carnegie Mellon University796819+2.9
Tufts University868886+2.1
Cornell University1,7701,787+1.0
Rice University467471+0.9
Emory University779785+0.7
Harvard University825831+0.7
University of Pennsylvania1,2501,2500.0
Cal Tech103102-1.0
University of Virginia2,2022,153-2.2
Stanford University881831-5.7
UC Berkeley3,4153,197-6.4
Johns Hopkins University736681-7.5
Duke University855780-8.8
Dartmouth College582518-11.0
Princeton University680570-16.2
Yale University777608-21.8
Source: WIAReport Research Department

Five universities posted declines of 7 percent or more in the number of women in their first-year classes. They are the Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, Dartmouth College, Princeton University, and Yale University. The number of women in the entering class at Yale is undoubtedly impacted significantly by the fact that 330 students accepted into the class of 2024 deferred their matriculation until next year.

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 16 research universities. We will simply present the data and let readers make their own conclusions.

Of the 16 highly rated research universities for which we have data, we find that women were accepted at a higher rate than men at seven institutions. Men were accepted at a higher rate than women at eight institutions. At Johns Hopkins University there was no difference in admissions rates between men and women.

Gender Differences in Acceptance Rates at High-Ranking Research Universities, 2020

Rate for MenRate for Women
Carnegie Mellon University13.323.4+10.1
UC Berkeley15.619.5+3.9
Cornell University9.212.4+3.2
University of Virginia21.623.4+1.6
University of Pennsylvania8.59.6+1.1
Rice University10.611.2+0.6
UNC Chapel Hill23.323.7+0.4
Johns Hopkins University9.29.20.0
University of Notre Dame19.218.9-0.3
Emory University19.818.8-1.0
Univ. of Southern California16.615.6-1.0
Tufts University17.015.8-1.2
Yale University7.46.0-1.4
Vanderbilt University12.510.9-1.6
Georgetown University18.016.0-2.0
Brown University9.36.6-2.7
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, 23.4 percent of women were accepted for admission compared to only 13.3 percent of male applicants. Thus, there was a very large acceptance rate gap in favor of women of 10.1 percentage points. However, the gender gap is narrowing at Carnegie Mellon. Three years ago, the gap was 14.5 percentage points.

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 Cornell University. In the past, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported to WIAReport that its admission rate for women was higher than the rate for men. This year, MIT declined to provide data on the number of women applicants, so we were unable to calculate the acceptance rate for women.

A year ago, the University of Southern California has an acceptance rate for men that was 6.3 percentage points higher than the acceptance rate for women. This year there was only a one percentage point gap.

Georgetown University and Brown University were the only high-ranking research universities where the acceptance rate for men was at least two percentage points higher than the acceptance rate for women.

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