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

For the eleventh 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 26 high-ranking research universities for which we have data, women were a majority of the entering students at 21 schools. This is up from 18 a year ago. Six 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 eleventh 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 2,953 women among the 4,688 entering students at the university this year. Thus, women make up 63 percent of all first-year students, up from 61.1 percent a year ago.

Women as a Percentage of First-Year Enrollments at High-Ranking Research Universities, 2021


School
Total
Enrollment
Women
Enrollment
% Women
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill4688295363.0
Johns Hopkins University132677158.1
University of Virginia3890222857.3
Wake Forest University144281056.2
University of California, Berkeley6998389955.7
Cornell University3718204955.1
University of Michigan7290401355.0
Georgetown University160188155.0
Yale University178998455.0
Duke University175296455.0
Tufts University180599054.8
University of Pennsylvania2418131554.4
Washington University1986107254.0
University of Southern California3668193152.6
Princeton University129067152.0
Carnegie Mellon University189698451.9
Columbia University155179951.5
Stanford University2126109251.4
Rice University122663051.4
Dartmouth College122861750.2
Vanderbilt University162681550.1
Brown University170784849.7
Massachusetts Institute of Technology117857148.5
University of Notre Dame2073100548.5
University of Chicago205396547.0
California Institute of Technology27012144.8
Source: WIAReport Research Department

A year ago, women made up 52.5 percent of the entering class at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. This year women are 58.1 percent of the first-year students. This ranks Johns Hopkins second in our survey.

Women are 57.3 percent of the first-year class at the University of Virginia, putting the university in third place. A year ago, the university ranked fourth with an entering class with women making up 56.9 percent of the total.

Wake Forrest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is in fourth place this year with an entering class where women make up 56.2 of the students.

Cornell University, the University of Michigan, Yale University, Duke University, and Georgetown University all have entering classes where women make up 55 percent of the students. A year ago, Georgetown University has the second-highest percentage of women in its first-year class, making up 59.6 percent of the total.

At the other extreme, the California Institute of Technology has an entering class where women are 44.8 percent of all first-year students. This is the lowest percentage among high-ranking universities in our survey group. However, Caltech continues to make progress in gender diversity. Eight years ago, women made up only 35 percent of the entering class at Caltech. A year ago, women were 42 percent of the entering class.

Brown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Notre Dame, and the Univerity of Chicago are the only other major research universities in our survey, where women are less than 50 percent of all first-year students.

Six 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 nearly 52 percent of the students in the Class of 2025, up from 50.0 percent last year.

We can compare last year’s results to the current data to see where women are making progress. Of the 25 leading research universities for which we have data in both years, 21 schools show an increase in the number of women first-year students and four 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. Also, in recent admission cycles due to the COVID-19 pandemic, significant drops in first-year enrollments may have occurred due to a larger than average percentage of students who chose to defer enrollment. This year, enrollments tended to rebound, producing big one-year increases at some universities.

This year, Yale University showed the largest one-year increase in women in its entering class. There are 984 women in the first-year class, compared to 608 in the previous academic year. This is an increase of nearly 62 percent. Overall enrollments in the first-year class are up 42 percent this year. A year ago, 330 students accepted into the class of 2024 deferred their matriculation until this year.

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

School20202021Change
Yale University608984+61.8
Rice University471630+33.8
Stanford University8311092+31.4
Duke University780964+23.6
University of California, Berkeley31973899+22.0
Carnegie Mellon University819984+20.1
Dartmouth College518617+19.1
California Institute of Technology102121+18.6
Princeton University570671+17.7
Cornell University17872049+14.7
Johns Hopkins University681771+13.2
Tufts University886990+11.7
Washington University9611072+11.6
University of Chicago869965+11.4
University of Michigan36164013+11.0
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill27172953+8.7
Massachusetts Institute of Technology529571+7.9
Columbia University753799+6.1
University of Southern California18221931+6.0
University of Pennsylvania12501315+5.2
University of Virginia21532228+3.5
Vanderbilt University871815-6.4
Georgetown University949881-7.2
Brown University920848-7.8
University of Notre Dame10951005-8.3
Source: WIAReport Research Department

Other universities showing increases of 20 percent or more of women in their entering classes are Rice University, Stanford University, Duke University, Princeton University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon University. Again, it is generally believed to be a rebound from abnormally low enrollment of men and women during the height of the pandemic in 2020.

Four universities posted declines in the number of women in their first-year classes. They are the Vanderbilt University, Georgetown University, Brown University, and the University of Notre Dame.

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 10 institutions. Men were accepted at a higher rate than women at five institutions. At Rice University there was no difference in admissions rates between men and women.

The greatest difference was at Georgetown University. At this highly rated university, 16 percent of women were accepted for admission compared to only 8.4 percent of male applicants. Thus, there was a large acceptance rate gap in favor of women of 7.6 percentage points.

Gender Differences in Acceptance Rates at High-Ranking Research Universities, 2021

SchoolMale RateFemale RateDifference
Georgetown University8.416.0+7.6
Carnegie Mellon University10.717.9+7.2
University of California, Berkeley12.116.9+4.8
California Institute of Technology2.96.3+3.4
Wake Forest University23.826.0+2.2
Cornell University7.89.6+1.8
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill18.519.7+1.2
University of Virginia20.521.0+0.5
University of Pennsylvania5.66.1+0.5
Johns Hopkins University6.26.6+0.4
Rice University9.89.80.0
Tufts University12.111.0-1.1
Vanderbilt University7.96.6-1.3
University of Notre Dame16.214.1-2.1
University of Southern California13.711.6-2.1
Brown University7.14.5-2.6
Source: WIAReport Research Department

At Carnegie Mellon University, where there is a large concentration of STEM majors, 17.9 percent of women were accepted compared to 10.7 percent of men. This gap of 7.2 percentage points is far below the 14.5 percentage point gap that existed four years ago.

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 California Institute of Technology. In the past, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported to WIAReport that its admission rate for women was higher than the rate for men. For the past two years, MIT has declined to provide data on the number of women applicants, so we were unable to calculate the acceptance rate for women.

Two years 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 2.1 percentage point gap in favor of men.

Brown University and the University of Notre Dame 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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